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2010 October 3

“A lot of people ride bikes in this town,” Col tells me while pedaling his single speed, hand-me-down past our neighborhood’s tidy, rectangular lawns.

I start to say something about sun and fresh air and exercise but I feel like I’m selling him something, like perhaps the notion of being human, for which he needs no tutorial. These children are just as fascinated by rocks and rosehips and grasshoppers as any plastic toy that resides under our couch, giving me hope for their own humanity. We’ve been outside for most of the past five months, collecting sunshine like we could spend it later, each of us absorbed in our own particular brand of San Juan summer euphoria.

It was on one of those forever summer days, sitting against a rock while the kids frolicked, gazing down the Animas river, its banks twinkling with ripe, chokecherry-Christmas lights, when it occurred to me that this is a fine place to raise a family; except really, a word like “paradise” bloomed in my sun-addled mind. Paradise, right here in this fertile river valley. Right now, while the land goes psychedelic with with autumn color.

And perhaps paradise is a state of mind. But when I venture down to the Saturday farmers market and the autumn sky is auditioning to become a crayola color, and people are smiling like they just bought a cocktail of endorphins instead of a bunch of carrots, you start to wonder what it is about this place.

Maybe the happy buzz in the air I’ve felt all summer is the result of winter melting away and every little living thing sounding its own joyous cheer. Maybe it’s all the people who beam encouragingly at my small son as he peddles down the river path like it’s his job. Or maybe it’s that I spend so much time with little people for whom paradise can be found everyday in their own backyard, where rocks and rosehips and grasshoppers are abundant.

Or maybe, just maybe, this place truly is paradise.


Incidentally, I’ve been polling people, very unscientifically, about whether this place, here at 6512 feet is paradise. And not paradise like perfect, because that would entail a longer growing season and an ocean up the road, obviously, but paradise like: can you name 10 things you LOVE about your hometown without stopping to think?

Without stopping to think:

1. abundant sunshine

2. four distinct seasons

3. size: large enough to support 4 breweries but small enough to run into people you know everywhere

4. vibrant community, cowboys, hippies and bike racers unite

5. healthy ecosystems

6. wild river runs through it

7. respectable number of small, organic farms

8. bikeable

9. mountains looming

10. safe

And you? Do you live in paradise?

Also, read this week’s San Juan Table column here and learn what to do with some of the homelier backyard crops, like your gargantuan mint crop and those insect-nibbled cabbage leaves.

Peace and paradise,


30 Responses leave one →
  1. October 3, 2010

    :( i mean, :) i miss that paradise! trying to embrace paradise right where we are right now. came close to that this weekend.

  2. October 3, 2010

    Hmm. Do I live in paradise? No. I did, for five years, and it’s called California. But am I OK where I am? Sure, for now. It has enough. I can name ten things about it that make me happy.

  3. Chi-An permalink
    October 3, 2010

    I’m not sure I would call this (San Francisco) paradise, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, not permanently. My 6 year old and I harvested in our backyard today and I thought of your descriptions of your abundance. As we picked carrots, beans, and apples, Theo kept saying “Our basket of harvest is so full!” We discovered we actually have tomatoes and cucumbers growing on the vines, so we have something to look forward to.

    p.s. schoolmarm again… peddle = to sell, pedal = move a bike with your feet. Although I like how the “peddling” in the first paragraph is echoed by “I feel like I’m selling him something” in the second. Sorry, I don’t mean for one instant to detract from your lyricism.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      October 4, 2010


      Embarrassed gratitude.

  4. Ami permalink
    October 3, 2010

    I do love this blog!

    • October 4, 2010

      I am loving this blog too…..don’t advertise paradise TOO much because the masses will follow, and paradise will be shortlived.

  5. October 3, 2010

    *sigh* I miss Durango.

  6. Brigid permalink
    October 3, 2010

    Yes. I live in Paradise. Can I add the fruit trees, friendly & loving women, the shady playground and Needham Elementary School?

