I guess I'm half city mouse, half country mouse

Moving to a sleepy town of 8,000 from Denver gave me a foot in two worlds. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.


I spent last weekend in Denver. When folks in the Valley ask where I moved here from, I always wince a little before telling them I'm from the big city — the standard responses seem to be either: "I'm sorry," or "do you LIKE it here?!"

Both are reasonable, and both speak to the tremendous cultural divide between life in this sleepy little town many miles from the nearest Interstate, and the great hub of business and political and social influence of the Rocky Mountain region.

I do still go back to Denver fairly frequently — all my friends and family are there. Life really couldn't be more different between the two places where I divide my time.

I don't start feeling like I'm back on the Front Range until I'm north of Pueblo, where the traffic on I-25 picks up, and my old truck starts getting passed by high-speed luxury cars. Driving through the Springs is another layer of shock, as I come across the vast dealerships full of shiny new cars and see buildings taller than a few stories again.

But it's not until I hit the Denver Tech Center that I find myself totally overwhelmed and engulfed again by the colossal city. I'll admit that first sight of the gleaming towers of finance can be almost heartwarming. It was my home for nearly 20 years, after all, and it means I'm almost home.

Also, there's something to be said for the instant anonymity of Denver. In Alamosa, being a reporter means I'm something of a public figure — I spend my time with sheriffs, judges, political officials, and other bigwigs, and I get recognized around town fairly often. It can be an ego boost, but at the same time, sometimes it's nice to just be some shlub again.

Denver can be a thrill. There are a million restaurants, fantastic museums, and everything's open late. The city vibrates with constant activity — light rails whizzing by, freight trains miles long, the air filled with helicopters and airliners.

But it doesn't take long for the thrill to wear off, and for me to start to remember why I was so eager to come to Alamosa. It only takes getting cut off by a guy in Ray-Bans driving a Porsche to remind me that with anonymity comes a startling general hostility. People don't say hi walking past on the sidewalk. The thick cloud of pollution hanging over the metro area instills a general sense of sickness.

I think the strangest difference was one I wasn't cognizant of until I'd been in the Valley a couple of months: how much people in Denver obsess over their appearance. Everyone looks flawless, their hair perfectly in place, their makeup impeccable, their outfit carefully coordinated. They look like department store mannequins. I think when you live someplace so densely populated, it's easy to fall prey to the pressure to look like a movie star.

When I leave Denver, and do the strange journey in reverse, I feel the stress melt away. When I return at night, the sight of the Spanish Peaks under the moonlight stirs my soul in a way no museum or restaurant or gallery opening ever could.

In Denver, nature is far away, crowded, and commodified. The hiking trails near the city are just another fashion show catwalk for faux-outdoorsy types. Here, nature is all around us. We're acutely aware that we're huddled in a little outpost under the blazing night sky, beneath gargantuan peaks, in a bare spot on the wide Valley floor. In the city, everything is built to render nature irrelevant. Life carries on in January exactly as it does in July, at midnight as it does at noon. There is no connection to natural cycles, and the general psychology reflects that. When we lose touch with nature, we lose touch with ourselves.

Still, when I'm back home at my parents' house, and I'm smoking cigarettes on the back porch with my brother, or collecting eggs from the backyard chickens, or smelling a home-cooked dinner simmering on the stove, I feel pretty darn connected to something that transcends even the vanity of the city.