8 reasons why lists are bullshit

Building a portfolio of published work is one of the most difficult but most necessary tasks of any writer. It’s a weird catch-22: To get published, you need to be published. 

As a result, you resort to finding online publications with slightly lower standards than the bigger names with the hope that a byline will bolster your portfolio.

These lower standards translate into most publications all wanting the same thing: listicles. They want “10 things you need to know about that lump on your forehead” or “5 reasons why this wrench would make a better pet than your neighbor's stupid Chihuahua.” 

The writing style is contrived and oh so shallow. And I can think of hundreds of things that I would rather do than write lists for a living. (Maybe I will write a list about those things.)

So, rather than beat ‘em, I decided to join ‘em. Here’s a list of eight reasons why lists are bullshit.

1. Listicles encourage half-assed writing

Creating an outline of your thoughts is a helpful tool for writers. However, it isn’t the final product. Listicles are the IKEA furniture of writing—cheap, unassembled, and exuding an aura of Scandinavian smugness. This style of writing conveys the message, “I am an ok writer, but I really suck at creating transitions and developing a cohesive narrative.”

2. Faux-experts write them

My favorite are the listicles that itemize the “things you NEED TO KNOW about (insert topic here)”. This particular brand smacks of know-it-all hipsterism. I’m just as talented as the next guy when it comes to researching something for five minutes before writing about it. Most listicles portray the author as somebody with a unique expertise. Unfortunately, they are usually young, aspiring writers who overuse Wikipedia for “source material.”

3. Lists were designed for lame adult responsibilities

I make lists of household chores. I make lists for grocery shopping. Lists are for when you are doing adult stuff. I don’t like to adult. Also, items on lists are designed to be crossed out as a means to signify accomplishment. Listicles leave too many loose ends for me to feel truly comfortable. In fact, while creating the outline for this, I have been crossing out each bullet item as I write it. Listicles and my psychological need for closure don't mix.

4. Listicles make you a lazy reader

I am just as guilty as you are. When I first open a list, I skim the intro paragraphs. But then my mouse cursor takes me directly to the first bulleted point in bold font type, bypassing the obviously less important content. Then, I keep scrolling until I have read all of the main headers. From that point, I need to decide whether or not to go back to the top of the article and read the whole thing thoroughly. I never do: I just roll my eyes and say, “Shit, I can’t believe I clicked on that.” Then, I’m off to next article that I intend to skim.

5. They cause terrorism

Chances are that this title caught your attention. But, if you are like most online readers, you probably aren’t even reading this subtext right now. You just assumed that I made a sound, logical argument that effectively correlates listicles with terrorism. For example, I can safely say that before 9/11 there were virtually no lists published online. However, since that tragic day, the number of lists being published has grown exponentially each year and coincides with the growth in the number of acts of terror throughout the world. I won’t even bother backing that fact up, because—like I said—you’re probably not even reading this. Furthermore, if I can’t be bothered to write functional transitions between points, why would I even take the time to cite my sources? BuzzFeed is where peer review goes to die. 

6. They line the pockets of annoying online advertisers

The worst kind of clickbait listicles: The ones that make you click “next” 157 times to finish reading their inane blather. The goal of this style of listicle is, of course, to encourage excessive clicks within a specific page to blast you with more advertisements and improve the site’s SEO. I can’t tell you how many online publications that I’ve completely given up that have incorporated this whorish tactic. My rule of thumb: If it takes more than two clicks to gather content, it had better be porn.

7. Anything that reminds of Letterman needs to die

Getting to stay up late to watch David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists always seemed like a treat. Looking back it now, I think the allure was simply the act of staying up later than usual. Because, in retrospect, Letterman wasn’t actually funny. And neither were his “Top Ten” lists. To make matters worse, they got even less funny with each passing year. During his last year before retirement, Letterman almost seemed like he stopped trying to be funny. I’m not exactly certain what this has to with the topic of this list, other than a loose association with Letterman's early version of unfunny listicles. But it just bolsters my central thesis that listicles don’t have to make any sense at all. If you are still reading now, I would be amazed. In fact, I’ll buy you a gift if you are the first person to write “holy balls… that was the funniest thing I have ever read” in the comments section of this post—just to prove that you actually read most of this garbage that I’m writing.

