Paonia, Colorado

Small towns can be wonderful. They can be particularly pleasant and refreshing after being in the noise and chaos of a big city. Along this trip we’ve passed through many small towns- I mean very small- the kind where you have one and only one option for buying your groceries or getting a cup of coffee. And we sometimes think there is nothing to do on Cape Cod?!Nonetheless, there is an unmistakeable charm about these towns where MAin Street really is the only thoroughfare for social exchange. They seem close-knit. Everyone knows everyone else and life moves at a slower pace. This was the first impression we had of a little town called Paonia in Western Colorado. We were there to stay at a farm run by a local woman. We arrived in town a bit earlier than we had anticipated so we spent some time at the library to check our emails and try to get in touch with this lady. The library happened to be the only place in town where we could get any cell phone reception – and even then it was intermittent.

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People were friendly. We sat on a curb drinking coffee after having called the farmer lady with no answer. As we sat on the street just observing we noticed the veneer of wholesomeness begin to crumble about the town. A few of the people that passed by were clearly meth-heads or stoners – exchanged words with us in a seemingly friendly, but predatorial way, like they were sizing us up to see just how they could take advantage of us.

We tried to reach the farmer a couple more times with no luck so we went right to her place since she had given us her address. She wasn’t there and her house, which did not appear to be a farm, was run down and surrounded by heaps of junk and refuse. Had we been lured into a trap here? Was this woman just trying to get free labor from people? To do what, clean up her yard? I recalled in her email correspondence that she didn’t have much going on in the garden but she had some other “projects.”

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So we beat it. We tried. We didn’t want to flake out but we felt it was the best thing to do. One of the weirdos in town had mentioned a certain other farm close by, so we checked the WWOOFing book and it was in there. We gave a ring but no one answered. So, we drove to this other farm. As we pulled in we saw more heaps of junk, broken down tractors and derelict automobiles – but it did seem to be a farm at least. Not only a farm we were to discover, but a commune of sorts, inhabited but a couple dozen stoners of various ages and lead by an aging hippy so set in his particular open-minded views as to be terribly narrow minded and very quick to judge. In any case, we struck up an agreement with him and decided to stay on the farm.

Through our time there we did not perceive the good vibrations that were alleged to be all around. Instead we felt a strange kind of anxiousness. Many of the people there, although friendly, seemed to be lost. No one seemed to be there because they loved to farm – more like they just found an easy place to sink into, where they could smoke themselves into oblivion and forget. One guy said he hadn’t been into town more than twice in the three months he’d been at the farm. This got us into thinking about small communities in a different way. Though they can be good in the sense of togetherness and community – they can be too insular for their own good. A place like this farm – a small community within a small community – is stifling and stagnant. It reminded us of why we left home in the first place.

As for the farming, we didn’t learn all that much except how to thin out peach trees. The work force, we felt (us included) was being highly exploited here, but that’s a whole other story… We at the very least gained some insight into what we want in a community and what makes a community strong and what makes a community weak.

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