Landscape and Identity

adventure landscape mountains

“Do you ever get tired of people moving here?” 

My friend offered the thoughtful question as we discussed his forthcoming move to our town -  Fort Collins, Colorado. Over the past 15 years the town has grown fast enough to make the Irish guy pitching Scotts fertilizer proud. The population has tripled since I was born. I still shake my head in disbelief when my parents talk about where the edge of town used to be in the 1960’s. 

“In my selfish and insecure moments I do,” I replied, wishing my status as a sixth generation Colorado native could earn me a trophy, or a parking place, or some tattoo that would heap equal parts awe and shame on those with the gall to move here.

“But the reality is, I didn’t choose to be born here. I didn’t earn it. It just happened to me.”

I looked into the canyon we were driving through. My soapbox dissolved as memories pulsed through the tea colored river below us. 

I remembered an afternoon at my grandparent’s cabin where my 7 year old playful mischievous self desperately wanted to catch a chipmunk. After hours of failed attempts at dropping a fishing net off the porch onto them, I angrily threw a rock at one, hit it square in the head leaving the shocked rodent motionless on the ground. I burst into tears at my cruelty, only to be relieved 20 seconds later to see it wake up and scurry away. 

Hopeful anticipation churned my stomach as I recalled stepping into the river to fly fish for the first time with my friend Kyle as brazen 16 year olds. Our technical proficiency in the sport was barely registerable, yet even the May river couldn't runoff our confidence. 

The smell of my uncle’s 4Runner hit my nostrils, bringing with it images of driving down the canyon after another adventure with his quirky llamas. I saw myself sitting in the front seat with a smile only visible now, grateful for his invitation into space that summoned what I didn’t know I had. 

My mind teemed with memories alive and vibrant. I blurted,

“I think this canyon is the most important place of my life.”

The statement felt dramatic. How does one quantify the importance of place? 

Six months ago the largest wildfire in Colorado history burned through the canyon, leaving a once hopeful place haunted. Normally the canyon would have hued green this time of year, now it bares black and quiet scars. Something about the startling absence revealed the presence of this place in my life.  

But what is meaningful about this place - is it just another memory lane full of fun stories that get more embellished with time? Or, does its meaning lie not in what I did here, but how I was formed by the process and place?

This place has beckoned and fostered the young in me - through fort building with my brother, trout stalking with my best friends, and river hockey with my future in laws. And it’s offered itself as a testing ground - to summit peaks, battle storms, and seek the forging of something at the intersection between my doubt and desire. 

“Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are.” 
-Ortega y Gasset

It should be no surprise then, that the tension between playful and proving shows up in every corner of my life. 

So, dear reader, where are you from? And how were you shaped by that place? 

Jesse French
Restoration Project Chief of Next Steps

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