Develop Your Own Philosophy

I read that a couple donated over a thousand acres of conservation easement to the Nature Conservancy to preserve Phantom Canyon and prevent their ranch from being carved up into 35-acre ranchettes, something to which they are "philosophically opposed." I applaud their action, but not their reasoning.

I'm a member of the Nature Conservancy which lets environmentally-minded folks put their money where their mouth is. And I think the Phantom Canyon area is beautiful and ought to be kept that way. That's one reason I bought 35 acres up there.

In the debates in the Coloradoan about growth in Larimer County and the ones in the High Country News about growth in the west, it seems the only point many ranchers, forest barons, and environmentalists agree on is that "ranchettes" are bad. And saying you're "philosophically opposed" implies there is considered thought and logic put into the position.

I am not a philosopher. My degree is in general mathematics, a discipline some say is where philosophy meets reality. Both math and philosophy are searches for fundamental, general principles. If you tell a philosopher that the difference between humans and animals is intelligence or tool-use, he'll drill down to the difference between an anencephalic baby (born without a brain) and a bomb-sniffing dog or porpoise (which is more intelligent?), or the difference between a comatose paraplegic and a monkey using grass stalks to catch termites (who uses tools?).

I hate the word "ranchette." It sounds like my parcel is kin to a big spread somebody's great grand-pappy kilt injuns for and his grandpappy chased homesteaders off of. And to someone "philosophically opposed" to them, I would ask what his or her limits are. Is a 34-acre spread okay? 25-acre? When does it become too small to be a "ranchette?" Is a sea of quarter-acre lots better than a few scattered homesteads? At the other end, is 100 acres a real ranch and therefore tolerable? Or is it a thousand acres? My mathematical mind puts the logical limits of this philosophy at the extremes of millions of poor people crammed into high rise apartments in a crowded city surrounded by a few genteel rich living on their luxurious "ranches."

"Ranchettes," ranches, suburban developments, and high rises are neither philosophically good nor bad. Their quality, and our quality of life, like most anything to do with real estate, depends on location, location, location. The dilemma of development is truly situational ethics. Turning an expanse of prairie with a view of the mountains into a housing tract is not my idea of perfection, yet I live in one, and that sort of development is done enough around here to have become "tradition."

Now it has become vogue to display a disdain of "ranchettes." Yet I believe 35 acre lots snuggled into the Laramie Foothills with reasonable sized homes well-placed in the woods and not shooting off the ridge tops into other's visual space or sprawled into meadows that deer and elk need for winter forage are not necessarily bad. Acreage lots can give the people who want it a closer connection, a working communion, with nature. "Ranchettes" can remove cattle, and even eradicate the capitalistic notion that land must pay its way. Of course, they can also become just as degraded as overgrazed pasture and cattle-trampled streamsides--the "traditional" environmental problems ranches can often cause.

As we develop our future, we must look at all options with clear vision, and not let the hidden assumptions of philosophies, traditions, and prejudices cloud our minds to the choices we leave to our descendants.