Transitioning in Telluride

the cabin 2009The rectangular, one-story cabin six miles from downtown Telluride still looks pretty much the same as it did in 1975, when I was 6 and my parents hired locals to build it from a Lincoln Log-style kit on a five-acre piece of ranchland.  This morning I woke in one of the cabin’s four small corner bedrooms and looked out the window to watch the sunrise move shadows over the two mountains dominating the view, Wilson and Sunshine, which sit side by side like thrones and peak around 14,000 feet. Rolling meadows and aspen groves blanket the land near us, and only the ongoing construction at the nearby Telluride Airport blemishes the view.

Then I lay back in bed and studied the swirls and knots in the cedar log walls, seeing patterns and faces in them just as I did as a kid, and contemplated what we’re doing here.

It’s been one week since we left home, and we’ll be here another three weeks. We’re living with my brother and sister-in-law here on Last Dollar Road, where I spent every summer of my childhood. Morgan started coming here with me when he was my boyfriend in high school, so it feels like a second home to him, too.

Morgan and me on the back deck of the cabin in the summer of '85.

Morgan and me on the back deck of the cabin in the summer of '85.

Some people have wondered why we’re starting a round-the-world sabbatical in a place so familiar and not exactly adventurous. Let’s see if I can explain.

We gave a lot of thought to making the transition away from regular routines  — from a well-off, large-scale, high-speed way of life — into a simpler, more transient lifestyle. We felt the need to unplug, decompress, and adjust to a more flexible and natural way of life. So we came here, to a place where the weather sets the agenda and water from the well is never taken for granted; where laundry is hand washed or taken three towns away to the nearest Laundromat.

The cabin, now home to my brother, David, and his wife, Karen, promised to take us in and help us recalibrate. They did not disappoint.

On Day One, we had only one worry, one job: Figure out how to lift a half-ton wood-burning stove up the porch and through the front door.

Day One: Morgan, Karen and David wrestle with the new stove.

Day One: Morgan, Karen and David wrestle with the new stove.

Day Two: Our task was to help pack for a river trip, drive three hours to Moab and learn to raft on the Colorado River. All that mattered was missing rocks in the rapids and setting up camp on a beach.

The beach on the Colorado River where we camped.

Day Two: The beach on the Colorado River where we camped.

Day Two: Morgan and the kids on the Colorado River near Moab.

Day Two: Morgan and the kids on the Colorado River near Moab.

Day Three: Our mission was to wake early to hike in Arches National Park, trying to beat the heat and coax the kids to scale steep slickrock while learning about the geology of the landforms.

Day Three: Kyle under Delicate Arch

Day Three: Kyle under Delicate Arch

We came here for other reasons as well. We wanted to reconnect with family roots and feel a bit like a kid again; to spend time with David and Karen and glean their homeschooling expertise; to acclimate and prepare to run the September 12 Imogene Pass Trail Run; and to prompt the kids to play board games and explore Deep Creek Mesa instead of watching TV.

This all may sound a bit corny, or granola-ish, or perhaps irresponsibly self-centered, but that’s basically it.

Visiting the Bedrock General Store and learning a bit about Grandpa

Visiting the Bedrock General Store and learning a bit about Grandpa

There have magic moments throughout this first week, such as when we pulled over to the 19th-century Bedrock General Store near Paradox Valley, by the Colorado-Utah border. I told Colly and Kyle that this is where their great-grandfather David S. Lavender would have sometimes shopped while working as a cattle rancher in the valley during the Depression, and maybe he heated his hands over that same pot-bellied stove, and right there on the shelf was his autobiography One Man’s West
onemanswestfor sale, showing pictures of him and my then-toddler father hiking in the nearby hills.

Or the magic moment right now, as my brother plays a Grateful Dead tune on his mandolin while my sister-in-law teaches the kids how to make pizza dough.  They take a break to pull porcupine quills from their poor dog’s muzzle. Such is life on Last Dollar Road.

It’s only been a week, and yet already I sense we’ve changed in small but noticeable ways. Morgan is cooking more. The kids are reading more. The three of them all laugh more. And me? The “normal” me is trying to get out of the way to let the “other” me step forward, the one with broken nails and bushy eyebrows who doesn’t mind sharing small spaces. The version of me who does less but notices and appreciates more. The person I hope will be better suited to the long, strange trip ahead.



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  1. Pingback: Humbled | Sarah Lavender Smith on August 26, 2009


  1. Martha Howard, August 23, 2009:

    Sounds great – lots of stories to share with C&K about our summers, Sar! One of the arches (I forget which one) actually fell while C&K’s aunt Shannon lived in Moab – interesting geological story. That’s a great new stove you guys are installing. Did Tut and Karen tell (and show) them how much wood they burn during the winter to stay warm?! Tut splits it all himself during the summers…wow! I wish so much we were there with you guys. We miss you and love you!!

  2. Samantha, August 24, 2009:

    Am loving reading about your thoughts and adventures Sarah! You’re living a life many contemplate but few take on and it’s inspiring to read about it as it unfolds and morphs and changes and shifts. The picture of you and Morgan from 1985 is PRICELESS.

    Dreaming of my own unplugged life but for now, will live vicariously through yours. “Bound to cover just a little more ground” – Grateful Dead


  3. Fiona, August 27, 2009:

    Wow i feel as if colly never left reading this

  4. Megan Deutsche, September 2, 2009:

    sounds like you guys are having a great time! I miss you Colly!!!! i wonder what you are doing right now!

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