Walking Upright through Nederland, Colorado

glowy neon fade of a domestic beer sign through an old glass and wooden framed portcullis


In the dissipation of the last night’s fog over Boulder Creek a man sits on, not at, a picnic table, looking down over the small gully that divides his current home–the Lodge at Nederland–from the multi-colored facades of “downtown”.

To call it a downtown would be quaint. Downright cute, actually, though certainly on this morning a haze of high mountain mist and the remnant echoes of a seedier last night only now just seem to fade away.

The man on the picnic table and his cigarette, accompanied by a small ceramic cup of hotel coffee, assume they are alone, and enjoy at least some few minutes of that first thing in the morning as if.

Boulder Creek rustles to divide The Lodge at Nederland from First Street.
Boulder Creek rustles to divide The Lodge at Nederland from First Street.

As hotels tend to do, though, another guest emerges from within to find himself aboard the smoking deck. Tall, thick with burl, looking of a working man for certain, and with that angst of a dead in his eye that makes you wonder if he was simply still groggy from sleep or a stone cold ass beater.

As the proximity between the guest and the man shrinks, the man inhales his cigarette and the guest produces a pack of his own, lights it, and finds himself standing just next to the picnic table.

“How’s that morning going?” the guest asks, thick southern accent, some might deem it a redneck slur every word, but the man simply exhales, as if only acting startled, and with a long, uppercut sort of head nod, replies accordingly.

They speak awhile. The guest, Dean it turns out his name is, has recently moved from North Carolina to Nederland, Colorado, on account of a promise of employment. Dean has done tree work in the past, amongst other former roustabout pursuits back home, and somehow has found himself entered into a contract to arrive in town, receive a place to stay, and be paid to fell a few select pines suffering from or threatening to succumb others to beetle infestation. He would then drag the sacrificial downed logs out of the forest by horse.

The man is in love with the story, but remains suspicious. They small talk, a few more histories are exchanged. The conversation dwindles.

Just then a hotel clerk not only both Dean and the man recognize, but anyone staying in the hotel would, arrives. “You guys want to hit this?” he asks within less than a minute of his arrival.

They all do, all strangers recall, and another day in Nederland ensues.

Barker Reservoir
Barker Reservoir

Across the creek from the Lodge a sleepy Main Street tends to toss and turn at night; all day long as well.

Dirty kids old enough to have jobs wear guitars, sometimes even play them, and hang around just outside of bars or along the creek or in the strangest of places where some unprepared pedestrian comes across them and for a moment she fears for her life. Before realizing they’re simply kids, playing or not playing guitars, in public.

Subarus take every parking space on First Street. 4Runners play second fiddle and pickup trucks go runner up. Decent folk who dress in fancy fleece vests and wild haired hippy drunks inhabit the same streets. The notion of wellness–yoga, natural foods, herbal tinctures of a variety of recently legal ingredients–is oozing from only as many storefronts as there are raucous parties in the courtyards behind the bars where musicians and liquor and nearly omnipresent clouds of reefer liquify together to form some never-ending second dimension in town.

South of the creek there is a shopping plaza that, surprisingly, doesn’t seem out of place. Though this is a true small town mountain town, what would typically be called a strip mall lives right in its belly, just south of the heart of First Street.

But in Nederland, it isn’t strip, it doesn’t feel like the giant parking sea that it actually is. Old RVs and Vanagons dot the concrete lot overnight, often. Kids on longboards curve it as though there weren’t five foot long potholes, literally, throughout. Or perhaps because of it.

A sign reading “Coldwell Banker” is the only thing recognizable as chain on the storefront signage though.

A crimped and silver-haired woman disappears through the front door of a shop apparently devoted to selling various rocks. The rocks can heal, one might assume, various ailments of the mind, body and aura of the human condition. Based on color, weight and the general human condition, most likely.

Two doors down a candy shop is serving equal doses of sugar and nostalgia. Children delight in the offerings to various degrees, some wide eyed and hopeful while others fill bags with rolling eyes wondering why some particular brand of lollipop wouldn’t be available at this particular candy store.

A pizza shop hangs off the edge of it all. An outfitter here sells books and gear for hiking in the woods, an outfitter there provides free information and lessons on how to do just that for kids. A brewery leans against a liquor store, and as the anchor of this mighty complex of local businesses, lives the B & F grocery store sits at the head of the table, father of it all.

sunset vibrant across mountain peaks
The Indian Peaks.

A carousel twirls away young boys with long and never cut hair, dragons and lynx and ostriches carrying them around and ’round they go, mirrors and old carnival music beckoning three or four minutes of another world at a time.

Families stumbling from one attraction to another, this time a collection of train cars promising coffee, iced or otherwise, on a blustery hot summer day in the elevation.

Surreal as it goes, the days continue one into another, for some short few months between cold and snowfall that the locals never seem to discuss and is what separates them from every other person who’s ever come and gone with the aspens.

The man watches it all, for days.

An abandoned bus picked apart from years of necessity.
An abandoned bus picked apart from years of necessity.

