I arrived in Colorado in late April, wide-eyed at this weird and wonderful state. I made my way to the North Fork Valley, where spring had barely sprung. Snow still topped Lamborn, the ever-watchful mountain that looms over Paonia. When I pulled up to the house at 107 3rd Street, I was greeted by a cheerful, brushed-green-exterior and an arched doorway with the name proudly emblazoned: Elsewhere. This kaleidoscope, patchwork home welcomes artists, travelers, and wandering souls. We enter through this door as strangers. One or two or three or six months later, we exit through that threshold as friends and fellow Paonians.
What a joy to spend May and June in this place. My time at Elsewhere allowed me to do some thinking about my life and upcoming plans. I am on the cusp of graduate school and have gone through some significant transitions in the last year of my life. At Elsewhere, I took stock, journaling and working through those changes. I unearthed scenes from my life, my travels, and my relationships that had been tampered down. I found a way to give them voice.
My writing practice also shifted. Typically, I write poetry because I find it difficult to flesh out my feelings or experiences in a longer narrative. When I’m writing for a journalism assignment, I have no problem writing at length and in depth. Having distance from a piece is often a relief.
It is when something is close to home that the writing becomes “work,” becomes charged with meaning. At Elsewhere, it felt safe to finally explore this kind of personal writing. I became brave enough to read pieces at Open Studio that I would ordinarily not have brought to public light.
When I was not writing, days of adventure took me to places sublime and unfathomable to these east-coast eyes. I swam in alpine lakes ringed by aspen groves, scaled down sheer-cliffed canyons plunging to riverbeds, and let my eyes follow wide, flat mesas rising in the distance.
Around town, I absorbed every ounce of creativity that pulses through. Open Mic nights at Louie’s Pizza became a chance to practice reading my work, to gain courage. Writer gatherings at the Green Cottage offered an intimate environment for feedback on works-in-progress. I was surprised and inspired by workshops that two fellow Elsewherians and I hosted at the town library, and was delighted by the surreal world of the Zeitgeist Circus Fashion Show.
These past two months at Elsewhere have witnessed many changes in the valley, in myself, and in my writing. I’ve watched spring turn to summer, marked the one-year passage of quitting my full-time corporate job to turn to a life of writing, and had the good fortune to see the solstice coincide with the full moon. I’ve pushed myself to dig deeper, to write with boldness and feeling, rather than reservation. These transitions are both ordinary and serendipitous. I think I needed to be here, to be “Elsewhere,” for those changes to come full circle.
It is with a full and happy heart that I leave this little town behind. I've met so many characters in Paonia. This town is rich in quirky people, but it's the cheer and spirit of those people that makes this place sink into your skin. I can say with some certainty that I'll keep in touch with a few of the Elsewhere residents, and some of the townsfolk, in the years to come. And I know I'll return to this valley one day.
Until then, I'll miss so many things. I'll miss all the elements of Elsewhere's bizarre and charming property, from the off-kilter Gingerbread House, to the half-string of Christmas lights that brighten up my little loft room, to the hidden pieces of art carved into floors and walls and ceilings. I'll miss Tomatoes, who is more than a cat. He's a companion, a mouse-hunter, and a heart-stealer. I'll miss conversations with fellow residents, over coffee or beer or both, gathered in the studio or relaxing in the living room. I'll miss the rush of peering into canyons, the awe of eyeing the distant red desert horizon, or the calm of watching rivers cascade past me.
I'll miss quiet things, too. The babble of ditchwater running behind the house; the contrast of scorched days and chilled nights; the cradle of mountains that rise around you like a cupped pair of hands; the ubiquity of fruits and ciders and juices from the valley's orchards, always ripe and ready to delight your tongue.
Goodbye, Elsewhere. Goodbye, Paonia. Thank you.