On closing a very long chapter in Colorado
This past weekend, a sunny, hot Sunday here in Lakewood, I wrote four pages of single-spaced, twelve-point type instructions for the incoming buyers of my home. It was a combination of funny, helpful, informative, with plenty of referrals. I told them about the tiny USPS substation down the street, and taught them how to say thank you in Korean to the owners. I told them how to take care of the yard, what blooms when, and the pernicious weeds to watch out for. I even collected a few for them. I explained the house’s idiosyncrasies, hot spots, cold spots, what I did to manage those, and what happens if you don’t put in door stops. In other words, the warmest possible handover for the three generations of Hispanic women who are taking over my much-beloved house.
I want my house to love them as much as it has loved me. Which is a whole lot.
I threw some fruit and almonds into the car. Sat in my garage for about thirty seconds, then decided to head up the winding road towards Evergreen. This was supposed to be something of a loving victory lap, if you will, to complete a series of exploratory drives to say goodbye to the state that has been my home for fifty years.
Well, mostly. I took a couple of brief doglegs. But I always came back.
The goodbye joyride wasn’t what I expected. Starting in Morrison, cars lined the roads. Everywhere. There were so many people in the low foothills that the parks were all marked full, and yet even so, car after car pulled in. Full doesn’t mean us, I guess. And there were perhaps fifty, sixty cars parked half-on the highways, which you aren’t supposed to do. I guess the road signs don’t apply to me.
There’s a standing joke in Thailand where a truck that has oodles of people hanging off it will allow one more to hang on for dear life if they can find a finger or toe hold. When I asked the driver, he grinned and said, “there’s always room for one more.”
Until there isn’t.
Evergreen was overwhelmed. So were Morrison, Kittredge and all the other stops along the way. No masks.
I used to dream about living in Evergreen. Now it’s got huge box stores. Vast meadows have been paved over. Meadows where elk and deer and fox used to roam. Look, the way Evergreen is today is fine for folks who want their “small mountain towns” to be bursting at the seams, with all the conveniences and amenities of the cities. That’s totally okay for folks who like that.
I’m not one of them. I have lived in, and prefer, small mountain towns where you’re forced to live with less, make do, make friends, and work with what’s available. If that means once-a-month drives to hit the city Costco, so be it. For me that’s part of the charm. Awfully hard to find that these days. When you do, bring a Great Deal of Dough.
I’m a small town farm girl. I used to love climbing in the car with my mother to go to the nearest “big town” for town clothes. Her mother did the same for her, driving from Madison to Milwaukee to buy a proper winter coat in the early 1900s.
There is still something wonderful about leaping in a car to head to “town” for what you can’t find on Main Street.
Whatever main streets are left, that is.
I grew up in a town with a main street like that. The last time I drove through, the Woolworth’s where I bought white lipstick (yes, it was a thing in London in the Sixties, go figure) and the Ritz Theater where I was utterly terrorized by The Day of the Triffids as a child had been “repurposed.” The malls on the outskirts of town with their Macy’s had taken over. For a while. Those strip malls are now also ghost towns, and not just because of Covid.
In all fairness, the small town I grew up in also had Colored fountains and toilets. So while there is a certain nostalgia for some things, like the utterly charming tiny gift shop called The Bee Hive right down the street from our beloved public library, I do not miss the institutionalized racism.
I’m not much of a fan for what too many developers do to open land, forests, orchards and beautiful views. To quaint, unique downtown areas.
Because part of the fun I had and still have today is going ISO something wonderful to wear, to put in the house. Sitting on my spreading ass and researching online? Convenience comes at a cost.
I would add to Shakespeare’s famous line:
My version: But first, let’s kill all the lawyers and real estate developers.
But that’s just me. From where I sit, developers do not develop for people. They develop for (a few) people who can afford 8000-square foot homes which need to employ the people for whom the developers don’t bother to build. No profit in building for the poor. But we sure need the poor and about to be poor to do just about everything, shy of wiping our butts for us.
Wait. They do that too.
But I digress.
I’d not been in Evergreen for perhaps twenty years. I didn’t recognize most of it.
I’ve taken a lot of goodbye drives along the Front Range lately. I’ve been here half a century.
In September of 1972, John Denver released what is now the state song, Rocky Mountain High. Like him or love him, he penned one line that was prophetic:
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land…
I first came here in 1971, before John’s lyrics acted as such a draw. It would be years before the rest of country caught on. In 1979 when I settled in permanently, people spoke with venom about not “Californicating Colorado.” Well, that was already happening to Seattle, as those who grew up in California tried to escape what Paradise-seekers were doing to their state.