8. 9 items or less = lazy

Have you noticed that listicles first started off with a standard amount of bullet points? It was always 10 things, right? Then, all of the sudden, the standard shifted. The numbers became arbitrary, and the chaos ensued. It became “9 household items that shouldn’t be near your rectal cavity”, “7 of the craziest things Obama said while tripping acid,” and “5 things you need to know about that wound that hasn’t healed since Oktoberfest.” I remember seeing a list that only had three items listed once. Three! You’re not even trying at that point.

And yes, I recognize the irony that my list only has 8 points. Sue me. I don't want to write in this style anymore. My head hurts. 

This listicle is by no means authoritative or all-encompassing, because—well—it’s a listicle. And we have established that listicles are bullshit. 

My intentions are selfish for writing this. Maybe if people are encouraged to avoid listicles, then the market value of them will diminish. Then, online readers will spend their time seeking out more interesting and better written content. Then, listicles will go the way of MySpace, Geocities, the Ally McBeal dancing baby GIF, and every other annoying trend on the interwebs. Then, online publications won’t want listicles anymore; they’ll want thoughtful, creative, and well-researched prose that accurately portrays the struggle to…

... oooo… look at that… "12 reasons why this urinal cake found in a Chuck E. Cheese restroom would be the best candidate for President." *click*

I have a problem, and I need your help to fix it

I’m here to admit that I have a problem. It’s a problem that I share with many of you. In fact, I venture to say that a majority of people struggle with this very same issue.

I’ve decided to make the first step toward recovery by admitting that a problem exists. Plus, publicly stating my intentions keeps me accountable. In fact, I would encourage all you to participate in the same challenge that I am about to undergo. Call it an early New Year’s resolution.

I hereby promise to stop feeding public trolls.

Allow me to provide a little context to this promise. Needless to say, there has been—as many experts would purport—a lot of shit going on. A lot of bad shit to be more specific. And whenever bad shit happens, there is never a shortage of public figures to voice their cockamamie prescriptions as to why said bad shit occurred.

You know the type. The response usually involves blaming some ethnic group. Or some perceived culture war against their religion’s holidays. Or, when in doubt, they can blame our Satan-worshipping, Leninist-sympathizing, Islamofascist Commander-in-Chief. (There are so many factual reasons to dislike Obama; I don’t know why people have to make stuff up.)

And what do we do?

We react. We emote. We blast out their dreadful and asinine worldviews via social media. We attach some snarky quip with it that basically equates to, “Hey guys… look at what this dipshit is saying LOL.”

However, there is one problem with sharing, retweeting, and hot-linking this drivel: Their message only grows stronger with each iteration.  

Calculate the return on investment on the time you spend responding to and legitimatizing the haphazard and self-promoting ramblings of simpletons.

With the saturation of social media messaging, there has been a correlated growth in what I call “public trolls”. These are buffoonish characters who truly don’t say anything of substance. In fact, they never intend to. Their goal is provoke an emotional response from their audience by saying outlandish things. And the response is predominately derived from well-intentioned folks who are offended by the troll’s message. Any news, especially bad news, is good news in the eyes of the troll. Manufactured outrage is the best thing to drive traffic toward their misguided cause and feed their engorged egos.

For those unfamiliar with how search engine optimization works, every action you take online—each click, each second spent on a website, each social media share—strengthens the online presence of content. In our world, being the first thing that pops in Google is more powerful than being President. By dedicating the slightest iota of attention to the shenanigans of public trolls, you empower them exponentially with each stroke of your keyboard and each click of your mouse. Calculate the return on investment on the time you spend responding to and legitimatizing the haphazard and self-promoting ramblings of simpletons.

When I first wrote this piece, I wanted to give some specific examples of public trolls. But then I thought again: Typing their name only gives them the power they want. So I am entrusting you to read between the lines, think critically, and determine which characters I am excoriating.

Before lashing out on the stupidity of a statement made by a public troll, consider the relative power and influence of said troll. If the troll is just a “public personality”, they don’t actually possess power. They may have a platform, but they can’t create policy. They can’t issue executive orders. They may have an audience, but their audience is made up 10% true believers who can’t be dissuaded otherwise. The other 90% is people like you saying, “Hey everybody… look at the stupid shit this whack job is saying... rabble rabble rabble.” (Your words, not mine.)

If the public figure making an outlandish comment is in a high-ranking position of power or governance, then that is a different story. Authority that has the ability to impede your self-determination is fair game. Always punch up—never down or at face level.

