It was my first night out downtown in well over a year. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about a “closing down-The-Ranch” type night out; more of a two-beer-happy-hour-kind of evening. Get home before the sun goes down is mostly the kind of partying I do as a 42-year-old. I still like to dabble, but I also want to feel good, so I can go climbing or get out on the trails the next morning. At my age, feeling good in the morning to face the new day is the most important thing. 

Banner photo: the author cleaning graffiti at Sailing Hawks, in Durango

Even though there’s zero consensus about anything these days in these Divided States, I know everyone can agree that it’s good to have 2020 in the rearview. I know I feel that way. 

Being out and about town these last couple weeks has felt good, yet there’s so much to ponder and reflect upon. There’s faces I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. And, there’s the realization that some faces we will never see again. I lost more friends to avalanches than anything else over this last year. Some of these people I wasn’t very close with, yet they were those people who could brighten my day with just a little small talk; the type of people who made me feel good to be a part of this community here in Durango. 

Our community has changed quite a bit over the course of the last year. Just when we thought real estate couldn’t get any more expensive, the prices skyrocketed. Many businesses could not weather the pandemic, and now several restaurants seem short-handed. People who always dreamed of living here but didn’t think they could make it happen all of a sudden could move here and work remotely. 

All throughout the pandemic, I felt removed, yet I also felt like I could continue to do many of the things I still loved like writing, biking, running and climbing. I was comfortably numb, and way out in the desert, I could forget there was even a pandemic raging. 

Of course, the pandemic is still raging in other countries, and people are still catching COVID and ending up in our local hospital. Overall, it seems like as a nation we are ready to move on, and I for one am really enjoying being vaccinated and taking my mask off. Though I know we will never return to the pre-pandemic normal, I am excited to start attending events and not being so fearful of a virus and other humans. 

These last couple weeks of being out and about in Durango has really got me thinking about the future of this town, and what we want it to be. 

I personally love this town and area for two main reasons: the outdoor opportunities and the creative culture and community that continually inspire me as a writer. In other words: I came here for the rocks and trails, but I stayed for the storytelling and poetry. 

In addition to the friends that I have lost, it is the absence of that creative community that I dearly miss. With that longing also comes the reality that this summer many events will be returning. I’ve got my first in-person event booked next month in Crested Butte, and I hope to get something scheduled in Durango this summer as well. I haven’t heard anything about my favorite local event, the Raven Narratives, but I’m hopeful those will be coming back at some point. Oh, how I have missed those evenings. 

But back to the other evening. Sitting outside at Carvers, I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps it was because it was Memorial Day weekend; perhaps it was the constant roaring of motorcycles and big truck guys with small, uh, stick shifts. 

Everything just felt off, so I requested to get a table inside where it was less chaotic. Inside, I couldn’t help but notice I didn’t recognize a single face working there, which makes sense because Carvers closed down for several months during the pandemic. 

After spending the evening catching up with my dear friend and fellow Telegraph contributor Jennaye Derge – who I hadn’t seen in real life in over a year – I had a vision. A vision for the future of Durango. 

It was a vision where our town embraced a cleaner more creative future. Instead of basically encouraging the big trucks to be rolling coal down our quaint little main street, why don’t we close it off to motorized traffic during the busy months? And while we are at it, shouldn’t the train also be encouraged to be more environmentally friendly? 

Change is in the air in this town, and many mountain towns all over the West. There seems to be two competing visions for our country right now. One seems to be rooted in the past and another in the possibilities of the future. Durango better be getting busy being born. As a poet and writer, I’ll be here thinking, contributing, analyzing and hoping. I’ll see you out there!

– Luke Mehall is the author of five books and the host of the Dirtbag State of Mind podcast. Find more of his work at www.climbingzine.com.