UNAWEEP DIVIDE — The honey bees are over there, by the organic garden. The peregrines nest up on the cliffs. A mess of metates — Native American grinding stones — are over in the dense pinion. Every winter the elk gather in the meadow below the granite cliffs. There’s a table up in those cliffs, for “sunset dinner on the rocks,” said Paul Ashcraft.
A few months ago, Ashcraft and several of his neighbors at the highest point in Unaweep Canyon saw a plan proposed by Xcel Energy to build a hydro power plant that will help the company reach its renewable energy goals. The plan put a 75-foot dam holding back the edge of an 88-acre reservoir in Ashcraft’s front yard. The proposal also puts his neighbors’ homes and Colorado 141 underwater.
No one lives forever, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Roger had a good shot at it. Like the rest of us, he suffered pain and loss and doubt, but he usually kept the blues at bay, always looking forward; he kept writing, reading, memorizing new poems, forming new relationships. When another versatile, sports-minded writer, Budd Schulberg, reached his nineties, he gave away his star-studded address book to a younger writer. He had no use for it: “Everyone in it is dead!” Roger kept replenishing his address book, and his life, with new and younger friends. He went to spring training in Arizona and Florida, full of hope, always on the trail of new prospects. His thirst for the sensation of being alive survived the worst. Roger was married for forty-eight years to Carol Rogge Angell, but when she was dying she told him, “If you haven’t found someone else by a year after I’m gone I’ll come back and haunt you.” After Carol died, Roger followed her instructions, and his heart. He began a long and wonderful love affair with Peggy Moorman, whom he married in 2014, and who was by his side until the end.
In the film Sideways, which earned an Academy Award in 2005 for Best Adapted Screenplay and boosted the careers of Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, those descriptive words aptly captured the character of angst-ridden, wine-obsessed protagonist Miles Raymond, played with self-flagellating glee by Paul Giamatti.
The same words also tell the story of an equally important, but liquid, character in the film: pinot noir. A dozen years later, pinot noir has become a mainstay of the California wine industry, and winemakers credit the film with bringing deserved attention to the varietal, calling it “The Sideways Effect.”
“Pinot noir production in California has increased roughly 170 percent since Sideways was released,” says wine industry analyst Gabriel Froymovich of Vineyard Financial Associates, noting that total wine production has increased 7-8 percent during the same time. “I think people who were into wine saw the passion for pinot noir in the movie, decided to explore that variety a bit, and realized how lovely a wine that grape makes.”
The Sideways Effect is generally credited with depressing the market for merlot wine, based on a memorable line from the movie when Miles colorfully proclaims his disdain for the wine — the back story is that his ex-wife liked merlot — declaring, “No, if anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking merlot!”
When James “KG” Kagambi was 23, he climbed Mount Kenya in his homeland, the second tallest peak in Africa — and swore he’d never do it again. “I hated it,” he recalls. “By the time I got to 15,000 feet, I had headaches.” But then he encountered a magical substance for the first time. “I just loved snow. I touched it and knew that I like this. I was looking back [at the summit] and saying, ‘You know what? I want to go back there right now.’ After that, I couldn’t stop.”
He soon left his job as a geography, music, and physical education teacher of grades 5 through 8. And for 39years, Kagambi has climbed the peaks of the world. He’s summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania “so many zillion times,” Denali twice, and Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Americas), among others. He’s taught mountaineering from Patagonia to the Rockies, and he’s trained climbers and guides the world over. Then, in 2020, he was invited to join the first all-Black climbing team to summit Mount Everest.