Amy Barr Loved the Hell Out of This World

If I awakened to find that my older husband had died during the night, I was supposed to call Amy Barr. Those were her instructions, and I knew that she could glue the pieces of me back together again.

 Dawn Mulally, a friend and a former United Way board member, had the same confidence. “If life had kicked you down, Amy was your cheerleader. She was a woman’s woman in that she saw the good in you when you couldn’t see it yourself. Amy was funny as hell with a true lust for life. When others said “no,” she’d say “yes.” Amy was able to create lovely spells of laughter, mischief and curiosity to crack the most solemn from their general malaise.”

Since Amy died, I’ve been struggling with a malaise of disorientation and loss that makes me want to call Amy. That’s illogical and contradictory, but grief is like that.

Funny, feisty and feminist with a laugh as big as the outdoors, Amy was a tireless advocate for equality, for the environment, for inclusiveness. A champion for social justice and a friend for the needy, she was always ready to write a letter to the editor, raise funds or raise hell – whatever needed doing, Amy got it done.

She was proof of the adage: if you need to get something done, ask a busy person.

I met Amy through our Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist (TRUU) congregation. Amy was a true Universalist, one of those folks who believe in  “loving the hell out of this world” rather than worrying about the hereafter. She had a hand in everything: organizing the auction, creating the winter solstice, putting on the Blessing of the Animals, co-founding our annual women’s camping trip.

But that barely scratched the surface. At Amy’s urging, I found myself dipping drippy ice cream cones and staffing the VIP tent at the Garfield County Fair, attending Democratic Party fundraisers and hopping a bus to join the Women’s March in Denver.

Robin Waters had the same experience. “Spunky, smart, warm and irreverent, Amy was a ball of earthy energy and vibrant life. Amy was the executive of the local three-valley United Way while I ran the Basalt Chamber, and she delighted me constantly with her ideas and observations. As I was transitioning from the Chamber, Amy invited me (nay, twisted my arm irresistibly) to join the United Way Board; shortly after, in one of life’s shake-your-head-and-flow-with-it ironies, Amy moved on to her new “dream” job at the helm of the regional Lift-Up program…That she loved her new job and was poised for her last, great contribution before retirement — her “swan song,” as she wrote me — is another of life’s ironies. She left too fast and too soon.”

Last week, as nine of us gathered to plan Amy’s memorial, we passed around a notepad to capture the ways she created community: She was treasurer of the Garfield County Democratic party. She served on the boards of Third Street Center, the Colorado Music Festival and the Garfield County Human Services Commission. She had been business manager for The Salvation Army’s Glenwood Springs InterValley Service Center. She was a prime mover in Garfield County’s Humanitarian Service Awards, helped judge the U.S. Presidential Environmental Award and organized Skier Appreciation Day at Sunlight Mountain. She rang bells for the Salvation Army, volunteered for the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s annual dinner, recorded for KDNK and put together events for Rotary.

Originally from Nebraska, Amy was a nutritionist with a background in education and communications. She was the first female vice president of Horizon Organic Dairy, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute and an executive editor-at-large for McCall’s magazine. After moving to Boulder, she co-founded Marr Barr Communications.

Everywhere she lived and worked, Amy touched those around her. Doug Kantor wrote on Facebook about his time with her at Horizon: “She could use that wonderful sense of humor combined with a comedic eye roll to communicate “yes, I know it’s crazy and chaotic here” but “this is a startup and this is our kind of crazy.” She had a way of making me feel like I was the important person in the room… She just knew, intrinsically, how to make people feel important and valued, and how to make work fun.”

If you knew Amy, you know just what he’s talking about — and you also know what she’d want from us. An ironic eye roll about life’s injustices, a celebration where everybody pitches in, and a commitment to keep volunteering, to keep loving the hell out of this world.

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Originally published in the Seeking Higher Ground column, Sopris Sun, April 4, 2018.

There is No “Away” But There is Western Slope Recycling

Our handyman, Tim, warned us we’d have to pay a fee when he took our defunct microwave “away” to the dump.

