Brought into a circle at Telluride
by Bruce Rodgers
My brain slowly stirred awake before my body moved. It is the cold mountain air that keeps my limbs still, my legs pulled up close, head covered, as I lay in my sleeping bag. Like a gentle poke, a familiar voice sings to me, words I had heard before, but it had been a while.
You’re gonna lively up yourself and
Don’t be no drag
You lively up yourself, oh
Reggae is another bag
“Marley,” I say to myself, as a smile becomes the first part of body to move on that cold early morning in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. It is day three, the final day of the 19th Annual Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, a Sunday, and Bob Marley is singing to me and thousands of others coming back from their dreams. Some unknown stagehand has picked a worthy wake-up call.
You lively up yourself and don’t say no
You’re gonna lively up yourself
‘Cause I said so
(Hear what you gonna do)
You rock so you rock so
Like you never did before
I’m a good quarter mile from the bandstand delivering Marley’s message. Like a gateway of sorts, the stage gently pushes against a mountain looming over a large green field. Its lights, its height, it colors, the fluttering psychedelic Blues & Brews banner all easily fulfill the promise of a huge sharing of the togetherness of music. As the stage speaks Marley that morning, I imagine his voice rolling down the valley on Highway145 away from town, doing a soft reggae hop pass small ranches just after climbing in a steady beat the steep red and brown mountain cliffs draped in spruce green and aspen yellow.
You dip so, you dip so
Dip thru my door
You come so, you come so,
You skank so, you shank so,
Be alive today.
My body lies still, all of it seemingly tuck behind my smile. I am very much alive today, and so very glad to be cold in my tent yet warmed by the spirit of a tender and generous artist.
Within just a few feet of my tent lay others, all younger than me — by more than half. All but one live in Colorado, most came from somewhere else, places east that crowded a young person wanting to feel movement in their life … adventure, learning, finding — to be away from the politics of “no” and the pressure to follow. The West, especially Colorado, with its mountains leads one to the stretch toward of sky above where a deep breath of high country air expands the self awareness and the willingness to give oneself and others their respectful due.
I showed up alone with my camping gear. It was random falling within their midst, picking a flat spot among the trees to pitch my tent. I knew with the age on my face, I could be perceived as creepy or a cop, or both. I thought best to stay quiet, smile and be to myself. But it’s hard when your neighbor is less than 10 feet away.
I first noticed Desiree and Ethan. The ground was rocky and they had a hard time getting the tents stakes to take hold. I offered my hatchet as a hammer. Desiree first refused politely and searched for rock to hit the stakes. Ethan said nothing. Within a minute she realized the futility of rock hammering. “Okay, I’ll borrow it,” she said. I watched her pound for a few seconds then turned away to fiddle with my campsite.
When she returned the hatchet, Desiree introduced herself. She is a strikingly pretty young woman, shapely in a desirable way, full bosom and given to dress in a way that points to an originality that comes from confident women, those at ease with herself and around men.
One night as I lay in my tent, I heard her speak up to the group of men friends around her. “I don’t like it when you make fun of women,” she said. No one countered her objection, no snide rejoinder. The men’s conversation moved on and away from what irritated Desiree.
I found out later she was from Fort Collins having worked for Ethan in a local bar as his bartender. The pair had just come to Telluride from Moab, Utah, having canoed the Green River. Their red canoe leaned against an old fallen tree truck, one that likely had felt the behinds of many who had camped there during past festivals.
Ethan took little direct notice of me for the most part. He was the one in that group of campers that I never had an extended conversation with. But there is no doubt it was he who allowed me into the circle with the silent acceptance of his friends. There was nothing harsh about the young man. Somewhat tall, with a soft young face captured by rimless glasses, Ethan always spoke to say something. The nervous, mostly useless banter of younger men having likely been played out, if it had ever been there.
His friend Jason from Breckenridge was not the quiet type. His laugh came from him effortlessly and often, almost like a casual conversational gesture, and it was consistently distinct in that it always seemed to resonate the same whether to introduce, be part of, react to or finish any story being told around the campsite. It was a unique beacon of sound always demonstrating an affinity among friends.
