“If you go out to the woods today, you better not go alone ...”
And you’d better wear orange, lots of orange. Wrap your pet up in orange, too.
Even then, be prepared for a stray round to whiz by your head if you’re not crouching a foot or two from the ground.
That was the advice I gave last weekend to friends visiting from Colorado Springs. And yes, I began my warning with a singsong introduction to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”
My Front Range friends had come out our way to help with my house but also to enjoy the beauty of the area where I chose to build. Kim, longtime friend, said, “When I heard you weren’t coming back to the Springs (synonymous with the suburban wasteland to Front Range folk) ... what made you decide to settle here?”
She then looked around and decided to qualify her question. “I mean there’s the obvious but what was it that changed your mind about this place? Was it the job?”
Certainly, doing what I do was a prime consideration for me. Few people get to go into work every day and get paid to pursue their passion. Back when my colleague James worked here, we would share what sustained us in this position.
“I get to practice my craft almost daily,” James would say, “and my prose becomes sharper, more succinct. It’s like being paid to work out at the gym every day or play an instrument all day long. The more I do it, the better I get.”
Although writing is just part of it — there are also long, boring meetings to go to, developing relationships throughout the community, grooming sources, and practicing what we call “old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism” — it is the opportunity to work in a field where, if all cylinders are firing, our prose shines and speaks to someone, that makes the low pay and odd hours a pittance to pay.
It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I actually look forward to my next shift, where I spend time on the weekend thinking about, with relish, what awaits me during the next week.
However, it was not the job that kept me here and eventually led me to set up permanent residence (and building a house is about as deep as one can set down roots).
It was my children who made the decision for me. After my marriage ended, I’d considered relocating back to Manitou Springs (where I’d originally come from) and going back to the sales and marketing job I’d left to come to Pagosa Springs. Not a happy prospect (happy with my position as a reporter for The SUN), returning to the 9-to-5 grind but, as we all know, it can be tough making it here and, as a single father of three young children, reasons for returning to the Front Range were compelling, if not depressing.
Still, I figured my children would be the final arbiters in the matter. After all, they had been in Archuleta County schools for a year and a half and had made friends. More than that, they had begun to become wild mountain children, exploring the trails and forests surrounding us, ebullient every time dad loaded the camping gear and set up a tent for the weekend.
Having gathered them for a family meeting (where Robert’s Rules of Order are a flipped to the ground and kicked in the ribs), I informed them that, with the marriage over, we could return to the Springs where they’d be closer to their mother (as well as my parents), as well as the opportunity to become Mall Rats.
Without missing a beat, all three said they wanted to stay here. When I asked why, each said that they love it here and this was the place where they want to grow up — with Dad.
Since then, they’ve done a considerable amount of growing up. I can’t say the same for myself.
We’ve been fortunate that the community responded in a way that I had not expected. Not just in helping us build a house but also in helping me fill in the cracks when the demands of the job made it difficult for me to coordinate my parental responsibilities with my own obligation to inform the public, hereabouts.
Yes, I have been very lucky that my children have been prevented from falling through the cracks.
And yes, partnering with Habitat for Humanity has been a godsend; had the opportunity to build and buy a house not been given to us, I’m not sure we would have stayed. More than that, the process of building that house, with volunteers from throughout the county and the U.S. swinging hammers and carrying lumber has shown my kids — and me — that there truly is a community here that, when asked to step up, does what it can to care for its fold.
Kim not only accepted my answer, she acknowledged that I had made the right choice.
Kim, Samona and Joe had left the Springs in the predawn dark to drive five hours for the purpose of on my house. After arriving, the three expressed amazement at how far along the house was but mostly, what a beautiful house it is. With the surrounding mountains and forests, a view unlike any in Colorado Springs, there was no doubt that I had lucked out in a way that few people had.
After a hard day’s work, we sat in the beer garden (my small reward for their labors) and Samona echoed just how lucky I was (access to such well-crafted beer being among one of the many benefits of being a Pagosan) as my kids crawled around the brewery’s playground.
Least surprising (to me) were her compliments on my kids. Yes, it is completely self-indulgent for me to take up space here for the sake of bragging about how fortunate I am to talk about what angels I’ve raised but, hey, it was Samona who brought it up.
“They’re incredible,” she said. “They take care of their own disputes, they get along so well, they’re sweet, they’re kind, they’re polite...”
“Thank you,” I responded, nodding, knowing.
“You’ve done a good job, dad,” she said.
My standard response (as I’ve heard that multiple times) was — and always is — “It’s not me, I assure you.”
Indeed, I find it amazing every day that I’ve been blessed with such good, sweet, loving children and take no credit for the way they’ve turned out; they are what they are in spite of me. Yet, time and again I’m complimented on how well-behaved and sweet those children are. Random strangers have approached me in restaurants and thanked me for how the kids have conducted themselves (I assume those folks have had far too many experiences with little hellions running around, screaming, throwing things and otherwise being poster children for a well-deserved fear of our future).
If any karma was involved in us getting a Habitat house, it was solely created by my children.
Having such sweet, well-adjusted and loving children makes me think that yes, I did make the right choice in choosing Pagosa Springs as the place to raise my brood — or rather, that they chose this as the place where they decided to be raised.
Pagosa Springs suits them, mirroring their wholesome disposition and loving nature. As critical as I have been of this place (and, at times, I have been an unforgiving critic), I can’t think of a better place where my kids should grow up, I can’t think of any better people with whom I would want in their lives.
A bigger, more urban place would, I fear, chew them up and spit them out. They would lose themselves — and the sweetness that endears them to so many — in the brisk, impersonal and mean environment of the city.
Sure, we don’t have ready access to museums, theater, dance, symphony, zoos or other amenities of a city but, when we visit the Front Range, those are places we go, those are things we see (and, I can say from experience that, with the exception of exposure through schools, those are amenities that maybe one in a thousand city kids experiences). And, it is not unusual that while snowed in, we listen to a symphony or visit a virtual museum or talk about the things we wish to see the next time we visit the city.
Which brings me back to the teddy bear’s picnic.
I’ve never understood the foreboding tone at the beginning of the song — has that picnic turned those bears into vicious man-eaters? Have the bears fallen under some kind of spell that makes them particularly aggressive and bellicose?
It’s always baffled me.
Yes, we’ll stay out of the woods this month. Frankly, I’ve never understood the need to shoot an animal, for sport or for food. The grocery store offers me ample selection and, all things considered, it comes at a fraction of the price and none of the effort. Plus, I don’t have to risk getting my head blown off by some drunk moron mistaking me for some unfortunate ungulate (or, with me strapped to the hood of a truck, perhaps the animal was most fortunate).
With all the attractions of this place, hunting is something my children will have to experience on their own. If they do so, I hope they’ll do it honestly, camping out and making it a sport, not spending the night in a plush resort, chasing down farmed animals in a confined space, and then returning for dinner in a place with more silverware than they know what to do with set on table cloths worth more than all the linens in my house.
However, given the way they are now, I’m fairly confident my children won’t become that swinish sort, if they learn to hunt at all. The place where they live, the people that they are, the souls that they have will, I firmly believe, reflect well on us all and, even to go into the woods alone, will always deserve, “Every teddy bear, that’s been good is sure of a treat today/There’s lots of wonderful things to eat and wonderful games to play/Beneath the trees, where nobody sees, they’ll hide and seek as long as they please/Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.”