Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pixie dust

(Written on Jan. 7th)

I’m sitting at Gate 1 of the bus station-sized Durango - La Plata County airport, waiting for my flight back east. It’s been a perfect Colorado visit. 

An old picture of Durango with Smelter Mountain in the background.

I hit all my favorite hotspots – Steamworks Brewing Company, Home Slice Pizza, Animas Trading Co., Magpie’s Newsstand, Durango Coffee Company - to name just a few. I walked the river trail and went snowshoeing and ate good food and drank a few Conductor Imperial IPA’s on nitrogen. I’ve seen more of my favorite people than I had any right to expect. I’ve gotten lots of hugs. People in New York don’t really do hugs so much, I’ve noticed. Here, they’re like handshakes.

When I first got into town and walked down Main, I found myself looking around at the storefronts and the snowy hulk of Smelter, absolutely giddy. I can’t believe I’m actually here, I kept thinking. And I realized how much of a mythical place Durango has come to occupy in my mind. I lived here for the better part of two years, but somehow, in New York, none of it felt quite real.

The little hippie mountain town that I used to call home sits in the Four Corners – where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet. But someone told me once that it was known as Four Corners before those state lines were even drawn. The Mountain Utes and the Southern Utes believed it was a place where four different energies collided. Fire from the desert to the south and water from the ocean to the west and earth and air from the mountains to the north and the east.

The river that cuts through the middle of Durango is the Animas – full name, El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas. The River of Lost Souls. A fitting name, I always thought, for a river that lures so many people to Durango; people, like me, who wash ashore looking for something, stay for awhile, and then leave having found whatever it was where the desert meets the mountains.

Last night, I was talking to my friend Vanessa, one of the several saintly yet badass girls who let me crash on her couch (for an absurd length of time) last summer.  She told me that she’ll be leaving Durango at the end of this coming summer. Many of the field guides I worked with were talking about moving on, too, even some of the ones who arrived long after I did – to schools in Oregon or jobs in Washington. I won’t have any more visits like this one. Every time, there will be fewer people who will shriek and hug me. Fewer bartenders who will hail me across the room and give me a drink on the house. 

Reunited with Vanessa (on the infamous couch).

This, we realized, is because Durango is Neverland.

If you ever want to grow up, you can’t stay. Unless you want to be a field guide or a rafting guide for the rest of your life, there’s not much to keep you. And that’s what makes it such a perfectly beautiful, tragic place. It's fleeting.

I’m in the air now, looking down at a vast expanse of mountains, their white peaks just catching the rays of the sinking sun. The San Juans. How many hours did I spend gazing at them from campsites or shady, lazy lunch spots on the Southern Ute reservation? How many times did I orient myself in the Utah desert by picking out the La Platas in Colorado, Shiprock in New Mexico, The Abajos in Utah, and Monument Valley in Arizona? And now they’re all vanishing behind me again as I head back to New York.

Summer '07. My old office on the res.

New York – the London to my Neverland. And that’s okay. It’s where I need to be. After all, if Wendy hadn’t gone back, she never would have… hmm. What did she do after she returned? Got married and had babies, I think. Allowing for the fact that a hundred years have passed, I guess this metaphor that I am beating to death still works.

(And may I remind you that I was a guide and mother figure to a group of impish, very literally lost boys in the wilderness? WENDY. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

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