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A slice of the ideal
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

There is a commonly held idea we’ll label “The Ideal Western Town” that, in its numerous permutations, drives many people’s visions of what life is like, or should be like, in this shimmering, mythical setting.

How many folks have packed up and moved to the West with some version of The Ideal Western Town in mind? How many have expanded the notion to The Ideal Western Mountain Town and hit the road for the high country with its spectacular alpine vistas — stars in their eyes and a Hollywood-like script playing in their heads?

And they arrive. Many of us who have lived in this part of the world our entire life, and whose families have been in the West and the mountains for generations, have watched these immigrants set up shop, expecting a lifestyle that fits the model. We have watched as some adapted to the reality of the setting, and we watched and listened as others found themselves unable to give up their preconceptions and the values forged in other, more sophisticated arenas. They often turn bitter, expressing their disappointments, noting the inadequacies of their hoped-for Garden of Earthly Delights, growing louder and more abrasive as time passes and, in many cases, finally departing, disgruntled, for greener pastures.

Such is the case in Pagosa Country, to which many people move expecting infrastructure, facilities and a level of services comparable to the urban realm from whence they came. They often arrive unaware of the enormous financial and physical realities that dominate small mountain communities like ours; they come unprepared to accept marginal infrastructure, gravel roads, a basic public education system, a harsh winter with all it entails, minimal amenities for resident or visitor, water problems and all the other difficulties (note, especially, an economy totally dependent on forces beyond local control) that come when a community has little size and no industrial muscle.

What we have here, in reality, is a small community (after all Pagosa Country includes less than 15,000 residents) that manages to get by. While it may seem during the boom leg of a boom-and-bust cycle that the place is flush and fat, it is actually more often lean when observed through a lens that takes in decades of its history.

And, when the ribs are revealed, many are discouraged.

But, the flip side — the opposite of road problems, a dearth of sparkling amenities, financial and tax problems, and constant whining — is a vital and durable spirit that pervades this place, exhibited by those who take it for what it is and appreciate it, who do not spend too much time lamenting its shortcomings, and who work to make the small improvements that add up over time.

What better time to indulge that vital spirit than this weekend, the Fourth of July holiday.

If you want to embrace an experience that comes closest to meeting the mark set by The Ideal Western Mountain Town, the Fourth of July in Pagosa is for you. If a Norman Rockwell were to set brush to canvas here, this weekend would give him more material than he could use.

A carnival is operating in the town park.

An arts and crafts festival occupies two downtown, riverside park areas.

Fireworks explode above the downtown area after dark on the Fourth.

The annual Rotary parade moves through the heart of the downtown area Saturday — the biggest such parade in the region.

The Red Ryder Roundup Rodeo, a landmark Western event now in its 60th year, is a legend and there are three performances this holiday.

The Fourth in The Ideal Western Mountain Town. Embrace it this weekend. Enjoy it, stop griping about property taxes for a few days, and immerse yourself in what is best in Pagosa Country.

Karl Isberg