I am as guilty as the next sucker for falling for the traps left by public trolls. That’s why I am writing this. I want you to hold me to this challenge personally. Let’s keep each other accountable, ok?

Instead of sharing the message of the troll, consider the narrative that you would like to see. Think of the public figures and thought leaders who are a part of that narrative. Dedicate the bulk of your online activity to clicking, tweeting, reading, and sharing that narrative instead. Optimize the shit out of that narrative.

And, if that narrative doesn’t exist, fucking write it yourself and share the shit out of it. Keep in mind that there are a lot of hard-working, creative people who burn the midnight oil to create smart, thoughtful, and witty content that equates to something more than dick jokes and Willy Wonka memes. Find these people, and give them your attention.

Consider this as an effort to improve your time management. What is the opportunity cost of the time and energy devoted toward an individual of no influence who only manages to piss you off? I'd rather devote that time and energy to reading something of substance, listening to the Clash, or playing with my son. I can think of thousands of things I'd rather do actually. Spend more time on the content that reflects the world you want to see.

But—most importantly—whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.

Cautiously Optimistic: The Psychology of a Denver Broncos Fan

Cautiously optimistic.

It is inevitable: Every year before football season starts, somebody will ask me, “How do you feel about the Broncos this season?”

I have responded with the words “cautiously optimistic” for so long that I can’t remember when I started. The two words communicate the psychology of the true Bronco fan: We are accustomed to winning, but we are also accustomed to having our hearts ripped out of our chests during the playoffs. So we remain upbeat and positive, but we try to keep our hopes grounded.

We are always a loyal group. Even during that shitty 2010 season when we only won four games – the year that McDaniels nearly flushed our entire franchise down the toilet. That was also the same year when the Raiders smoked us like a pack of menthols. (Do you remember 59-14? I still have nightmares about that game.) The Orange and Blue have been our true north guiding us through the darkest of non-Elways times: the "Jake the Snake" era, the Cutler temper tantrums, the hijinks of Kyle "Neckbeard" Orton, and the Tebow experiment. 

The team has rarely let me down. Some years were better than others, but the Broncos tended to be on the winning side of things. As of today, since the day I was born, the Broncos have a winning record of 60.6% (319-207). But during my 33 years on this Earth, I have witnessed more Super Bowls where we were on the losing side of things.

But, man alive, nothing was sweeter than 1998 and 1999, right? The jubilation felt after those back-to-back Super Bowl victories has pretty much sustained most of the Denver fan base for a decade and a half. We have been running on fumes ever since with only the occasional pit stop to fill up a gallon or two here and there.

Fuel tanks were filled up again when Peyton entered the picture in 2012. After we signed Manning, I was almost tempted to throw the “cautiously optimistic” response out the window, and replace it with “completely confident.” And, by the way things started off during the Manning era, that might have seemed like a safe bet.

But then the "Mile High Miracle" happened, and all of that stored up optimism fizzled out as we watched Joe Flacco connect with Jacoby Jones for a game-tying 70 yard touchdown pass. The Ravens squeaked by a field goal in double overtime. 

Also, let us never forget what happened the year after that: Super Bowl 48. Complete confidence flew over the heads of Broncos fans like that opening snap that sailed over Manning's head. My inner monologue at that time: “It’s ok. We can shake that off. It’s just a safety. It’s just two points.” I was back to cautious optimism in a matter of seconds. We all know what happened next, so it doesn’t need to be repeated. I was all out of optimism by halftime.

There was also last year where we focused all of our energy worrying about the Patriots in the AFC Championship that we lost sight of the Colts in the Divisional Playoff.

I don't place all of the blame on Manning like many are quick to do. There is always the lingering reality of his post-season mediocrity (11-12 overall, and 1-2 during Super Bowls).

But the truth of the matter is I don’t want anybody else taking snaps. Unless, of course, we are up by four scores; then it is time to put in Osweiler. He could benefit from the time against actual first-string defenses and Manning needs the rest. Aside from that scenario, Manning is our best option for winning the Super Bowl this year.

More importantly, this team has demonstrated the ability to win despite Manning’s struggles. With the exception of the Green Bay game, all of our victories this season can be attributed to our defense. The comparisons to the “Orange Crush” days are apt. It’s been a privilege watching the likes of Talib, Harris, Miller, Ward, Ware, and Marshall this season.

