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A 21-tree salute for Jim McGannon


He may not look overly friendly during a typical ice-fishing - trip, but Jim McGannons proven a great pal to city trees. - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • He may not look overly friendly during a typical ice-fishing trip, but Jim McGannons proven a great pal to city trees.

It was the night before the opening of elk season, and eight buddies had gathered in the weathered old restaurant on a winding road north of Gunnison.

Fresh bottles of beer mingled with many dead ones, crowding the rough surface of the wobbly oak table.

In the middle was Jim McGannon, who had launched into a fascinating story about trees some five minutes earlier, although it seemed like five days.

The main characters in this tale were drought, acid rain and the complex root systems of trees the exact formula used so successfully by Ernest Hemingway in his classic stories, including The Old Man and the Elm and The Sap Also Rises.

The waitress came with the food, but the story went on. A plate landed in front of McGannon and, as he babbled on about soil nutrients, his left hand reached out for the bottle of ketchup for his cheeseburger and pile of fries.

We all paused then and gazed in fascination and disbelief as McGannon, locked now in some sort of storytelling stupor, closed his hand around a newly opened beer that he apparently believed was the ketchup bottle.

He brought it closer and raised it over his plate, his eyes glassy as he spoke sadly about pine beetles.

"Unless rainfall increases," he said, "and historical data indicates that it won't, then all the forests across the West ..."

We wanted to say something, to warn him that he was holding the wrong bottle, to stop him before he poured beer on his cheeseburger.

OK. That's a lie.

What we wanted was the damn story about the trees to stop. This, we knew, was our best hope.

McGannon retires this week, ending a 27-year run as the forester in our village. He's only 52 and looks even younger, testimony to a working life spent outside in the fresh air. Wandering in the woods. Talking to the trees.

We met in 1993. I was writing about how the city protects its small pines from demented, saw-carrying, would-be Christmas-tree thieves in December.

McGannon took me along to show me the secret weapon, a mixture of liquids that he sprayed on hundreds of the city's trees to thwart the criminals.

The highlight came when he sprayed a tree without any warning, enveloping both the tree and me in a cloud of what he described at that very moment as a blend of fox urine and chemicals called methyl and butyl thiols that come, he said, "from scent glands on either side of a skunk's anus."

As I stumbled across the median and into traffic because of the eye-burning, stomach-churning wave of stink that McGannon had just unleashed upon me, I was loudly calling him names, including a common synonym for that very same word "anus."

We've been good friends ever since. Turned out we lived in the same neighborhood and had a lot in common. Hunting. Fishing. Poker.

Even our kids became friends. We also shared many beliefs right from the start, including the strong and unwavering belief that then-City Manager Jim Mullen McGannon's boss was a complete anus.

From the moment he doused me with fox urine and skunk glandular secretions, well, we bonded. Friends for life. Guys can be funny like that.

He came to us from the vast, treeless tundra of North Dakota and would not, it seemed, see a re-creation of that in Colorado. He was responsible for the planting of thousands of saplings in Colorado Springs. Even now, he's visibly saddened when disease or age causes a city tree to die.

And oh my goodness, can the guy save a nickel. Here's just one example, from his longtime assistant, Denise Sherwood: "Jim would never let his staff order pencils, pens or office supplies in general. He would tell us to go to Phil Long Expo Center events and scarf up as many free pens and other stuff as we could. He is very thrifty with the city's money."

The habit, as you might imagine, doesn't stop at work. Two weeks ago, during an ice-fishing trip, he spent an hour and I am not kidding ranting about how on the way home he was going to stop at the shop where he bought the bait and demand his $2 back because the worms weren't lively enough.

But beneath the sometimes odd behavior I, of course, am perfect and have no strange habits there is a very big heart. A few years ago, while checking on his friends they being the trees in the Garden of the Gods on a freezing cold morning, he saw a disoriented, lightly dressed woman wandering in the middle of the road. He called 911 and waited with her until help arrived, his warm jacket around her shoulders.

And if you're wondering about that night near Gunnison, well, yes, he did indeed pour a huge amount of beer over his cheeseburger and fries.

We, of course, never, ever brought it up. You don't do that to a friend.

Today, at the end of nearly three decades of service to our village and all the trees in it, I say to my friend, "Thank you for a job well done."

And in his honor, I raise a cold bottle of ketchup.

Listen to Rich Tosches each Thursday at 8 a.m. on MY99.9. He can be reached at

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