New beginnings and shadows of the past


By Betty Slade

Have you noticed the yellow tips on the trees? A change of season is upon us. John Burroughs wrote, “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”

Before long, summer will be turning to autumn. The bright red and yellow leaves, brittle and crackly, will fall to the ground. This season of falling leaves is my favorite time. I want to embrace them and soak up every moment of their luscious colors.

My children’s annual shrimp boil happens every year around this time. They plan the last outside event before winter comes. They entertain with their traditional shrimp boil. Co-workers, friends and neighbors come together.

Among 43 guests, my Sweet Al and I observed neighbors who recently moved to the Lower Blanco. Seven or eight new families — parents in their 30s, children in elementary and middle schools, moved here to raise their families and give them a better life.

I said to my Sweet Al, “A new generation is living on the Blanco. All the old people are leaving or dying. There’s a new spirit and energy of building and embracing country life.”

I felt I was looking back at our family when we moved here in 1976. The shadow of what had been became a reality with the new neighbors.

These families rolled up their sleeves, knowing they have a lot of work to do. They are calling the Lower Blanco home and are living in homes built in the ‘70s — a time when licensed contractors didn’t live in Pagosa, just a carpenter or two, who had never built a house, but knew how to swing a hammer. No permits or inspections were necessary. On a whim, people added a room or two to their houses with material from a former job site.

The new buyers have inherited a hodgepodge of living space. Everything is “grandfathered in.” They are pulling out walls, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, trying to make sense of those who lived and occupied their houses 40 years ago.

The neighbors explained how the walls were crooked, rooms were added without design or reason. They asked Al and me if we knew the previous owners and wanted to know their stories.

I told them, “We all have the same story. In survival mode, everything looks different. People hauled bathroom fixtures from second-hand stores in another town, they laid flooring from recycled wood. They’d get a good deal on a wood stove and dig up native rock. Nothing was available in Pagosa. Every truck pulled a flat-bed trailer loaded with furniture and building supplies. No U-Hauls around or moving companies.

Our four children learned how to carry wood, build fires and keep warm. No furnace, just heat from the fireplace. By morning, we had ice in the commodes. Yes, we learned how to survive, and you will, too.

One guest said, “The house is like the owner started with an idea; the next day, he thought of another idea. The whole house doesn’t make sense.” Another neighbor bought a house with another house added on and they have two houses in one.

As we talked, it was like mirroring a place where we once lived. We, too, moved to the Lower Blanco when we were in our 30s. Our four children were in elementary and middle schools.

Our house, built in 1976, also had crooked walls, with added rooms. Our inside walls were covered with hundreds of feet of old barn wood. My Sweet Al made deals with ranchers for their sheds, shacks and outhouses. We tore down their old, falling buildings for the wood. In our hodgepodge house, we entertained, laughed and served guests. It was not about the house, but the family.

The evening of the shrimp boil, I saw something that warmed my heart. The past was replicated by the present. No longer was it Al and me, but our children serving others with glad hearts. They moved with ease and laughter among their guests as they spread pounds of shrimp and crab legs over heavy paper covering end-to-end picnic tables.

I enjoyed watching our son-in-law, son and daughters entertain and serve, just like we did in our house so many years ago.

I read this morning in the 39th Psalm, “We live our lives like those living in shadows. All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away.” I take heart that all those crazy years we lived, and in those simple days in Pagosa, our children will have their own stories to pass along to the next generation.

Final brushstroke: Every stage of life is a new beginning and a shadow of something ending. It’s like the crooked walls still standing, and the crinkled colorful leaves that are falling upon the ground; they give proof that another season is passing by. We embrace the lives of these new families with their hopes and dreams. They, too, will have their stories.

Send your comment to

Views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN.