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Seeking Higher Ground: Inscribing my name in my hometown’s history

Locations: Columns Published

Having lived in big cities — Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco — my norm was to always be a stranger among strangers, looking warily over my shoulder, carrying mace in my pocket but craving connection and community.

I want to be recognized and remembered.

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I’m halfway there. Unlike in cities, I feel safe to go out “alone” at night in Carbondale because I’m recognized. I’m never alone. Someone always waves at my solo self and says, “Nicolette, come sit with us!”

This peachy situation is fruit borne of deliberate root-planting. Shortly after arriving here in 2011, I began looking for ways to connect. While helping to build a playground, I met Trina Ortega, The Sopris Sun’s founding editor. Soon, I began writing for the Sun.

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There was method in that madness.

In the absence of Garrison Keillor’s magic Powdermilk Biscuits, I figured that being assigned to interview people would give this “shy person the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Between The Sun and assignments I gave myself as editor of Roaring Fork Lifestyle magazine, I forced myself to engage in rewarding conversations with folks I wanted to meet in Carbondale.

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Since retiring two years ago, I’ve felt pretty connected. I didn’t realize how deep those connections ran until just before Christmas, when an attack of pancreatitis sent me to the ER and acute care at Valley View Hospital.

To my surprise, I got hospital visitors. Friends from my congregation brought me food at home. Neighbors cleared my walk and brought flowers. Folks sent cards and volunteered to run errands. The aftermath of my brush with mortality was so moving, it was almost worth two doses of morphine and 16 airsick bags!

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I haven’t quite reached the 10-year mark Judith Ritschard wrote about in her love letter to Carbondale, but what she said here in The Sun, I second. Carbondale has also allowed me to grow into my authentic self.

In big cities, you have to compete big-time just to get known for one thing. You don’t get to change hats. But  here, I’m recognized not only as a newspaper columnist and a senior activist, but also as an artist.

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Thanks to Carbondale Arts and my Alaprima painters group, I have launched an encore career as a painter. I teach. I exhibit in shows, have hung work in the Colorado Capitol, and had a one-woman show at CMC. Next week, I’m making my artistic standing official by donating a painting to the Town of Carbondale. When town officials asked what I’d like in return, I replied, “Make a fuss over me.”

They are!

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All in all, I’m over the moon. They’re not only giving a reception in my honor, they’re also creating a tangible reason to remember me: A plaque bearing my name will hang permanently in the trustees’ chambers along with my painting of the historic Thompson house.

That, in turn, makes me at least a footnote in the history of my beloved hometown.

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Thank you, Carbondale.