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Cleansing ourselves of disaster

Valisa Higman
Special to the Daily
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Editor’s note: Valisa Higman is a Vail resident who helped form a new nonprofit to feed victims of Hurricane Katrina.Hello Colorado! I left alone, and now I return with seven friends in tow.

We make quite the caravan. We are a truck, a van and an old Mercedes, with license plates from Georgia, Colorado and California. We are all experiencing separation anxiety, stripped of responsibility for the first time in over six months. A few tears are shed, and tempers flair on occasion, but as we cross the border from Oklahoma to Colorado I lean my head out the window and drink in the fresh dry air. A tire blows out on the Mercedes just south of Springfield, and I wait at a rest stop down the road. It is just me, Ben, and Lali’s dog, Cassie. Ben and I climb to the top of a rock outcropping, watching Cassie chase a rabbit around its base. Rows of windmills spin lazily out on the plains, and I rest. I rest, and I wait, and I have nothing I need to do. No one needs me. No one expects me to do anything.

Right now, in this moment, I only breathe, and watch the windmills, and think it is so much better than the chimneys spewing steam and stench over the camp in Arabi. In Colorado it is possible to dream of a world that doesn’t stink of petro-chemicals.It also gets cold as the sun sinks on the horizon. I enjoy a little shiver before I throw on a sweatshirt. We are all trying to cleanse ourselves of disaster. Siren quits smoking, and Ari Moshe is fasting. We drink tea at the Dushanbe when we get to Boulder. It is so clean here. I drink organic juice, and eat salad from a friend’s garden. I can touch the ground. I stand on my hands in the Pearl Street Mall, and don’t have to disinfect afterwards. My world no longer revolves around hand sanitizer. I eat food off the floor, and drink water from the tap.

I walk down a Boulder street at night and feel the families inside the houses. The people are the soul of the structure, and you can see their glow from outside. Windows are still dark in the lifeless streets of St. Bernard Parish. Homes are reduced to empty shells cast down by the sea. They are the skeletal remains of family dinners, birthday parties, bedtime stories and morning newspapers read over black coffee. Lives ran in and out of doors that now lay unhinged on broken porches. I wonder if you are thankful, Colorado. Do you know how lucky you are to shut your door at night against the encroaching darkness? To stop and talk to a neighbor as you walk your dog? To breathe clean air, walk a mountain path, or go to the corner grocery store because you forgot to buy eggs for morning pancakes?

I wonder how long it will take for me to forget this feeling of wonder as I walk down a dark street. No unofficial curfew, no encroaching debris piles, and lights in the windows, laughter behind screen doors, gardens in bloom, bikers swooshing by quietly in the roadway. The entire scene radiates predictability, permanence, and intention. I feel like I have landed in Normal after a long trip to Chaos. For my wedding anniversary I bring some of my husband’s ashes to El Dorado Canyon, where he loved to climb. I do not mourn alone. I am surrounded by friendships formed and hardened in a time of intense struggle.

These friends understand how I deal with pain, and are not overbearing or overemotional. They exalt with me in the beauty of the rocks and the plants and the river. We put our faces in the clear mountain water, and run our hands over rough stone, and we sign in relief. It is Solstice, and we thank the sun before eating, and I look around at this circle of people and realize that we are truly incredible.Vail, Colorado


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