Open Letter To Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard at the White House for the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors

Merle Haggard is a legend.  He is an icon.  He’s like that antique that stands on your mother’s dresser that is so awesome, so unique and worn, that one simply must pick it up and turn it over in your hands just to feel it – even though we know it’s best left for hands off display.

Merle Haggard is coming to Cheyenne to perform for our annual rodeo.  Lasting ten days and recruiting stars like Reba, Brad Paisley and of course the Professional Bull Riders of America, Cheyenne Frontier Days is perhaps the greatest western celebration I’ve had the privilege of attending, and I haven’t missed a year since I found it in 2007.

My concern however, is for Mr. Haggard himself. In the yearly full-sized magazine edition of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s presentation of the Frontier Days activities, Haggard gave quotes for an interview.  He revealed that at about the same time I was discovering the wonder of Frontier Days, he was ill.  He had surgery, and severe pneumonia.  Finally, he remarked that he was looking forward to performing here in Cheyenne because “They have good, clean air there.  That’s good for someone like me trying to recover from pneumonia.”

I, for one, cannot stand in good conscience without shouting to Merle Haggard through the depths of the internet, in order to warn him.  Cheyenne does not have “good clean air”.  In fact, this morning at 9:30 a.m. I shut all the doors and windows on our house, not to avoid hot weather, but to avoid the disgusting, poisonous, smell of a local oil and natural gas refinery.   The refinery, owned by Holly Frontier, is not just unpleasant, smelling of rotten eggs, natural gas, asphalt, burnt rubber and worse… It is toxic.

My mother and I suffer severe, debilitating migraines.  We avoid all triggers including foods, activities, medicines, and perfumed hairspray and detergents.  One trigger that we cannot avoid, or predict, is the release of toxic chemicals into our local air from the refinery.  In fact, some of these toxic air dumps have been so severe that even before we smelled them, we felt them.  Over dinner last week, with a window open, I began to feel a tightening in my forehead, my eyes began to tunnel their vision, I felt nauseous, and with my next breath I found myself overwhelmed by the stench of the refinery’s output.

I write to tell Mr. Haggard that Cheyenne is a nice town, and Frontier Days is perhaps our greatest shining moment as a community. I am proud and excited that Mr. Haggard has chosen our humble celebration as a place worthy of his fine voice.  I am, however, afraid that it is only right that we citizens tell the truth to Mr. Haggard – our air isn’t clean.  I don’t think it is good for an older man recovering from a lung illness.  I don’t think it is right that no one corrected Mr. Haggard’s misinformation before this.

I am certain, that Mr. Haggard, being an old cowboy, will scoff at this warning, but it is our duty as the hosts to this fine legend to tell him the truth.  According to measurements taken by the EPA, Wyoming has worse air quality than LA.  Cheyenne is a pretty town, easy on the eyes, but hard on the lungs and nervous system.  Mr. Haggard, our fine guest, deserves the warning, he is not an antique on our mother’s dresser, and he doesn’t deserve being handled unfairly.  He is a good man, an iconic voice, and we owe it to him to tell the truth.