So here we are again, in the midst of a run to the playoffs. Following the huge morale boost of routing the previously-undefeated Packers, we are embarking on the toughest part of our season: the down-but-never-out Colts, the always-villainous Patriots, the reformed Bengals, and a resurgent AFC West that would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler against the team that has won the division four years in a row.

And here I am again. The Broncos are 7-0 and trending in the right direction, but I still hedge my bets and curb my enthusiasm. We should defeat the Colts, but we said the exact same thing last year during the playoffs.

There goes my cautious optimism again. Go Broncos!

How to Improve AP History in JeffCo

Previously written on Sept. 30, 2014

Dear JeffCo School Board,

I know that you have your hands tied at the moment, dealing with wayward faculty and disobedient youth. I want to do my part and take on the responsibility of some of the important tasks that you poor, beleaguered officials have on your “to do list.” I have already started to compile a list of potential edits – or let’s call them “improvements” – to be made to future AP history textbooks. I just started today, so the list is short. With you as my inspiration, I plan to provide more improvements that will greatly benefit the impressionable minds of future Americans. Through our shared efforts, we can teach our youth that the U.S.A. is the greatest thing to happen to God's green Earth.


  • European settlers learned how to cultivate non-GMO, gluten-free products from indigenous people, and reciprocated such generosity by producing some of the most effective diseases and species depletion native populations had ever experienced.
  • The institution of slavery was widely celebrated as America’s first affirmative action success, providing housing, food, and jobs to hundreds of thousands of displaced African-Americans.  
  • When framing the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were prophetic in their reluctance to address the “slavery question.” Their foresight made certain that the joy of Civil War reenactments and harmonious race relations would be bestowed upon future generations in perpetuity.
  • Shay’s Rebellion was the United States of America’s first experience with dirty, rotten hippies.
  • In an attempt to show compassion toward native people, the American military provided Indians with blankets that once comforted the souls and warmed the backs of small pox victims.
  • After careful sociological experimentation in Ludlow, Colorado, John D. Rockefeller and the Colorado National Guard helped bring about the eight-hour workday and other important labor reforms. This project also served as the model for future, successful collaborations involving corporate philanthropy and military benevolence.
  • Out of concern for the plight of Japanese-Americans, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the first national summer camp for the minority group. It was so popular, happy campers stayed beyond the summer for several years.
  • Joseph McCarthy's valiant efforts helped inspire future NSA programs and Facebook privacy policies.
  • The Manhattan Project worked tirelessly to introduce nuclear energy to Japan, which shaped the country’s future energy policy that never once jeopardized its people.
  • Agent Orange improved the manufacturing productivity of the Vietnamese people by providing them with extra – and very nimble – fingers to be used on the assembly line. 
  • In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set the precedent for America’s commitment to arming “moderate rebels” through his victorious Bay of Pigs campaign.
  • Rosa Parks bravely secured closer seating for all future Americans who wanted to sit closer to the air conditioning while enjoying public transit.
  • If not for the heroism of John Rambo, Forrest Gump, and R. Lee Ermey, the United States military would have not successfully fended off the Vietcong, Oliver Stone, and the Beat Generation.
  • Kent State taught all college-bound Americans the value of not missing your class lectures.
  • Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal created the first all African-American nonprofit dedicated to preservation and proliferation of large African kitty cats.
  • All it took was the election of Ronald Reagan to end the Cold War, secure world peace, and end history on a good note. Everything else after this point is just pure conjecture at this point.

In all seriousness, if you think that the teaching of history demands a specific lens – whether it celebrates patriotism or downplays disobedience – you don’t want history; you want propaganda. Totalitarian regimes understood that controlling the past meant controlling the present and shaping the future.

I refuse to buy into any of your rhetorical spin. If you actually read the course curriculum guideline, you will see that the College Board is encouraging the teaching of history as it should be taught: the critical analysis of the ever-changing patterns found within human civilization, not the mindless memorization of dates, people, and events. I hated history because all I got was the latter when I was a student in the very same school district you govern. In middle school, I was forced to pretend that I was a historical figure – wearing era-appropriate garb and all – and mindlessly drone on about his accomplishments in front of my class. I retained nothing and despised the subject matter. If it weren't for some great history teachers later in life, I might have avoided the topic entirely during college and missed out on what is truly a lifelong passion of mine.

What is going on in Jefferson County is actually a microcosm of a larger takeover of school board governance by ideologically-narrow zealots like you. You are a part of the same narrow agenda that suggests “intelligent design” belongs alongside evolution in science textbooks and “American exceptionalism” is the most important lesson in the history of our glorious, infallible nation. (If you are looking for more suggestions on how to further botch education, may I recommend watching “The Revisionaries” on Netflix?)

I encourage you to listen to the concerns of your students. They are demonstrating one of the most vital and patriotic activities that history teaches us: dissent. If not, I hope the JeffCo voters relocate you to the dustbin of history where you belong.


A Jefferson County Alum

Sorry Kiddo – Your Dad is Full of Shit


Fair warning, kiddo: When it comes to this whole parenting thing, your dad has no friggin' clue what he is doing. Nine months of anticipation, preparation, nesting, planning, reading, and fretting over your birth amounted to very little return.

After only two months of your existence, I came to the profound realization that there is nothing that parents can do to fully prepare for the blunt reality they are about to face. Each day is a new challenge, and your mom and I have learned quickly who is truly in charge. (Don't let it get to your head. Your ass is grass for your first game of H-O-R-S-E.)

Now, I’ve got the basics down. I know you need food, shelter, and the occasional diaper change. I know not to shake you, leave you in a hot car with the windows rolled up, or use your head as a beer coaster. I’ve got all of the fundamentals more or less covered.

But I can’t shake this overwhelming sense that I am about to spend the rest of my life just winging it. I’ve mastered this skillset in a professional setting. I’ve learned how to demonstrate absolute confidence at times when I completely lack competence. I can speak in front of a crowd with little preparation or write on a topic that I researched a few minutes prior, and still manage to convince my audience that I am “well informed” – even though I know that I am complete fraud.

This time, it’s different. This time, your mommy and I are responsible for the cultivation of a little person – transforming you from the tiniest of embryos into to a healthy, articulate, successful, well-adjusted citizen with minimal social awkwardness and solid credit scores. This time, I know I am complete fraud, and I don’t have the foggiest idea how to fake it.

I feel like even more of a fraud when I consider my contribution up until this point in comparison to your mom, the person who has willingly sacrificed her body to incubate you. My biggest contribution at this point is ordering ready-made nursery furniture online, and spending an afternoon putting it together.

Though I feel confident that your mom and I have created the best environment possible for you, I still know that I’m going to fuck up somewhere down the line. And this fuck up will be a part of a bigger list of other fuck ups that, thirty years from now, you will be repeating to a therapist or *cough* writing about on your public blog. I am your future “daddy issues.”

Nick Simmons wrote an interesting piece titled “My Dad, Gene Simmons, Is Full of Shit and So Are You.” Long story short, Nick shares his story about transitioning from a wide-eyed child who revered his infallible rock star father to a pubescent skeptic who publicly disagreed with his old man. In the end, this evolution not only brought clarity to his relationship with his father, but also a better sense of self for Nick.

This article got me thinking: I too was a child who revered his father. He was the guy who could throw a baseball harder than me, reach places beyond my grasp, fix anything, lift heavy stuff, and outwit his peers. He taught me to how to hustle people at pool, change the starter on my truck, and remodel a house. And he always managed do all of these things one-handed, while never spilling the beer he held in his other hand.


However, I too was a rebellious teen who then outgrew his father (both physically and emotionally), learned to disagree with him on virtually everything, and did my damnedest to build an identity separate from him.

Then, I became an adult (more like a balding man-child with diminishing metabolism), and I realized that I was repeating a lot of my father’s annoying truisms. Or I was putting up drywall or rewiring an outlet like how we taught me to do years ago.

In the end, I learned that, sometimes, it is just better to agree to disagree. For example, a few years ago, my dad and I spent a Christmas Eve prognosticating about world affairs over a case of beer. Very rarely do we find consensus on political issues, but my dad and I were seriously just a few beers away from figuring out the world’s problems that night. Unfortunately, we ran out of Pinstripe, so we couldn’t agree on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. (If my dad and I can come this close to agreement, I have hope for Congress.)

This revelation about fatherhood took another drastic turn when I realized that I *gasp* may turn into my dad, meaning that eventually you, my child, will discover that your old man is also full of shit. That’s a daunting thought.

No matter how much wisdom, morality, and good manners that ma and pa can impart upon our little genetic cocktail, we will inevitably experience rolled eyes, your dependency on the word “whatever”, and other various antagonistic expressions of prepubescent incredulousness.

