Groundskeeper Dutch Shaver could be considered the eyes and ears of Durango High School: Who has a crush on who, what cliques are forming and what ideologies are shaping students’ lives.
The high school is a microcosm of a larger community – that of La Plata County, with its mix of rural and urban lifestyles, which is a microcosm of yet a larger community – that of the United States and its polarized political landscape.
“It’s kind of interesting being an employee for the schools,” Shaver said. “When you’re the custodian, the kids don’t really pay attention to you a lot, and you’re just kind of the background noise of things.”
Shaver contemplates all of this as he trims bushes, pulls weeds and plants flowers at the high school. He notices how kids label themselves – jock, feminist, lesbian – and he sees how adults do the same: Republican, Democrat, independent; white, male, Mormon; patriot, activist, American; etc.
“Everything has to be labeled,” he said.
But Shaver prides himself on looking past the labels and opening his mind to well-reasoned arguments. Maintaining a balance, he said, is essential to well-rounded individuals and effective governments.
With that said, Shaver considers himself a conservative, largely because he believes in capitalism and giving everyone a fair shot at making money. He’s having a hard time getting on board with President Donald Trump, saying he questions the president’s moral character and common sense.
“I just worry about which way he’s going to take it in the long run, because his past as far as his business deals make me question: OK, he’s a businessman, but how many people did he throw under the bus to get there?”
Shaver has three children, 10 and 14 and a 14-year-old stepson. He also works part-time at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and is co-captain of the Convention of States for state House District 59, which seeks to roll back federal regulations, reign in the federal debt and impose term limits on members of Congress.
The Convention of States is a long-term political attempt to bring 34 states together to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit its power and jurisdiction, and impose term limits on its officials and members of Congress.” After that, the goal is to get 38 states to agree to amend the Constitution, thereby bypassing Congress.
While the effort is led by conservatives, supporters believe it crosses political spectrums by including objectives that appeal to Americans in general, at least at face-value.
“I always love to go out there and feel the temperature, talk to people that are Democrats, liberals and progressives,” Shaver said. “I want to hear what everybody has to say because that’s the only way we’re going to fix things or balance things – is if we listen to each other and quit yelling at each other.”
Shaver, 50, moved to Durango from Albuquerque in April 2015. He used to make trips here as a child to visit family, including grandparents who lived in La Plata County. His grandfather planted a willow tree near U.S. Highway 550 and Trimble Lane (County Road 252), that has grown into a massive specimen.
As a child, he fell in love with the D&SNG – chasing it along the tracks with his mother to take pictures. He determined early on that he wanted to work on the train.
Shaver realized that dream two weeks ago: D&SNG hired him as a brakeman, who helps the conductor oversee passengers and maintain safety. It’s a weekend job, just in time for the summer.
Durango and Albuquerque have certain similarities as far as people and cultures, he said, but Albuquerque is too spread out; he likes Durango because everything is packed together.
“I see Durango for what it is; it’s a mixture of so many things. I love Durango for that fact,” Shaver said. “I just love the people here, regardless of upper class-lower class, hippie-cowboy, Texans-Californians.”
Shaver has no problem drawing parallels between his jobs and society.
The landscaper sees a similarity between plants and kids. No plant species is alike, he said. Each needs its own soil, light and temperature conditions to thrive. Likewise, no child is alike. They learn differently, interact differently and develop at different speeds.
“They all take different types of care, and they can all learn in different ways and grow in different ways to become the best flower they can be,” Shaver said.
The train buff draws connections between a well-functioning locomotive and the national political scene.
A coal-fired locomotive has many parts that must function simultaneously and in harmony to be most effective. A single weakness can cause the whole thing to break, he said. If one part over-powers another, it could spell doom. The locomotive needs a precise balance of fuel and water to control temperature and steam, he said.
“If you have one part that tries to overpower another part, it’s going to destroy the machine,” Shaver said. “If you get a Supreme Court that starts making law which is not their position, then the whole system breaks down. If you get a president that does nothing but executive orders and totally bypasses Congress like Obama and Trump ... then it’s messing up the system.”
Shaver attended a charter college in Washington state and worked 3½ years as a paralegal, mostly just to prove to himself he was smart enough to do white-collar work. But he prefers landscaping and groundskeeping.
He takes pride in making the high school look nice. If a family moves to Durango and is considering enrolling in either Durango High School or Animas High School, their first impression is going to be the physical appearance of the schools, he said.
“If the grounds look good – if the weeding is done, there are flowers, it’s looking happy, it’s looking presentable – then their whole aspect of that school changes,” he said. “If it’s overgrown, if there’s trash everywhere – their impression is going to be less impactful. I have a way of setting the tone for students. They may not pay attention to it, they may not see it, but I guarantee you, if they saw the trash blowing up into the corner of a door, they’re going to see that.”
His parental advice: Expose children to many ideas and directions, and let them choose what to believe or what paths to pursue.
“If we don’t allow our kids to freely think and chose their own ways and choose their own positions, then what are we? We’re no better than a North Korea who does nothing but propaganda feeding to the youth.”