  7. October 3, 2010

    I killed my mint. I’m embarrassed to admit that to you. Try, try again, right?

    And, no, I don’t think I can list 10 things without thinking. Kind of sad really. Maybe if I had some thriving mint! =>

  8. kaya10 permalink
    October 3, 2010

    I do!
    1. Mountains –
    2. smells of pinon in fall and winter
    3. Smell of green chile roasting late summer
    4. pungent sage!
    5. wonderful community of people
    6. 25% of women give birth out of the hospital!
    7. sunshine 300 days of the year!
    8. hot springs a mere walk away!!
    9. dirt roads
    10. Incredible gardening!

    So glad you do too!

  9. October 4, 2010

    You do live in Paradise (except for the ocean part!) and a lot of it is your attitude! The colors are spectacular there, it does almost make me want to move there, or at least visit some time.

    We briefly moved from our home in the Puget Sound area closer to where I grew up (near Portland, OR). I truly grieved for almost everything about the Puget Sound. Not the traffic (!!!), but the nature, the saltwater, the freshwater, the green everywhere, mountain views in every direction, organic everything, farmers markets, local craftspeople, literate population, museums and big city life, vibrant homeschool communities, and nearby family. I was so happy to be able to move back home soon after we left. There is something about putting down roots in a place that fits your own personality.

    (It’s funny, I posted about our trip to Paradise on Mt. Rainier on my blog a few days ago. Must be something in the air!)

  10. Kerry permalink
    October 4, 2010

    Yes, I live in paradise, it’s called Prince Edward Island Canada. Everyone should visit here at least once in their lives. We have oceans, beautiful red soil, four wild seasons, a river view out our front door, a vigorous growing season where plants just seem to explode, and the nicest people! We are fortunate to have picked this place to retire.

  11. Kathy permalink
    October 4, 2010

    Yes, Durango and the surrounding area are Paradise. No doubt about it. And every day, as I enjoy :( the cloudy skies and heavy humidity here in southeast Michigan, I look at the art prints of the San Juans I have all over my walls, the 1888 Boston photo of Durango from Smelter mountain, and the 1895 photo of the Durango Wheel Club (taken by none other than my great-grandfather, who moved there in 1886) and know that someday, probably in my old age, I WILL BE a resident there.
    I read a quote from the Herald years ago… should have taken down the name of the person who said it: “We could lie in Durango. It’s the perfect small town: conscientious, responsible, worldly, intelligent, healthy and culturally rich.
    But Thoreau said it best (generally): My needle settles west and southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhasuted and richer on that side.

  12. October 4, 2010

    Yes, I definitely think you live in paradise. Lots of people who live in Maine think it’s paradise, but to me, it’s just kinda “meh.” But love the one you’re with, right?

  13. October 4, 2010

    I enjoy this blog and all the happenings that it describes. Hubby and I feel like our home is a Paradise at times…we love working our gardens and the weather is warmer than the north we came from.
    I think I can say “Home is where the heart is, and Paradise is where you make it”. Ginny

  14. Nancy permalink
    October 4, 2010

    Ahhh paradise… it is indeed. Having come here from the Ocean State – I wondered whether I would miss the ocean – asking another ocean transplant about missing the sea, he responded, “The mountains are my ocean”
    I love the list and would add: Vistas (you can see forever!), Aspens, no traffic (well in Mancos/Cortez at least!), quiet….

  15. October 4, 2010

    Perhaps if I could toss out Los Angeles and turn Orange County back into orange groves, I’d find this place more paradise-like. But I do love my town o’ Long Beach. And I even kind of like the mass of humanity surrounding us. It has its own energy.

    But lo, this kid from the sticks sure does mean wide open spaces, earth sans concrete, and the comfort of small-town living. One day, balance!

  16. Melissa Neta permalink
    October 4, 2010

    I’m a fan of the paradise-from-the-inside-out thing, but it sounds like you have it it on the outside, too. And I am a Northern California girl through and through, so SF feels pretty darn good to me–eucalyptus, ocean air, fog, amazing restaurants that care about sustainable eating, diversity . . .and having just come back from a trip to NYC, I appreciate this sweet little city even more.