Part of me wants to knock that futuristic smirk right off of your face. But then the other part of me remembers that this was me at one point. And the last thing that would inspire the younger version of myself to respect authority was for said authority to dig its heels in with “my way or the highway” dichotomies. This isn’t to say that I have to cave into every one of your emotional outbreaks, but I just have to pick my battles wisely.

But, most importantly, I have to embrace my original thesis: When it comes to this whole dad thing, I am tragically clueless. And damn proud of it to boot! Oddly enough, there is something cathartic about this self-deprecation. There is no shortage of “parenting experts” who can provide troves of “wisdom” or philosophize about the “beauty” of being a parent. The only difference between me and them is that I readily admit that I am full of shit. The first step to recovery is admitting that a problem exists.

So here goes nothing. I’m about two months into this adventure. And as for you kiddo, you are none the wiser about your father’s ineptitude. 

The question is how long can I keep up this charade? Stay tuned.  

A Day in the Life of Fruit Growing

Originally published in the High Country Shopper. Republished with permission.

Jan Waggoner prepares to pull some of her delicious cherries. (Photo courtesy of Jan Waggoner.)

2015 was a tough year for Western Colorado orchards. A spring freeze damaged the majority of the fruit trees, especially those in the Surface Creek Valley on the south side of the Grand Mesa. The blast of cold air rendered many of the orchards literally fruitless.

Despite this devastating and irreparable harm inflicted upon local growers, spirits are high. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a more generous and resilient group of people than those who have dedicated their lives to the craft of orchard cultivation. I spent a day jumping into the passenger seat of various vehicles, trudging through the mud, and chatting on the front porch of some of the most prominent orchards in the Surface Creek Valley.

Wag’s World Orchards

A little perspective – Jan Waggoner holds up a peach next to a baseball to demonstrate the size of her fruit. (Photo courtesy of Jan Waggoner.)

The day started with a morning drive down Nowhere Road. Disregard the name of the road, because the route definitely takes to somewhere special: Wag’s World Orchards. Located in the heart of Eckert, the 80 acre orchard is owned and operated by Chris and Jan Waggoner.

The Waggoners are true entrepreneurs. Not only do they manage the high demands of their orchard business, but they also find time to operate a publication company and provide health care counseling for the elderly and the disabled.

“You are busy folks,” I comment.

“Seven days a week,” Jan responds matter-of-factly.

The origin of Wag’s World is a story of mileage. Rewind to 1994. This dynamic couple were living in Flagstaff, Arizona, busily growing their publishing company. Chris comes from a family of apple growers from Pacific Northwest. Health issues brought Chris’ family from Oregon to Colorado. Feeling the urge to return to the country, the family pooled resources together and purchased the acreage where their Eckert orchard sits now. The transition was not an easy one. For four years, the Waggoners commuted between Flagstaff and Eckert every six weeks to maintain both businesses.

The view from the front of Wag’s World during the fall. (Photo courtesy of Jan Waggoner.)

At this point during the interview, Chris excuses himself so he could load a truck to transport to market. Moments of rest are few and far between at the Wag’s World headquarters. Aside from the orchard, the Waggoners own several fruit stands throughout the county and participates in countless farmers’ markets throughout the state. Despite the grueling time commitment and the hard work, the Waggoners wouldn’t change a thing. “You pay a price to live out here,” Jan states. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

There is not an inch of wasted space on the property. Walking around the space will take you through approximately 20,000 trees of cherries, peaches, apples, plums, nectarines, and pears. There is also three acres of garden space filled with cauliflower, onions, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes – all of which were sold to buffer the fallout created by the freeze. Their garden alone boasts over 1,200 tomato plants. Several buildings are scattered throughout the property too. There is housing for the orchard workers, including three brothers who have worked with the Waggoners for over 20 years. Chris’ mom, who helps sell at their fruit stands, lives on site as well. The Waggoners also own a 1,000 square foot cooler – a recent and necessary addition following the closure of the county’s primary packing plant. 

Jan possesses a keen mind for marketing. We dive into a treasure trove of digital photography that she has taken over the years. There are pictures of peaches on scales that weigh over a pound. Or pictures of peaches juxtaposed to baseballs, demonstrating their massive size. Even during their darkest times – such as during the freeze – Jan was there with a camera, documenting every wood-burning barrels used to keep the trees from freezing.

Like those barrels, there is an ever-burning flame of entrepreneurial spirit that keeps Wag’s World a vibrant place.

