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Explaining where you live

Essay by Lynda La Rocca

Mountain life – August 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

“Your roots are here,” my father always insisted, referring to the greater New York metropolitan area where I was born and raised. So when I yanked those roots out by the, uh, roots, and transplanted them to the distant dirt of Central Colorado, I disturbed the natural order of things.

Even so, I was unprepared for the size of the cultural and emotional chasm that opened between my original and my adopted homes. If New York is, indeed, a state of mind, it’s a state that doesn’t allow for even the slightest variations in lifestyle.

So now whenever I return there for a visit, I’m bombarded by a series of penetrating questions seeking to determine why anyone would voluntarily leave the center of the known universe and strike out for vast, untamed Colorado, where it’s not uncommon to travel ten, even twenty, miles in search of that bastion of civilization — the Seven-11.

The reason most center on is, “You must love to ski, right?” (And its unspoken accompaniment, “Why else would anyone actually choose to live in the middle of nowhere?”)

For the record, I don’t “love” to ski. I don’t even like to ski. I do like to hike, snowshoe, bird, and watch the elk, mule deer, coyote, great horned owls, and occasional bald eagles that appear in the pasture behind our home. I relish the splendor, the solitude, the naturalness of these parts. “Oh” shrug my east coast cronies. “Right.”

Focus on exactly where I live in Colorado and the tone shifts, briefly, from incredulity to hysteria. “Leadville? Leadville? What do you do for fun in a place called Leadville, eat paint chips?”

(Actually, we Leadvillites prefer to ingest our lead directly from the soil. Just kidding, EPA.)

Okay, I admit that the height I’m living at is not the height of trendiness. All I can do is silently berate H.A.W. Tabor and his associates for saddling a great community in a spectacular setting with such a hayseed name.

If only they’d come up with something with a little panache, something bright and glittering, something like — I’ve got it — the Big Apple! Now there ‘s sophistication for you.

We move on to geography.

“What is Leadville near?”

“Aspen,” I promptly reply. I’m no fool. It didn’t take me long to realize that “Aspen” generates more interest — and respect — than Leadville or its closest neighbors: Climax, Balltown, Stringtown, and Granite. “That is, Leadville’s near Aspen in the summer,” I continue. “In the winter when Independence Pass is closed, it takes more than three hours to get there.”

After defining what a “pass” is, geographically speaking, I explain that Colorado 82, the state highway between Leadville and Aspen, is closed by snowfall more than half the year.

“Don’t they plow out there?” ask relatives who think nothing of sitting in two-hour traffic jams to get to work each morning.

Back east, man-made delays and interruptions are perfectly acceptable reasons for road and bridge closures, tunnel detours, gridlock and assorted commuter woes.

But nature? Come on. Who’s in charge of that godforsaken Colorado wilderness, anyway? What do you pay taxes for if they can’t even get the snow off the roads? Shaking their heads over Colorado’s inability to control its elements, they return to the one word that falls within the realm of the NY-metro experience: Aspen.

“Do you see lots of movie stars?”

“Yes.” Those stars are, of course, all viewed on television and theater screens, but I do see them.

“Do you have television?” asks a supposedly worldly family friend. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. I wish I were. As it is, I’m not sure who’s crazier, her for asking or me for answering without first pointing out what an idiotic question this is. Yes, indeed; the miracle of television has reached the Rocky Mountains. We even have major league baseball and take-out Chinese. Can real bagels be far behind?

Cut to my uncle. “Whatsa matter, you don’t get the news out there?” he demands indignantly before describing, in great detail, a building collapse in New York City’s Little Italy which destroyed a funeral home. This funeral home had catered to the last earthly needs of several of our family members. It was also located in New York City. Ergo, its demise was BIG NEWS.

I explain that, although news programs are actually transmitted to Colorado (in color, no less), the networks apparently didn’t consider the loss of this particular funeral home to be of compelling national interest. “Ahhh,” he snorts in disgust. “Whattahya’ doin’ out there, anyway?”

I could go on, but I’ve made my point. To these folks, I’m simply a lost cause, hopelessly adrift in a bagel-less, news-less, snow-packed void. Here there be dragons (but no snowplows).

And that suits me just fine.

After she returns from this summer’s visit to her civilized relatives on the banks of the Hudson, Lynda La Rocca will make her stage debut on Sept. 17 in the Tabor Grand Opera House as a witness in a new trial for Alferd Packer, convicted of cannibalism in 1874.