    Also, just love your column. Can’t wait to make chimichurri (had no idea it was so simple! yay!) . . .

    and clothes are always optional at our dining table. At least for the 5 and under set. xo

  17. Judy permalink
    October 4, 2010

    A frost-free September in Durango! A whole extra month! Yay!

  18. October 4, 2010

    yes! yes! i most definitely live in paradise!!! and especially at this time of year i find myself being absolutely swept away by the beauty of the ocean and the farms that surround us.

    my husband and i often play a little game where we try to reframe a setting we are in to tell the story we want to tell.

    example…one night this summer we were having dinner and drinks on a rooftop bar somewhere in connecticut.

    from where i was sitting the setting was just incredible. candle light…flowers…fancy lamp up above us…tall trees.

    from where he was sitting…well…there were neon lights and a strip mall in view.

    we kept going back and forth about what is reality. (ahem…mind you we were well into our second bottle of wine by this point.) were we having dinner in a cheesy strip mall off the highway? or was it a rooftop deck of a romantic bistro?

    and where we live…it is afunky, eclectic little village with loads of character? or is it a depressed old mill town with far too many abandoned cars permenantly jacked up in driveways?

    very fun to play around with perspective and to go looking for evidence of what you want to experience.



  19. October 5, 2010

    It sure does look like paradise, Rachel. Whenever I read about your family’s adventures and your homestead happenings, I long for what you have – the nature, the mountains, the simplicity, the community. In a year we have to make a decision to move from our current urban dwelling and part of me really wants to abandon this harried life for something akin to yours but unfortunately both our jobs require us to be close to high-tech industries.

    It pains me to think that my choice may be to live in another highly populous city or a suburb – I cringe at the thought of the latter, but perhaps that’s a stepping stone for us to go from the center of the city to the heart of paradise.

    While I can easily think of 10 things I love about where I live now, I still don’t think it’s paradise. It’s home and I love it.

  20. Melissa Neta permalink
    October 5, 2010

    PS. Chimichurri also excellent atop tamales (: Thanks for the recipe!

  21. October 5, 2010

    I do live in paradise, but I long for mountain visits and glacial snow. Ten things thought in less than ten minutes:
    1. We can walk to our sailboat
    2. So many beautiful public beaches
    3. Four solid seasons
    4. We spend more time walking, hardly anytime in a car
    5. A ferry trip always leads to an off island adventure
    6. We live amongst friends who feel like family
    7. With this many organic farmers and awesome fisherman, we’ll never go hungry
    8. A community that nurtures it children really cares about the future
    9. So many talented writers, artists and thoughtful minds make for great coffee dates
    10. I look at the ocean every day.

  22. October 5, 2010

    Paradise? Yes, we do live in paradise. One does not usually think of central Missouri as paradise, but to our family it is.

    1.) The huge greenspace behind our backyard.
    2.) The wide, lounging, lazy feel of the MO River in the summer
    3.) A lawn that is natural, without chemicals, overrun by squash.
    4.) A home 5 minutes away from family.
    5.) Rolling hills
    6.) Amish farms and beautiful neighbors
    7.) Ancient Oaks
    8.) Backpack rides at dusk
    9.) A “never lock my door” town
    10.) A hot hot summer and a colder than chilly winter.

    Thank you for reminding me to be mindful and appreciative of my surroundings.

  23. October 6, 2010

    My theory is that we never left Eden at all. It’s sort of a Buddhist take on the story of Adam, Eve, and the apple. And yet … I’m pretty sure you live in paradise, but I’m not so sure about myself. All my life I longed to live in NYC. And here I am, and now I long for a patch of grass of my own. Let’s say I get that patch of grass. What will I long for then?

  24. October 9, 2010

    You grew up here, you tell me! ;)

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      October 10, 2010

      Paradise is in the eye of the beholder, right?

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