Fritchman Orchards

Sharon and Darlene of Fritchman Orchards pose outside their store front.

Down the road from Wag’s World is another local gem: Fritchman Orchards. I find the matriarch, Darlene Fritchman, behind the counter of their packing shed. She graciously introduces me to everybody at her storefront, including her son Erik (who helps farm), her sister Sharon (who is the “top salesperson” at the store), and another local grower Chang Fogg (whose orchard I visit next).

The tour of the shed is brief. Normally, the shed is full of apples, plums, prunes, cherries, and peaches. But the fruit selection is limited this year. Fritchman prefers to show her collage of family photos on the wall. The collage includes a bird eye’s view of the farm, which she and her husband Ellis purchased from her parents in 1975. “I’ve been absolutely delighted to be a part of agriculture and raise my children in this atmosphere,” Darlene beams. Fritchman Orchards, now in its fourth generation, thrives on family.

We hop into Fritchman’s pickup and head off to tour her orchard, which is approximately 100 acres in size and about two miles east of the packing shed located at the lower end of Cedar Mesa. As we arrive on the farm property, Darlene points out a small headstone under a wagon in front of her home. This is the final resting place for her parents’ ashes. “He brought them home to the farm,” she adds. “That’s where they would be happy.” This was just one more reminder how important family is to this entire venture.

The view from up the hill overlooking Fritchman Orchards.

Fritchman Orchards lost nearly everything due to frost. During her 40 years in the orchards, this is the worst freeze she has ever experienced. As we cruise around the property, each passing tree is as fruitless as the last one. “It’s not easy,” Fritchman scoffs. “I’ve turned away hundreds and hundreds of customers because my cooler is empty.” Even when we did come across some fruit-bearing trees, the bundle was scant. Regardless, she diligently makes note of each tree that could still be picked for later. “Better get them before the bears get them,” she jokes.

The Fritchman farm is more than trees. This diversified enterprise also includes goats. “Goat meat is one of the most popular meats in the world,” Darlene shares. With an influx of Middle Eastern and Asian migrants to the United States, the marketplace for this meat preference has escalated – so much so that suppliers can’t meet the demand. Fritchman benefits greatly from this unique scarcity.

Fritchman is also not afraid to experiment. With her sharpened sense of science behind orchard agriculture, we pass several alfalfa patches planted to reintroduce nitrogen into the soil for future tree planting. We pass a series of smaller trees near the front of the property. “These are my walnut trees,” Fritchman points out. “I’m just playing with them.” She shares her intentions for other crop introductions like table grapes.

Despite the bad year, Darlene remains optimistic about the future of agriculture. “The population is going to double in 30 years, and somebody is going to have to feed them,” she smiles.

Fogg Orchards

Chang Fogg motions how small some of his apples turned out following this most recent freeze.

As luck would have it, I met the next grower, Chang Fogg, during my visit to Fritchman’s packing shed. A convenient gap in my schedule allowed me the opportunity to make the impromptu trip four miles north into Cedaredge to visit Fogg Orchards. 

Agriculture runs in Fogg’s blood. He is a fifth generation grower. At the turn of the century, his great-great grandparents homesteaded down the valley near Tongue Creek. Purchased by Fogg’s grandparents in the mid-1940s, their current 120 acre plot in Cedaredge has been in the family for three generations. His son, Justin, also works on the farm. When asked if this orchard would live on one more generation, Fogg smirks and responds, “You’re always hopeful of that.”

Fogg’s demeanor is best characterized by how he conducts the tour: nonchalant, no frills, and straight to the point with a barrage of facts. We load up quickly – including his trusty dog, Chloe – and begin to circle the property in his Kawasaki Mule.

Like the other growers, Fogg didn’t escape the freeze. Part of the reason he was available to interview was due to him (in his words) “not having much to do these days.” (If not for this interview, his plan for the day was to clean out the garage with his brother, Scott.) For perspective on how bad the freeze was, Fogg normally produces over 40,000 bushels a year; he only produced 200 this year.

One unique product grown by Fogg is the “EverCrisp” apple. A cross between a Fuji and a Honey Crisp, an EverCrisp apple look more like a Fuji, but yields a much sweeter flavor like a Honey Crisp. This unique hybrid is not widely available in Colorado There is only one other grower in the valley besides Fogg who grows this unique fusion of apples.

