Going Places/Doing Things: Telluride's Kris Holstrom

by Kris Holstrom

IMG_1769 Imagine yourself surrounded by green – not necessarily "green" as in sustainable – but the color green. My recent three weeks in New Zealand saturated my ocular senses and coated my brain cells green. As a long time high desert dweller the lush land Down Under was almost unimaginably green. Our region gets 10-14 inches of rain annually; New Zealand, averages over 300. Some places, like Milford Sound in the Fiordlands, gets about seven meters. (Do the math. That's over 21 feet). The only places that weren’t green  were blue (water) and gold (sandy beaches).

But what about the other type of ‘green’? The one I spend my days in Telluride at The New Community Coalition thinking about non-stop? What about eco-green?

There’s plenty of that as well Down Under. From the Takaka library we checked out a New Zealnd guidebook, “Organic Explorer,” that highlights places to see, stay, have adventures, and eat, obviously geared to the organic consumer, eco-friendly type – and it was almost as big as the "Lonely Planet."

The town of Takaka is nearly on the Golden Bay, north end, South Island. Staying at Rainbow Valley Community, an alternative community my sister and her husband co-founded in the early 70’s, near there was a treat. Takaka itself felt quite a bit like home. The main drag had great restaurants with organic and local food: the Dangerous Kitchen and the Wholemeal Café. The drag also boasted a new bar called Roots – with a beautiful stump (with roots) incorporated into its outdoor décor – as well as flowing benches and a sculpture-like wood stove. There’s an awesome (small) library, public transportation, a Farmers Market, a Saturday flea market, a health food store, historical museum and other places and things that reminded us of a kiwi version of Telluride.  (Dreadlocks, musicians, and friendly folks.)

But like Telluride, the palate in Takaka is not all green. Citizens struggle with some of the same issues we locals do : how to reduce their carbon footprint, saving money, dealing with a tourist economy. Many believe New Zealand as a whole to be ultra-green, but while there, we read an article written by an Englishman challenging that notion. Yes, they are working on sustainability issues, but some in the government have questioned why anyone should be working so hard on climate change. “Why should we be leaders” one lamented in the paper, “when we contribute so little to the overall picture?” (The article noted that New Zealand's carbon emissions have gone up 22% in recent years and its population has increased even more.)

One particular, very evident issue had a direct bearing on New Zealand's ecology. The country has only has two native mammals, both bats. As the pakeha (whites) discovered and colonized the country they brought in many species of plants and animals, including sheep and cattle, but more insidious were the stoat (ferret) and possum. These two animals in particular are decimating native bird populations – including the iconic kiwi. The government has been aerial dropping 1080 poison for several years in an effort to reduce their numbers. The populations do decline but there is some "collateral damage" to native species. There’s a bit of a creepy feeling hearing the helicopters flying overhead knowing they are dropping poison throughout much of the bush upstream from the pristine water Valley residents drink.

In the organic realm, we also saw the battle against genetically engineered food. New Zealand and Australia currently allow some GE crops in their country. It would seem the lessons they are learning with regard to introduced species might give them pause, but just like the rest of the world Monsanto and the bio-engineers push to get these crops grown everywhere. Short term economic gains tend to trump long-term consequences. Sound familiar?

No matter what, the trip was awesome. I had lived in the country as a kid for a year and revisiting my old school, driving by our house, and seeing the incredible scenery and wonderful people made the whole thing very special. Hard to leave, eager to return.

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