Celebrating Spring, Red Rocks, and Wine

Bennett Price

Bennett Price, founder of DeBeque Canyon winery in Palisade, Colo,, samples a cask with a wine thief.

I look outside today and see a white landscape, with light snow falling and a couple of hungry humingbirds huddled on the sugar-water feeder like barflies staring into their whiskey glasses.

Yes, it’s a typical May Day in the Colorado foothills. Is any surprise that Colorado’s biggest public Beltane festival does not occur until the 19th–22nd of May? They tried at first to do it on the “correct” date, but they learned their lesson.

Next weekend is the 76th Music and Blossom Festival in the southern Colorado town of Cañon City, not too far from me. Everyone knows, as a friend said last week, that “Blossom Weekend will be either snowing or a hundred degrees.” He forgot to mention the time in the 1990s when a hailstorm hit the parade.

But attending would be a way to “let the polis support your Paganism,” a theme that I have played with here and here this year.

So I will back up to the spring equinox, whose theme is usually “Let’s thaw out a little before the snow returns.” Some years that means a run to the desert, such as Canyonlands National Park. This year, it was Colorado National Monument. Red rock and sunshine, that’s the thing. Yay, Wingate Formation!

And wine. The vineyards were leafing, barely, whenM. and I dropped in at a couple of favorite Western Slope wineries in early April, of which our most favorite is DeBeque Canyon. (Yes, like the organizers of Beltania, we postponed the date a little.)

The trend today is for wineries to become venues. I think of one winery in Sonoma that I visited as a hitchhiking college student in the 1970s, on my way from Portland to San Francisco. I remembered it as a collection of sheds and little barefoot girls in cotton dresses running in the dust — my friend and I bought a jug of “Dago red” and took it up to the ruined hot springs that Lake Sonoma later drowned.

I returned to the same winery in 2007. Unrecognizable. There was an art gallery, meeting, space, an elegant tasting room that looked like a hotel bar . . . all glassed-in and air-conditioned. Other wineries compete with gardens and fountains and views — that is happening in Colorado too.

Not at DeBeque Canyon, not yet. You bump over the railroad tracks in Palisade to a collection of industrial metal buildings. There is Bennett Price, the owner, behind a simple counter pouring excellent wines for tasting, and telling stories of the industry’s beginnings in the 1970s. He seems to know everyone in the trade from Denver to San Francisco.

Slightly buzzed, we cross the parking lot in the strong spring sun, arms full of bottles. Yes, spring will be returning even to our foothills home. But first the spring snows will arrive to saturate the land.

Wicca Again as the “Designated Other”

pasque flowersPasque flowers blooming in a thin layer of pine duff atop a boulder. I love them for their precarious and improbably habitat.

Spring is slowly coming to the forest, and within it the offer of new chances, a feeling that you might get it right this time.

Travel and editorial crises have killed my blogging for the past couple of weeks. I have this huge backlog of topics and probably won’t get to most of them.

But let’s start with the topical stuff. Wicca continues to move towards being the Designated Other in the American religious scene. It used to be “What will the Jews say?” or “How will the Jehovah’s Witnesses react?” to name just two groups that had their conflicts with the dominant religious paradigm.

At the same time, to many members of the Chattering Classes, Wicca (and other forms of Paganism) is not quite a real religion. Therefore, you can have even more fun when writing about it: “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.

Yes, how do Wiccans react to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act??

The religion is real to the practitioners, of course — but some of them have a little fun with the question too. (Marry a horse?)

It’s funny how things change. When the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act sailed through Congress and was signed by President Clinton, it was all about protecting the Native American Church — the Peyote Way. How colorful and traditional!

Now some columnists and bloggers put “religious freedom” in scare quotes, like it’s something icky than can only be handled with your Gloves of Irony.

As a follower of a minority religion, I still think that religious freedom (no scare quotes) is pretty damn important.

But if you want to get beyond all the idiots screaming for the social-nuking of Indiana in 140 characters or less, go to someone with a sense of the evolution of law, like Washington Post columnist and law professor Eugene Volokh.

Here is the short version: “Religious exemptions, RFRA carveouts, and ‘who decides?’ ”  He contrasts the popularity of religious freedom with the demands for limiting it for the larger good:

Yet surely religious exemptions can’t always be granted, and there can’t even be a very strong general rule of granting such exemptions (much as there is a strong rule against the government banning speech because of its content, at least outside traditionally recognized exceptions). There can’t be religious exemptions from laws banning murder, rape, theft, trespass, libel, and the like. There probably shouldn’t be such exemptions, at least outside narrow zones, from tax law, copyright law, employment law, and more.

For a longer explanation of the how Congress and the courts have wrestled with these topics and how players and teams have shifted, read his piece “Many liberals’ (sensible) retreat from the old Justice Brennan/ACLU position on religious exemptions.”