Fogg not only grows over seven styles of apples, but he also grows peaches and cherries. On a whim, he decided to grow 700 almond trees this year. “We don’t grow almonds in Colorado,” he laughs. “But I thought that I would give them a try.”

Fogg is a fiercely knowledgeable grower. If given the opportunity, he will explain the exact science behind every organic or mechanical entity on his 120 acre plot. Whether it is his digitally-controlled wind machines or his intricate self-cleaning watering system, Fogg loses himself in the details while he explains them to me.

Unlike Wag’s World and Fritchman, Fogg doesn’t sell his products at fruit stands. He is all about wholesale – that is, if it wasn’t for the freeze, of course. You can tell that Fogg takes his craft seriously by how much he hates to disappoint his customers. I ask if he had any closing thoughts before I saunter off to my next orchard. “My apologies to everybody for not enough apples this year,” he humbly concludes.

Red Mountain Ranches

The front porch of Roxie and Bob Morris (Red Mountain Ranches) makes for great conversation.

Due north of Cedaredge, on your way up to the top of Grand Mesa, you will find Red Mountain Ranches on the east side of Highway 65. When you arrive at RMR, you are greeted by a quaint store front. The entrance is pastoral and serene, like something out of painting from the Romance era. Antique windmills. Rustic farm equipment. Wood pallets colored as the Colorado and American flags. All of this, of course, is highlighted by the spectacle of the Grand Mesa hovering over the property. RMR patrons are encouraged to – as their slogan so boldly declares – “taste the difference high altitude makes.”

Red Mountain Ranches is owned and operated by Bob and Roxie Morris, who represent the third generation of this family-owned enterprise. Daughter Laurie and her husband Manuel help run the store and make RMR’s very popular cider. There is also Lucy, the family dog, who watches over the farm and accompanies Bob everywhere he goes. Bob loving refers to Lucy as “his shadow.”

RMR is famous for their cider. If you had asked Bob years ago if he would ever get into cider-making, he would have laughed at you. “I was never going to make cider,” Bob scoffs. He shares a funny story about an impromptu trip to Michigan where the family purchased a press to make juice and cider on a whim. “We’re doing things that I never thought we would do,” he laughs.

A rustic windmill sits near the entrance of Red Mountain Ranches.

The family owns three different properties, totaling about 100 acres. The property that houses the store front is certified organic, contributing to Delta County’s rich and vast organic foods marketplace. The other properties house their traditionally-grown orchards and cider mill. All orchards combined, Red Mountain Ranches produces 15 different kinds of apples. On top of that, they also grow peaches and cherries. Inside the store, you find coolers and shelves filled with cider, syrup, spices, salsa, pie filling, and other bottled delights.

The Morris family hospitably welcome every visitor to their farm. Before I even get the chance to sit down, there is a cup of fresh apple cider waiting for me. The front porch of their store is an ideal environment for conversation and drink, accentuated by the sound of wind chimes in the background.  

A pair of flag-decorated palettes sit at the entrance of Red Mountain Ranches.

But what makes the store feel even more inviting is the sense of family that resonates on the walls. “Do you want to know what this is all about?” Bob stops and points to an old picture of him giving his grandson a piggy back ride. He adds, “Everything is about family.” Once your eyes adjust to the busyness of the store, you begin to notice the entire interior is decorated with trophies, photos, and plaques – all celebrating the Morris family. “We’re going to run out of wall,” Laurie laughs, referencing all of the framed pictures adorning the walls.

Despite the day-to-day uncertainty that is inherent in the business, the Morris family wouldn’t want his life to be any different. When asked if he could name one specific day that personified his love of his livelihood, he responds simply, “Every day that I get to spend out in the orchard with my dog.”

Roxie adds, “It’s just a lifestyle that you can’t beat.”

“Anybody who has a garden, park, or orchard has an opportunity to ensure that if offers protection, brings beauty and bears fruit for future generations,” writes Gabriel Hemery in his book, The New Sylva. “In short, every one of us should aspire to be a forester.” I would agree with Mr. Hemery’s statement. The amount of grace, resiliency, humility, humor, and wit that I encountered during my time visiting all of these orchards was overwhelming. Also, the ubiquitous commitment to family is inspiring. If you have time to spare, consider paying a visit to one or more of these orchards. Even if you can’t get your hands on much fruit, the conversations and the vistas will make your visit worthwhile.

A group of Honey Crisp apples are ripe for the picking at Red Mountain Ranch.