Ellie Schmidt

Paonia's Potluck Season

When I first arrived to Paonia in the dark I was greeted by the holiday lights and nativity scene at the top of the hill. The town seemed sleepy but alive, the Hightower Cafe lit up from inside, people puttering around in cars and on foot. However several people during my first few days here called Paonia a "ghost town" in the winter, making me imagine summer days filled with tan people on bikes, drinking fresh juices, farm workers and migrant artists mingling alike. 

Every day during my residency I tried to escape the cozy 20 ft radius that I otherwise lived in-- I would put on my boots and wander around town, or to the river park where I would look for interesting rocks and admire all the dry and dead winter foliage. My inner self seemed to take on the spirit of my surroundings; I felt very quiet, observational without judging. In a way I felt invisible, because my stay here was so brief, but I also made it a point to say hello to everyone I passed on the sidewalk. I felt deeply free and happy, but still on the surface, maybe like a stream below a frozen crust. 

"Ghost town" as it felt during the day, Paonia came alive for us at night. I went to several potluck-style events during my month here, and people cook as if competing for an amazing prize. The food seems to be totally organic, local (if not from people's own gardens), cooked with a huge variety of creative flavors, and in stunningly copious amounts. I could almost feel the robust food heal all deficiencies from my body instantly. 

And beyond the piles of world-class food, the potlucks of Paonia introduced me to the equally high caliber and colorful humans of the area as well. I loved to see both very old people and very young people attend en masse all the potluck events-- I've never experienced this trend in a community, but how wonderful! There was sometimes dancing, sometimes games, but always meaningful conversation and a willingness to ask a stranger about her life and brief stay in Paonia. 

At the end of the potluck events in Paonia that I attended, I returned to my bunk feeling full in every sense of the word. Although I would love to experience the bustle of Paonia in the high summer, I wouldn't have traded potluck season here for anything.