Crestone is a community of hermits at the end of a road that leads nowhere, at the edge of one of the largest, least-populated valleys on the planet, surrounded by 14,000 foot mountains. The nearest town to buy socks and underwear is an hour away. For most of us that live here, that is why we are here. Most Crestoners seek solitude and silence, and although we are a cohesive community, waving to everyone we see, chatting at the store, and helping those in need, most of us are content to hide in our houses. It’s a wonderful place for introverts and weirdos of all sorts. But it can be a bit of a shock for people when they move here. Excited to have found that rare thing- a small affordable town that also happens to be quite alternative and spiritual -people move here hoping for a kind of a shangri-la. And it doesn’t always meet expectations, because not much actually goes on here. Mostly we all just sit around in our houses in the quiet.
But what you get when you stick it out and get used to the silence is incredible, and most who get used to it have a hard time leaving. There is something about the vast expanse of the San Luis Valley that is inspiring and entrancing. Being able to see that far, across such a peaceful place on this earth, has to be good for the soul. You will live your life surrounded by beauty that never gets old. When you leave on “vacation,” the best feeling you will have is when you come home because this place is more peaceful than most places you can go. You will come over Poncha Pass and begin to descend into the valley, and you will see your mountains and you will smile and sigh. You are almost home.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I never felt that way about coming home to my apartment in DC, where I lived in fear of the meter maid, the weekly street sweep schedule, rush hour traffic, crack heads yelling on the corner, loud parties upstairs, and long lines at Trader Joes.
So, here are my tips on how to survive here. Because it really is worth it:
Step 1: Have hustle. Unless you are lucky enough to be part of the Crestone 1%, gainfully employed by the Crestone Charter School, the Post Office, Aventa Credit Union, or one of the few stores, you probably won’t find a job. And starting a new business here is tricky because there just aren’t that many people. You might find a few jobs. But more than likely what you’ll have to do is find a few jobs and a few side hustles. Get out there and talk to people and find out what they need. It’s possible that they need something that you can do. And if you do have it in your head to start a business or offer a new service, be very patient. It takes a long time for anything to get off the ground here.
Step 2: Make sure you like being alone and quiet in the dark. Or at least make sure you are interested in learning how to like being alone and quiet in the dark. It is one of the amazing things about this valley. You can sit outside and not hear a thing but the birds and the rustle of the wind in the trees. And you can see more stars than most places on the planet. But dinner parties usually end at 8:30. And Crestoners are content with that. The great thing about it is there is plenty of time to explore your own head. The bad thing about it is there is plenty of time to explore your own head. Make sure you’re ready for the lessons it will bring. My own first year here was rough, living alone. I felt the dark, cold, silence intensely.
Step 3: Be kind and patient with yourself and others, especially in February. It’s a small town. One way or another, if you do plan on staying here, you will have to get along with the people around you, and you may just need them one day. Words and actions reverberate loudly in a small town, so you have to be careful how you are with people. In a big city, I felt like it was easier to storm into the Verizon store, yell at everyone to get what you want, and then leave. You would never see those people except at the Verizon store. But here, they might turn out to be your kid’s new best friend’s mom. And having lived here for 5 years now, I have noticed that we all start to have a hard time being reasonable in February, as cabin fever sets in. So take it easy. Go to the hot springs. Get a massage. Take care of yourself and be nice to people.