I came to Paonia from Moab. Or, I came to Paonia and I brought Moab with me. I’ve been writing about Moab, letting Moab dominate my mental landscape, for much of the last two years. And there’s something about Paonia–where the desert meets the mountains, where canyon country is reachable but not too close–that settles me and helps me bring Moab into focus.
I’ve done this before. My first residency at Elsewhere was during the summer of 2012, and I was immediately smitten. When it comes to places, I’m easily smitten: I go to Moab and fall in love. I come to Paonia and fall in love here, too. I go home to Brooklyn and remember that I’ve loved it there all along. When so many places seek to claim you for their own, how do you choose where to be?
Long-term decisions aside, I choose to be in Paonia, to work in Paonia, because I like knowing that Moab is close, that I could go there if I really wanted to or needed to. And I like knowing that Moab is also far: far enough that I can begin to process the experiences I had there. The plane flight over Canyonlands. The 100-foot rappel from Morning Glory Arch. The afternoon with a 94-year-old woman who at first couldn’t place me, and whose whole face changed, twenty minutes into our conversation, when she looked at me and said, “I remember you now.”
Close: I still feel freshly infused with energy, with the rush of two perfect weeks savoring the red rock and yellow leaves of desert autumn. Far: I can begin to detach, to read my own notes and memories critically. I can reflect. I can pat myself on the back for making it through that pack raft trip without getting tossed into the rapids. I can blush with shame about the moment when a former county commissioner wanted to know my environmental politics (“Are you more wilderness-prone and Sierra Club and SUWA [Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance]? Are you… one of them?”) and I hedged and told him I’m kind of in the middle instead of telling him the truth: that I’m practically-minded with an environmentalist heart.
Paonia is my in-between place, where I’m closer to Moab than to home, and far enough from everything to clear my head. I like knowing that the North Fork Gunnison River is flowing by on its journey to join the Colorado, which slices through Moab. With the last of fall’s yellow fading to brown, leaves crunching underfoot, and the days growing shorter, Paonia is gently reminding me that it’s nearly time to go home. Home being Brooklyn, for now, while I wait to see which spot on the map will steal my heart next.