Learning to adjust to life in paradise

Essay by Diane Alexander

Mountain Humor – October 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine


Moving from a metropolitan area to a town of 1,700 souls is a bigger change than this life-long city dweller anticipated. Since other city folks are moving to this area, I’ve got some advice to ease the transition.

Be prepared to see things differently. It took me a while to get used to all this space: oceans of open meadow, mountains all around, enormous sky uncluttered by smog.

I bet there are more cows than people — something I thought about while driving to Salida. I was watching the cows, trying to figure out why sometimes one will be off all alone — a bad cow, an anti-social cow, an unlikable cow?

Then I wondered what would happen if cows were granted the intelligence of humans. Would they conspire, then overthrow the ranchers in a coup? Would anarchy prevail, each cow for herself, jumping the fence for greener pastures? Maybe they’d just stampede and trample their captors.

Imagine how angry cows could be. How would you feel if your children were going to be “what’s for dinner?” someday soon?

It’s interesting to speculate. But in the city, I never thought about cows very much.

Don’t be afraid of the natives. Although they lack the sophistication you’ve acquired through long association with strip shopping centers, drive-by shootings, gridlocked freeways, regional shopping malls, isolated suburbs, smog, burglary, and general paranoia, they are human beings just like you. They can’t help it if they’re culturally impaired, not having had your access to the AMC Multiplex, Water World, Chuck E Cheese Pizza Parlors, and other enriching aspects of urban living.

Do not assume that natives don’t know what’s going on out there. Of course they know. Why do you think they live here?

Leave your status symbols behind. The locals are not impressed by your Lexus or Mercedes. Can your car haul hay? Can it survive on a rutted road? Can it pull a load of trash to the dump? If not, sell it to some wannabe in Cherry Hills, and invest in a good pickup.

Here people dress for comfort, not style. Locals don’t care if your clothes came from Lord & Taylor or Wal-Mart.

In a fashion discussion with a few local women, we agreed that we have three levels of dress: work T-shirts, our T-shirts, and good T-shirts.

It is not necessary to dive for cover when confronted with a teenager. Teenagers here have not threatened me with handguns. Indeed, they’re polite. While this may be an aberration, it’s still quite a shock to a former inner-city substitute teacher.

Don’t be a fool, as I was, and go to a local gas station asking for an emission sticker for your car.

“We don’t do that here,” the attendant informed me.

I looked around; it seemed to be the biggest gas station in town. “Where can I get one?” I asked politely.

“No, we don’t do that here,” came the reply.

I was puzzled and a little frustrated. “Well, my license plates are about to expire. Do I need to go to Salida for an emissions test?”

“No, lady, you don’t understand: we don’t do that here!” Finally the light dawned — “You mean I don’t need an emission sticker at all?”

I got a look that said, “Boy, some people take a while to catch on.” But the man was nice enough to smile and say, “That’s right, lady!”

I haven’t lived in Buena Vista for all that long, so I know I still have a lot to learn about living in a small town.

But one thing I’ve learned already: I wouldn’t move back to Denver for a billion dollars.

At last report, Diane Alexander was moving out of Buena Vista — a few miles, so she could have more room for her horse, Woodrow, and her husband, Gordon.