This was in 1980. (Isn’t that always the way? Something seems beyond your means at the time, and years later it’s a pittance – that old miner’s shack on West Colorado Avenue has been remodeled and would probably sell now for two or three, or five million dollars.)
We knew people in Ridgway, and we visited late that fall. We walked down Moffat Street on the south edge of town, two blocks from the center of town, with our girls – Cloe was almost four, and Cecily was 13 months and just walking – and we were captivated by the sun on our backs and the still-golden cottonwoods.
Ridgway was a micro small town then, with fewer than 300 residents. My mother, who lives in bursting-at-the-seems Southern California, couldn’t understand why we would move from small-town Telluride (population about 1,000) to even-smaller Ridgway. Telluride had just become too crowded, we told her.
We looked at a house for sale on South Cora. There was a tire swing dangling from an old apple tree in the back. And a thicket of wild plums along the fence. And three huge box elders – perfect for building a tree house someday – back by the alley. Cloe leaped again and again off the porch steps onto the lawn. Cecily found some stray dog kibble by the back door, which she promptly popped into her mouth. There it was; we were home.
We liked the small-town feel. We liked that we had friendly old people, a sister and brother, living on two sides. We really liked the fact that the checker at the grocery store called to tell us that Cloe had led Cecily by the hand across the highway and down to the Merc, and they were fine, and would we like her to bring them home, or did we want to come get them ourselves?
We liked that the girls could learn to ride their bicycles on dirt streets with no traffic. And that they could disappear all afternoon to build forts down in the tangle of Cottonwood Creek. I built a shed in the back yard in the shade of the box elders that doubled as a writing studio. I submitted the plans to the mayor on a piece of graph paper.
It was an idyllic place for kids to grow up. But by the time the girls were in high school, not so much, actually. Not from their perspective.
Yes, they both played on teams that welcomed everyone who wanted to go out for a sport. They were appreciated and supported at school. Cloe’s graduating class was a big one, about 20 students. Cecily’s was more typical at 13. They didn’t have the kinds of street dangers, and temptations, that plague kids in cities. Though we did hear tales, after they were home safe, of underage “woodsies” that included lots of beer and questionable drivers coming down Canyon Creek on a Friday night.
Because the valley was so under populated and spread out, both girls did a lot of driving once they were licensed, and they became very good drivers. Though they both had to go through the experience of sliding off roads in slick conditions in winter. Cloe even drove her VW bug up to the top of Yankee Boy Basin and back.
No, the trouble for teenage girls in a community this small was the relative lack of teenage boys. By the time they were 16 or 17, Cloe and Cec were cursing their parents for raising them in such a god-forsaken place. What we appreciated for its quiet and its natural splendor, and its self-sufficient folk, they despised as a social wasteland.
They knew every boy in both schools, Ouray and Ridgway, had known many of them since kindergarten. And they had dated quite a few – maybe most of them. Why oh why, they asked, did you choose, given all the places in the world you could live, to live in Ridgway?
They couldn’t wait to get out and go to school in a big town, Boulder or Grand Junction. But guess what? Before they were through college, they both had epiphanies of the sort a parent could only wish for. Cloe even came home one vacation and said she really appreciated the life we had provided, close to the mountains and filled with wonder and exercise.
After 10 years away, Cecily and her husband moved back and built a house here. Their friends include friends from Cecily’s childhood. Cloe and her family would do the same if not for a job she has lined up in Bend, Oregon, a kind of small-town-on-steroids in the eastern Cascades.
Ridgway has more than tripled its population in 30 years. Subdivisions sprout like summer mushrooms. Our neighbors, Scotty and Phyllis, died years ago. But now I see babies in strollers everywhere. Some of the strollers are being pushed by grandmas and grandpas who have moved here precisely to share with their children a small-town life.