He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin’ home to a place he’d never been before… *
John Denver (who renamed himself after the capital city of his favourite state, Colorado) wrote simply of his love and reverence for the Rocky Mountains. The song I first heard as a teenager carried me to its source.
I was thrilled to be in the Rockies. It is, as John says, a striking yet serene landscape.
He climbed cathedral mountains
He saw everything as far as you can see.
Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
But the landscape which had such a profound effect on John is changing. I was dismayed to see vast areas of greyed-out forest in the mountains. North America has lost millions of hectares to the mountain pine beetle.
Global warming favours pine beetles. The climate in the Rocky Mountains has, on average, become warmer, and warmer winters allow more beetles to survive. Higher temperatures also mean the beetles can mature faster. Recent droughts have rendered trees more susceptible to attack. Another causative factor in the epidemic is past fire suppression practices which resulted in many pine trees of the age the beetle prefers.
The devastation affects watersheds, timber production, wildlife habitat, recreation sites and transmission lines. Falling trees present hazards and dead ones increase the risk of a catastrophic fire.
As if that’s not enough, the loss of a forest is the loss of a carbon sink. In addition, decaying and burning trees emit carbon, creating a feedback loop which intensifies global warming.
Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land.
John focused on calling attention to environmental issues and died about the time the pine bark beetle epidemic began in Colorado. It may not have been what he was referring to in his song but it certainly ranks as a ‘scar upon the land’.
* Rocky Mountain High Words by John Denver; Music by John Denver and Mike Taylor
References: For thorough and easy-to-read information visit this page at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website. Further information is available at the US Dept of Agriculture and National Park Service