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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Walking the Same Ground—Home

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Walking The Same Ground

3

“Home”


Custer County has changed in the last half century. There are five times more people (from 1000 to 5000), hundreds of new houses, hundreds of miles of new roads, and much more traffic. I see fewer familiar faces, and there are businesses on Main Street that I have never even been into.

If you want a cup of coffee or something to eat, you can now choose any one of nine restaurants or five coffee shops (at last count). And today it is difficult to tell where Westcliffe ends and Silver Cliff begins, or if you prefer, where Silver Cliff ends and Westcliffe begins.

A Main Street that used to be gas station, grocery, and hardware, is now gift shop, art gallery, and restaurant. A packed gym for a Friday night ball game, has given way to concerts and Shakespeare. We have shifted from a ranching economy to a tourist economy, from a working culture to a leisure culture.

Occasionally, I close my eyes and I can see it all again: Charles Koch pumping gas at the Texaco station; Lois Crow managing the mail at the post office; Evie Miller standing at the door of her store; and Lawerence Entz, Harold Jennings, and Dick Wilson talking behind the meat counter at Jennings’ Market. In Canda’s meat locker, across from the Jones theatre, someone hands Sue Canda a five dollar bill—a month’s rent for a freezer drawer.

On the North side of Main Street, Joe and Pauline Peyton are working to get the Wet Mountain Tribune to press on time. A few people are visiting as they exit Susie’s Cafe, Bill Falkenberg gets a couple of boards for a customer while Inez takes the candy jar from the counter and holds it for an eager child’s hand.

As I imagine my way up Main Street to the East, a few cars go by. I know them all by their license plates: Chet and Mary Kastendieck’s ZA-1, Jim and Myrtle Christoff’s ZA-2, and Harvey and Jean Rusk’s ZA-9.

I go by the old hotel. (The night it burned down, the fire melted the siding on Doc Stanley’s house across the street). I pass Ray and Lucy DeWall’s, Sue Canda’s, Otto and Laura Elze’s, and Ruth Lange’s houses. I see Bill and Min Armstrong on their porch as high school students run across the road to Bud Benson’s Phillips 66 or Marvin McKinney’s “whatever” store for an after school snack.

***************

The Wet Mountain Valley is home to a variety of people, who are all here for a variety of reasons.

A few of those who live in the valley now, were born here. They are those whose roots extend four, five, or six generations deep into the rich history of the valley. I know them. I knew many of their parents and grandparents, and I am blessed to call them friends.

Some move to the valley looking for a place to call home. They would like to stay, but economics, family, or other circumstances require them to leave. A piece of their hearts remain here. They will miss the valley, and we will miss them.


Others are not so much coming here, as they are running away from somewhere else. They weren’t satisfied where they were, and they are still haunted by a gnawing restlessness. If they are to know the Valley as home, they will have to realize that they brought themselves with them, and that contentment is sometimes more internal than it is geographical.

Still others come to the valley for the slower pace of life, and then pass me on the county road doing 65 mph. They come to get out of the city, and then realize that it is a long way to Walmart. They come for the small town, and then complain because it really is a small town. They come for the view, and then discover that life is more than looking out a window at the mountains.


As someone has said,

Moving doesn't change who you are

It just changes the view outside your window.

Most of them don’t stay long. In two or three years, more or less, the novelty wears off, there is too much wind and winter is too long. It is still too far to Walmart, and they somehow thought that the road that wasn’t paved when they bought their property fourteen miles from town, should have been paved by now.


A few stay long enough to learn that they can actually survive without daily trips to Walmart, that flat tires and broken windshields are a normal part of life in the Valley, and that fast and easy are not the same thing as good or the ultimate measure of progress. They begin to develop an affinity for the natural, as well as the human, landscape. Stay long enough and you realize that the Valley has a way of tapping into that deeply rooted need we all have for belonging.

I think it was Earnest Georges who said that anyone who’s family arrived in the valley after 1892 was a new-comer. But, those families who came in the 1860’s and 1870’s probably thought that Earnest’s family were new-comers. And of course, to the Southern Utes, they were all new-comers.

Maybe belonging is not so much about how long we have lived here, but whether or not we have grown into the nature and character of this place. It takes time, and there are no short cuts.

Over the years, Barb and I have come to realize that the valley does not belong to us; we belong to it. We have learned more than we have taught; we have received more than we have given; and much more than us shaping the community, the community has shaped us.—We call it home.

“.....The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous, and humbling, and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”

Wendell Berry


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