Kathleen Alcala

My residency at Elsewhere started with Cherry Days. What could be sweeter? Once upon a time I lived in this town, and I still remember the sweet taste of those cherries. Even better, I remember the cherry pies made by locals to try and use up all the cherries. It was with great, personal interest that I watched the judges taste cherry desserts in the park this summer, and cherries continued to appear on our kitchen counter for a couple of weeks, before they were supplanted by plums. 

As a writer of fiction and nonfiction, I don't usually resort to residencies as a way to get work done. But once in awhile, they are just the thing. When I came across "Elsewhere" and saw that it was in Paonia, I could not resist. I had a fairly limited project that I had set aside to finish a long, nonfiction book, and this seemed the perfect place for it.

This is the first time I have attended a mixed arts residency (sounds like martial arts, right? No kicking involved), and was happy to watch the enthusiasm and progress of my sister residents - a writer/photographer, a painter, and a singer/songwriter. The creative vibes radiated up through the floorboards, and down through the ceiling, and in from the backyard as the others worked. 

My tools consisted of a computer, paper and pencil, and a couple of dictionaries. Working on a translation consists of several stages, from a "thick" (literal) translation to a "thinner" one that aims for the equivalent phrases in English without pulling the reader too far from the original meaning. In this case, I am translating a biography of a Hispano-Arabic poet written in the 1980s by a professor at a university in Spain. The poet himself lived in the 1100s, and was part of an era called "Convivencia," in which Jews and Christians were not only tolerated, but embraced for their talents by the Muslim rulers of southern Spain. The poet himself, al-Mu'tamid Ibn Abbad, was a sort of rock star, along with his wife, I'timad, of his time and place. Think Jay-Z and Beyoncé. 

I made it through a "thick" translation, and will continue with a more nuanced approach to the work as I have time. In one month, I begin promoting my book, "The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island," from the University of Washington Press. Travel and talking about my work over and over again is hard work for a mostly reclusive person, so the time in Paonia was especially precious. 

While there, besides eating a lot of fruit, I

1) Visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Lost Lake

2) Visited Garvin Mesa, where I helped start public radio station KVNF with my husband years ago, and my old house in Montrose

3) Interviewed Felix Belmont about his interesting family background for a magazine article, 

4) Dropped by the offices of one of my favorite publications, High Country News, and

5) Acted as a lounge chair for the resident cat, Tomato(z).

I also heard live music about twice a week, a record number for me. Oh, and took full advantage of the air-conditioned library two blocks away. Did I mention that it was hot in July? 

Karen Good, Willow Wind Good, Spencer Lightfoot, and the adorably pregnant Sharon Bailey made sure we had everything we needed at Elsewhere. Other visitors dropped in out of curiosity, and sometimes their families had to drag them away when they realized that this quirky building just off the main street was a refuge for artists. Elsewhere has served lots of purposes over the years, but the current use as a harbor of creativity seems to suit it. 

With any luck, I will return again with new work, new ideas, and make new friends.