Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mountain expats

I have a thing for “boat people.”  I’m not talking about those poor souls taking risky raft rides across choppy waters to reach greater economic opportunity or escape persecution.  This is not that kind of blog post.  I’m talking about people who buy boats.

They fascinate me.  Boats are one of the only “big ticket items” you buy that don't make any economic sense.  A house is an investment.  A car is incredibly useful.  A boat is basically for fun.  It’s an expensive money-sucking toy.  Other than the very wealthy, I imagine the boat purchasing saying, “Screw it.  I’m going to enjoy my money now.  I’m going to spend my weekends relaxing on the water, and fishing or water skiing, and definitely sipping drinks and laughing with friends. Which I'll have plenty of, because... well.. I'm the guy with the boat."

My family (natal and current) are not boat people.  We’re cautious, pragmatic, savers.  Every once in a while, we’ll splurge and enjoy our indulgence all the more for the rarity of it.  It’s probably a better way to go about things.  But still.. there’s something in me that admires the live-in-the-now joie de vie of boat people.

And (bare with me because this is a weak segue) that’s how I can best explain the culture up here high in the Colorado mountains where my sister lives.  Except instead of buying a boat, people here have bought the mountains.

They live up at these altitudes, where their closest neighbor is cluster of lodgepole pines because they love mountains and want to enjoy them every day -- not just on vacation.  It's not always a practical decision, but people seem to make it because, like boat people, they want to live their passion and enjoy their life.

My sister lives 9,000 feet above sea level, where their air is thin and dry and visitors are reminded about altitude sickness, hydration and chapstick.  But also where views of snow capped mountain peeks separate blue sky and rolling hills of evergreen. In the spring, the meadows are blanketed with wildflowers, and the rivers run with ice cold snow melt. You can't visit this area without words like, "majestic," "breathtaking" and even "heaven" running through your head.   

This is the view from my sister's living room.  Seriously.

And, not to be outdone, the view from her bedroom. 
But living up here is not an easy life.  The winters are long and cold, and the snow, while post-card beautiful, can be a menace.  In the winter it can dump feet at a time, and on at least one occasion their house was surrounded by so much snow my brother-in-law had to use an excavator (a snow plow was useless) to dig themselves out.  Plus, it's isolating, and there's not much in the way of services.  Each house has their own septic tank and water well, and trash service is not a given. The post office is open only a few hours a day, and the closest grocery store is 10 miles away. 

But while the post office may not be open all that much, the lady behind the counter knows your name and asks about your kids. Your neighbors might not be close, but they'll check in on you in a snow storm and bring you fresh baked goods during times of crisis or celebration. The grocery store may be far, but the national forest is your back yard. Drivers, even strangers, will give you a nod and a wave when they pass you on the road..

In a way the sense of community is weirdly reminiscent of my own ex-pat community in which people cling easily and naturally to one another due shared passions and experiences, due to enduring some hardships together.  Up in the mountains, live expats from lower altitudes. Every time I visit, I wonder if I should be one too.


  1. I've only had the opportunity to make it up into the CO mountains once or twice when I was fighting forest fires... I hope your sister has good fire breaks. But you're right about the beauty - breathtaking. Who wouldn't want to wake to those views every morning?

    1. Wait.. what? You fought forest fires?!?!? I think I need to hear more about that! Actually no one where my sister lives is great about protecting their homes by creating a fire barrier. They want to desperately (and maybe to their own peril) to live next to the trees. But where she lives the real problem is the beetles which have begun to destroy large parts of the forest. Usually, the cold winters kill enough of the beetles off but it's been too warm lately. Really sad...

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