Jason, originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, brought along his friend from back home, Brian, who quickly acquired — or brought with him — the nickname “Peaches.” Fast-talking, Brian is a small guy armed readily with wit and comebacks. His verbal defenses — and offenses— are formidable. He could give as much as take, his senses keyed as much in the outdoors as along a city street lined with row house stoops. He let the Peaches nickname roll off him, consequently denting its effectiveness as a punch line to whatever he said or did.
One afternoon we stood together listening to others in the group talk. I turned to him and said, “You and I are the only ones here who know what it’s like to live in a big city.”
In the high country of Colorado, aware of his newness to the outdoors, Brian looked at me as if to accept my comment as a small revelation, maybe to counter the softness of his Peaches nickname.
Ed, or “Ed Bro,” is an arborist for a private company. “If I look like I’m staring off into the distance, I’m just looking at the trees,” he told me one morning. Ed knew Desiree from when she bartended at the Town Pump in Fort Collins. “Oldest bar in town,” Ed said. “I’m usually there. It’s tiny.”
“What are we talking? Thirty people?” I asked.
“That’s it,” Ed answered. “But in the afternoon you can usually get in.”
Ed seemed thoughtful, very curious as to why I was there. He tried more than once to coax my history out of me. When I noticed a large black and white bird picking up scraps around the campsite one early morning, I described the bird to Ed and asked him what kind of bird it was.
“That’s a mountain magpie,” Ed said. “They build huge nests in tops of the trees.”
“Looks like a member of the crow family,” I said. “One was even on top my tent one morning. You know with some Native Americans the appearance of a crow can be good or bad, depending on the tribe.”
Ed looked at me with surprise. “Are you Native America?” he asked.
I laughed. “Hardly, far from it. My mother was Polish.”
Ed just looked at me intently and took a drag from his cigarette.
As I said my goodbyes to head back to KC when the festival ended, he told me it was a “pleasure” getting to know me. I think that’s one of the best compliments anyone can give another.
Chris and Patrick are close friends, both from Tulsa. They seemed to know Ethan and Jason before camping next to them, maybe from the Colorado bar scene that seems to connect all the wandering young people of the West. But I wasn’t sure.
Chris is a butcher. Patrick works at a local hospital. They live in Durango, a town, to them, fast becoming too popular and touristy, struggling to remain the last Colorado holdout against big money pretension and inflated faux lifestyles.
Chris is stout like a butcher should be with black hair and a round, friendly face. His demeanor makes him eligible to be just about anyone’s good pal. There’s a sustained openness about the guy and I never saw a smile leave his face. Yet, he seemed to long for the companionship of a woman. Chris complained about the high ratio of men to women in Durango, and those there, to him, “had hairy armpits and wanted to be mountain girl.”
When two attractive young women — Jess and Jen — from Boulder and Denver pitched a tent nearby and strolled into the campsite one afternoon, Chris took an immediate liking to Jen or Jess — it didn’t seem to matter. When I caught snippets of his conversation with one or both of them, it was absent of any hard pounding suggestions or bravado. Chris had a sweetness to him and he listened to people — male and female. From my vantage, I couldn’t understand why Jen and Jess didn’t see those qualities … or maybe they didn’t believe they were genuine. But they were.
But the women were teased somewhat for erecting a “closet” tent to store what the men perceived was a vast array of clothes and shoes.
One evening on the festival grounds, as I stumbled along wanting to get another beer before the music began again, I heard Jen call my name. She sat on the grass with her friend Jess and Chris. Chris greeted me as I sat down at Jen’s invitation. I had interrupted him and he politely excused himself and left. The women and I passed small talk between us and I took a photo of the two, cheek to cheek.
“We’re BFF,” said Jess. “Our families have known each other forever.”
Chris returned and the women stood up as another band took the stage.
I whispered to Chris, “Am I getting in you way, man?”
“I think I’m getting in MY way,” he answered sadly.
By then, Jess and Jen had disappeared into the crowd, intent on leaving us behind. The pair broke camp early next morning.
Chris might have thought Patrick would have scored better. Patrick has a way with women, so goes the cliché. But his is a manner of drawing in women without irritating fellow males. He doesn’t steal a woman’s attention away from another; it’s just a talent for the disarming of any tension. The result leads to situations that can delight young men … like the threesome involving two visiting physicians, one from Kenya. Supposedly in Durango, especially at the hospital Patrick works at, the story is legend. When pressed about it, Patrick smiles broadly, giving out few specifics.