Some following morning he again proceeds to find himself sitting atop that picnic table, smoking that same brand of cigarette and drinking hotel coffee, confident that this, like most mornings since he’s arrived, Dean will appear. He’ll offer a toke, and the man will decline, not only because it’s 7am in the morning, but because he’d prefer to keep his wits about him in the case an emergency exit were necessary.

Today, though, the conversation doesn’t reveal the usual suspects–how Dean had experimented with meth, found himself in some trouble, out of a job, maybe a DUI or two in there somewhere, or how he hadn’t seen any black locust out here, and he wondered if they even lived this way–but instead Dean asks, abruptly, “Hey brother, do you think I could get a ride off you up to West Mag?”

The man agrees, then retires to his room. Both of their lives go on, another day lived, but somewhere around mid-afternoon the man sees Dean, bags packed, dog at his side, ready to go, and lives up to his word.

West Mag, the latter part short for Magnolia, is a free campground on national forest land. Tales simmer up from bookstores and barrooms alike about hippies setting one another on fire, moose attacking hikers and wolves kidnapping virgins on a windless night there. Dean is just planning on getting some free rent. The man drives him deep into the forest, over crunchy, grass dotted, rocky two track, until finally they see a sign indicating a particular camp number Dean was supposed to arrive at.

They part ways. Dean has a firm handshake and a sincere look of thanks in his face. The man, perhaps, is just happy to be heading back to his hotel room.

A sleeping giant rests just beyond West Mag. No one knows the story for sure of how he got there, but everyone can see some version of his face, his body, his massive mountain range being resting over there. Casting a shadow of a doubt down over the mountains, over the nearby town of Rollinsville.

A school bus painted red produces magicians, musicians, carnies and circus folk alike. Their children march up and down the steel fire escape stairs that lead to the bands’ dressing room at this barn of an establishment known as the Stage Stop. Men and women and this and that comes prancing, stomping, laughing, bellowing, stumbling, growling in and out of the place. That one could probably blow fire and at some point this one has had her head inside of a lion’s mouth.

The music starts up, a train suddenly roars around the bend–only a backyard away–and whistle blows its way to center stage.

Two weeks later the man is still returning each morning to his same routine. Every morning, walk out the hotel door, sit on the picnic table, cross legged, smoking and drinking that exact same cup of coffee. Only now, there hasn’t been a Dean since he moved to West Mag.

The man goes in and out of his room, walks through town, has breakfast around noon, and returns to his room. After a nap he oozes out of the hotel again, slowly, and instead of moving toward the picnic table, changes his direction, slows his pace, and leans over the balcony to light his cigarette.

A beat up old forest green pickup is sitting across the parking lot, a familiar fellow with a greying red scruff smiling off his face.

“Hey man,” Dean mumbles out of the side of his mouth in that slow, southern smooth that makes it impossible to say no to, “could I borrow 20 bucks?”

“I don’t have any cash on me right now,” the man says, feeling his pockets, smoking his afternoon smoke, “but probably.”

They talk a moment. Or two. Dean is honestly invested in the conversation. He remembers things the man has said, little things, that make him seem sincere.

“Listen man I wouldn’t ask ya, and you don’t have to–” Dean says as he sort of slides his body in an “I’ve got to go manner.”

“I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” he explains that he’s got a job, a cheap place to stay, and is getting fronted the money for his first week’s pay the day after this. “Promise, man.” Sincerity.

The man goes into his room, returns, with a twenty.

Handshakes, and Dean is off in the forest green pickup.

Thumbs wave in the air along the broken back highway. A car stops, another person on their way. Hitchhiking is the primary means of transportation. The sounds of their collective conversations, maybe two, three, ten on the road at any given time, adding to the low hanging morning misty fog that saturates Nederland on a good day.

Two kids, late teens, skateboard through a series of bowls near the reservoir on the other side of town. They practice the same runs over and over, impressive runs but riddled with mistakes, falls, occasional ankle twists. Skateboarding, at its finest, for sure.

Then an early twenties young lady shows up, dirty tank top, dirty tan, drops in, and makes the place look like a set of stairs for a Slinky to conquer. She’s up, and back down, swirling through the pool, hands colliding with the board to send it spinning, powerslides through corners and back into the air again.

The guys do their best to hide their sheer astonishment, but no one, least of all she, is paying them mind one way or another enough to notice.

A few days pass, as days tend to do when stacked up one against another. The man decides it’s about high time he left, though he’s in no particular hurry or need to, other than perhaps that Nederland is expensive and the open road tends to do that calling thing every now and then.

Dean is not even on his mind, he’d more or less forgotten about repayment after the next day came and went, and so the man goes about the room in his towel in a manner completely consistent with someone packing up to leave a hotel.

He checks under the bed for anything he may have left behind. All he finds is the remote, which allows him to finally turn the TV off after weeks’ worth of wondering how. The man walks into the bathroom, looks in the mirror for a moment, and takes a pee.

When he arrives back in the main room, a twenty dollar bill and a receipt for some McDonalds with the words, “Thanks man” is scribbled on the back.

The man leaves town, but the story goes on, another man, another Dean.