I’m wandering this early morning along the banks of the El Rio de las Animas Perdidas – The River of Lost Souls. It’s misty and grey with shafts of sun illuminating pockets of color across the valley. Brilliant aspen green rolls into nearly black pine, a confluence of woodlands flowing over the rippling shoulders of mountains. While the dog runs at a full stretch along the open river plain, my eyes scan the earth for shards.
Many people who traverse the area around the small mountain town of Silverton, Colorado are looking for complete treasures: old bottles, metal signs, mining paraphernalia, mementos to tell the story held safely in their entirety. But what in life is perfect, especially in a hard rock town where the cemetery on the hill is filled with those taken early, by avalanche or mining accident, a single gunshot—to one’s self or to another? So I look for the bits of broken glass, plates and bowls, crockery of those who lived before. I’ve found the deep blue on buff of heavy crockery and finely painted Japanese faces on chips of porcelain. I think of how these broken pieces may have formed a life, and there is both grace and strength in these imperfections.
This remains a town of hardship. Nestled into a caldera at 9,318 feet, there is one road that leads travelers in and back out again, wanderers who long to stay in such a hidden place but find little work or housing to sustain them. But those who manage to find a way, rarely leave, and if they do, they often return. Ask Silvertonians why they stay, and they will look toward those sheltering peaks, the glittering aspens, that soothing hush of wind in the pines. Later in the season they might mention a deep winter comfort of hearing plows in the morning quiet, drivers pushing snow, making way for the rest of town to wake and begin their days.
They might mention old miners or new artists or a day spent working with neighbors, none perfect but each exquisite in their way.