No doubt other men might look at his lanky, slightly stooped frame and out-of-control wiry hair, and ask, “How’s he do it?”
Maybe the answer lies in the fact that Patrick has a stoner-like philosophy and an easy personality lacking any exploitive or manipulative avenues toward some sort of goal. He is just one of those guys women like — someone they might not marry but sure like to party with.
I met Patrick after Jason asked me about the extra festival and camping ticket I had. I had let him know about the ticket as kind of a reason for why I came alone — a friend had decided not to come, I told Jason.
Patrick has snuck into the camping area the first night. Without a color wristband, he risked getting thrown out or not let back in if he left. Jason brought me over to Patrick. I confirmed I had the ticket.
“What do you want for it?” Patrick asked.
“Just some sort of donation,” I replied.
We stood around for a minute and I then said for him to just let me know what he wants to pay. I walked back to my campsite.
Not long afterwards, I walked back to where Chris and Patrick had camped. “How about some money and a little dope?” Patrick asked as I stood there.
“Sure,” I said.
For fifteen dollars and small bag of Durango weed, Patrick got a camping pass and a Saturday night pass to after-festival live music gatherings at a couple Telluride bars.
As we walked together to the festival office to validate the camping and “Juke Joint” pass, Patrick and I exchanged a quick history of ourselves. He worked “environmental services” at a Durango hospital; I was getting away from the grind of owning a small business. Through the ten-minute walk, Patrick conveyed a kind of boredom. He was looking at 30 and I detected a certain worry that comes about around that age for a man that’s only known mostly fun since high school.
“At some point you’ll know ‘I been there, done that … done that and done that,’” I said to him.
Patrick nodded as if in agreement.
A few others came into our circle later. Alexander drove down from Dinosaur National Monument in the far northwest corner of Colorado. He had about three weeks before his job with the National Park Service ended.
Blond, with surfer good looks, his persona seemed complete with a beach-friendly presentation that was odd for the Colorado Mountains — cutoffs, sleeveless T-shirt and going barefoot during the day. Alexander is from St. Louis, and at 25, a traveler. Once his Park Service job ends, he’s off to Prague to study how to teach English to non-English speaking people.
One afternoon we talked at length. He told me about his father who got into a high-tech industry early and it paid off. Alexander spoke fondly of his father, how supportive he was of this son’s want to discover. It was good to hear a son speak of his father with such warmth.
Even as he loved travel — “I knew I couldn’t stay in St. Louis” — Alexander wondered about having a family. “All my friends seem to be getting married, talking of kids,” he thought aloud.
“It will come,” I said and I asked if he had a girlfriend.
“I did once” was his answer.
While living in the South, Alexander had met an older women divorced with two young children. It seemed an instance of a young man learning the ways of an experienced — and desperate — woman. Alexander fell in love and it ended badly.
“She stole my all my credit cards, ran up some huge bills,” he said. “And I still think of her kids. They were so sweet, so polite. How could she be the way she was and have kids like that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You have to just hope the kids turn out okay.”
Alexander wasn’t bitter. He had the longing of unanswered questions.
Sam and Ivy came to camp after Alexander. They are from Florida. They love the beach, hate the people, the politics. They said they were moving to Durango and, at times, peppered some in the group with questions. It was another case of Colorado being a place to flee to and away from a suffocation of self in a place less tolerated by the young.
On the last morning, as everyone took down their tents and packed away their gear to head out, I heard Ivy yell across the campsite, “Who wants some beer? I’m giving it away. Don’t want to pack it back!”
There were no takers.
Once my stuff was stacked near the road and before I walked to town to get my truck, I went to everyone at our campsite. I thanked them each — as it seemed like the only way to say goodbye — shook their hands, except for Desiree who insisted on a hug much to my pleasure.
It was a beautiful day, blue sky, the wind high in the trees, and I had been lucky. By chance, by Providence, by whatever … I had met some new friends, a gift, no doubt, like the mountains, the trees, the rocks, the streams, the birds, the animals and spirits around me. I can return to all that but I may never see these friends again.
The road home was easy as I drove with some regret.
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.