That worried me, because in environmental terms, there’s no such place as “away.” The earth is a closed loop system. Because so little can get in or out, mankind’s junk isn’t leaving. Check out http://www.stuffin.space and you can see more than 100,000 manmade objects, many defunct, orbiting the earth in real time.

Manmade junk amounts to a huge problem: Mount Everest is littered with thawing fecal matter and discarded climbing gear. The Great Lakes are awash in microfibers from fleece. The Pacific Ocean’s garbage vortex is now twice the size of Texas.

The U.S. exports 80 percent of its old electronics to developing countries. For example, in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, barefoot children mine tons of e-waste at a gargantuan dump locally termed “Sodom and Gomorah.” They’re looking for computers and cellphones so their parents can burn the plastic and drench the circuit boards in cyanide to extract gold. Their efforts may also bring them asthma, pneumonitis, tremors, neuropsychiatric problems, convulsions, coma, even death. Still, as a recent World Bank Group white paper noted, at least 15 million people worldwide survive by recycling dangerous e-waste. “Many poor people, faced with a choice between starving or waste-picking, choose the latter.”

But it’s not just the poor who prowl e-dumps. It’s also thieves. Smart devices that have been sent “away” can come back to haunt us in the form of identity theft. That’s why there’s an old computer lying in the crawl space under my house. It’s nearly impossible to truly scrub personal data off of e-devices.

For personal as well as health and environmental reasons, I don’t want my discarded devices added to some malignant midden in Asia or Africa. So I worried for weeks about where Tim took that microwave.

 

It’s increasingly difficult to send junk away to places like Ghana, India and China.

This January, China enacted a new law barring the import of plastic, mixed paper, old clothing and other materials from American recycling programs. The problem isn’t just that badly sorted recycling often contains toxic waste. It’s also that China, which imported $5.6 billion in U.S. scrap in 2016, is now producing its own electronic products—and its own electronic waste.

The most available choices for dealing with the worldwide trash problem involve local efforts. A good example comes from Mumbai, where about 80 baby Olive Ridley turtles recently scuttled across a beach into the Arabian Sea. Five years ago, they wouldn’t have made it one foot. With garbage piled five feet deep in places, Versova Beach ranked as one the world’s most polluted oceanfronts.

Then, in 2015, Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah launched recruited volunteers who worked every weekend for two years removing a staggering 5,000 tons of litter in what the U.N. termed the world’s largest beach clean-up.

There might be some good tidings for the Pacific garbage patch. In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered a bacteria that can eat non-biodegradable plastic. This spring, an international research team led by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory — yes, the folks in Boulder — discovered an Ideonella sakaiensis variant that can break down those ubiquitous polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic water bottles. That moves scientists closer to solving the titanic problem of discarded plastics that take centuries to biodegrade.

There might even be hope for e-waste. Manufacturers in China, India and other developing countries are starting to view e-scrap as a valuable commodity. In recent years, the rising demand for, and value of, the “rare earth” elements used in laptops and cellphones has risen, placing the cost of recycling closer to mining. Policies encouraging sustainable “harvesting” of rare and valuable raw materials have already been adopted in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.

There’s also some good news about local recycling. It’s growing.

Seven years ago, a recycling professional I met at networking event told me that virtually nothing got recycled on Colorado’s Western Slope. Because we didn’t have local recycling facilities, everything had to be trucked over the passes to Denver. For most of our junk, that’s just too far away to be economical.

Hence my concern about trashing that microwave.

When I asked Tim whether it wound up in what’s euphemistically called a “landfill,” he said, “No.” He took it to Trinity Recycling, which serves the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys from Gypsum and Glenwood Springs. Trinity disassembles appliances, metal sheds and filing cabinets, copper pipes and wires, cars, trucks and even old radiators and recycles the metals locally.

That’s better news than I was expecting, so I think I will just put that rant about why that three-year-old microwave couldn’t be fixed away for another column, another day.

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This column was originally published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on April 18, 2018.