Eventually those folks also bombarded Boise, which is one reason I ceased looking there last year. Here, well. Now, the Front Range, with little exception, is one city from Cheyenne Wyoming nearly down to Pueblo. It’ll make it to Albuquerque eventually. I’m hoping to be fertilizing a forest by then.
Two years ago, the aspens were badly stressed from the heat and the dryness, and had peaked early up on Kenosha Pass. That used to be one of my favorite places to sit and enjoy the sound of aspens shattering against the brilliant blue sky. Midweek, I thought. Nobody in sight.
I got there at 7 am on a Wednesday. More than 150 cars crammed the lot and were jammed in under signs that said Don’t Park Here. The woods close in were littered with people shit and toilet paper.
John Denver was right. He died before he could see it. In some ways I’m very glad he did. I can’t imagine how painful it would be for him to see what has happened to this lovely state. It’s painful for a lot of us.
You could of course say this about a great many places. Name your pretty town. Ask long-time residents, as many of us sell off, pack out and head somewhere else.
And before you PM me, of course we simply do the same thing to the next Wonderful Place. Of course we do. About to do it myself.
Dan Buettner, author and National Geographic contributor, named Boulder as America’s “happiest city.” Okay, sure. If you can afford just under a million for the worst piece of shit shack in town. If you’re white, rich and, well, white and rich. You’d be happy to live in the town that growth overlooked, but pushed it out into the surrounding areas, slicing off pieces of farmland and forcing pollution into the houses of folks who used to have isolated, idyllic homes in the middle of nowhere. And blocking their views of the mountains we all love by building ever closer to the foothills.
The more people, the more demands on resources, the more people need water, the faster we will hit a wall. I fear, but don’t know, that some of the very things that we Coloradans love, our trout-filled streams, our lakes and kayaking rivers are going to have to be sacrificed for drinking water.
After, of course, the filthy diapers that recreational boaters toss into the streams are cleaned out.
More sorrow on the land.
You see where I’m headed.
Out of Colorado.
In 2018, I wrote this article, which touched on what I was seeing:
Some 70, 000 people, mostly young, moved here in 2017. 80,000 in 2018, and more in 2019. Many of the very same folks who are so angry at Boomers for ruining (whatever) are now “ruining” Colorado, if overcrowding is ruination. To me it is. The stories are legion. I’m tired of watching them unfold and having people blame a different generation for being the problem. The problem is overcrowding. Every generation fucks. Every generation produces progeny. You won’t want Paradise to be crowded?
Then don’t fucking move to Paradise and bring the city with you.
Or, kindly, don’t fuck at all and produce more kids.
But that’s not going to happen, and besides, who asked me?
Right. Nobody. I don’t have the right to dictate to anyone where they can live. In fact, I wore a uniform to expressly protect those rights.
However, folks, I am not the one shitting in the woods and leaving that and my TP there because I’m too fucking lazy to wait my turn at the proper facility (with its line of forty people) or to pack it out. So while I get it that we all want to enjoy Paradise, may I please ask that we do our best to responsibly care for what of it is left?
If Colorado, as it is now, is Paradise to the incoming folks, I am pleased for them. In five or six decades I am quite sure that those same folks will have plenty to say about how that state has been screwed by so many newcomers. Every newcomer to Colorado that I met in five decades said the same thing:
We’ve gotta stop all these people from moving here.
Who are “these people” if not you and me?
We are the traffic. We are the pollution. We are the shit and discarded TP and the disrespect for the locals, the traffic laws and the local sights. We are.
Just like when I move into my house (not a new one, built forty years ago) in Eugene, I bring Colorado with me, along with all the places I’ve lived before. As do we all. The question is whether we move somewhere and try to make it what we left behind, or whether we’re willing to adapt to what we now inhabit.
I bought an Oregon Ducks ballcap and sweatshirt while I was searching for a new place. My Broncos love affair has come to an end. Adapt, blend in, and find out what makes the place Paradise. Then do what you can to enjoy and protect it.
My new town is small. It has a Main Street. Blink, you miss it. My kind of place. I plan to fit in quietly, love the holy heck out of my new place. If I change anything, for the sake of my new home, that change needs to be inside me. That way, at least for those parts of my new town that I touch, it will be left the same for those who come after me.