The Paradox

Our tale should begin something like this:

“Young William Sands wanders through the blazing desert of the Colorado plateau. Miles from the charming burg of Naturita, our lost protagonist is without water, shade or SPF15. As darkness falls, an open mine adit beckons. With nowhere to turn and wily coyotes howling in the distance, the boy crawls into the tunnel. There amidst the glow of yellow rock, his body is bathed in radiation. He wakes the next morning knowing his life will be forever changed and leaves the adit with a new purpose. William Sands the boy is no more. He is now the mighty hero known as The Paradox.”

Faster than a speeding Winnebago, more powerful than an Iron Horse Motorcycle Rally and able to leap a McMansion in a single bound, turns his newfound power to the fight for truth, justice and the Colorado Way.

“Blam!” – The Paradox swoops in and blasts a crew of Department of Energy workers as they sneak a load of mill tailings into the Dolores River. “Kpow!” – Joined by his clever sidekick Radium Boy (a hero who emerged from the sludge of Moab’s Atlas Millsite), The Paradox intercepts a group of Russians seconds before they exchange barrels of glowing waste for weapons-grade uranium harvested from a Dove Creek dumpster. “Kareem!” – Paradox Man takes an afternoon off and flies to the rescue of a Hugh Hefner houseboat party just as the bunny barge floats over the spillway of Glen Canyon dam.

Stay tuned for the stunning conclusion.

Unfortunately, I’m still staying tuned. Between you and me, those super powers have yet to show. Granted I didn’t get the hulkish dose of radioactivity of Dr. Bruce Banner (and that night inside the Paradox Valley mine didn’t exactly happen), but I’ve certainly tasted more direct gamma radiation than Peter Parker and his little spider bite. It’s what happens when you grow up not far from the Yellow Rock Café and spend your formative years in the heart of this radio-nation. Stray alpha particles are just one of the prices we pay for living the fairy tale here in the scrub of the Western Slope.

I’ll never forget my younger days and our mini-road trips to the grocery store in Montrose. Just a few minutes outside town limits, the Sands family truckster would pass the telltale yellow and black warning symbol for radiation. Though that small mining town of Vanadium had long since gone bust, the invisible pulse of radiation and those mute signs remained.

Other road trips brought the family to the garden community of Durango, where we were treated to a taste of this town’s tailings pile, a remnant of decades of uranium milling along the halcyon banks of the Animas River. On

those visits, we’d literally bask in the glow of Durango’s former status as one of the most radioactive burgs in the nation.

If that wasn’t enough, a giant mound of tailings also overshadowed my hometown. The dirty leftovers of mining for silver, lead and tellurium, the pile contained a magic blend of heavy metals, acids and arsenic. When the wind blew, the tailings took flight, blowing into our kitchens, our water and our lungs.

Radon, a radioactive gas that just happens to be the second leading cause of lung cancer, still seeps into our homes, stores, schools and restaurants. Regular hits of radon rounded out my family’s radioactive résumé.

But Peter Parkers and Bruce Banners we were not. The sweet bite of radiation did not send any of us scampering up the wall, muscling out of our button-downs or into the fold of the comics page. The Paradox was just that – a puzzle – and he first came calling a dozen years ago.

On that day, I picked up the phone only to hear my Mom’s voice moving in and out of tears. Earlier that morning, the doctor had relayed the bad news – my Dad had been struck in his prime and diagnosed with cancer at the age of 55.

The phone rang again just a dozen days ago. Now it’s my Mom’s turn. After a handful of mammograms and a grueling biopsy, she got her dose of bad news. Her mid-winter surprise was a breast cancer diagnosis.

The real paradox is that both of my parents played by the rules. The physically fit, mostly vegetarian Coloradans never strayed far from the straight and narrow. Bottles of High Life and occasional nips of tequila were my dad’s only real vices. As for my Mom, she’s been operating on a blank slate since swearing off alcohol, sugar, white flour and even coffee more than 40 years ago. The arrows point in only one direction, back to the Western Slope and those little yellow and black radiation signs.

But don’t despair. There is good news hiding out on the Colorado plateau. This March, my Dad will celebrate 12 cancer-free years. He beat back the beast, did it with a wry smile and is again riding high. At this very moment, my Mom is girding for the biggest fight of her life. She’s running on bravery and grace, embracing life and has already seen through to the other side of treatment. She’s more than ready for Mr. C. After all, she’s already run one serious gauntlet – raising this Radium Boy.

Speaking of which, I know now that The Mighty Paradox won’t be flying to the rescue, and my parents will have to tackle this realist of worlds on their own. But I’m not concerned. Mom and Dad are proof positive that the real superheroes reside a little closer to home, and they’re out there turning back the forces of darkness every day.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing