Starving on the scenery: A lament |

Starving on the scenery: A lament

Alex Miller
Alex Miller

Oftentimes, when I tell people my wife and I have five children, their shock is followed by a simple, understandable question: How do you afford it, especially up here?The simple answer is “not easily.” The more complex response ends with a conclusion that looks something like “we can’t.” Perusing the personal finance columns in the Sunday paper, I often chuckle at all the advice about how you should have 10 grand set aside for emergencies, put 10-20 percent of your income into savings or fret about which annuity to buy or how to manage the tax questions surrounding your vacation home.If, by the measures set out by the financial experts, we are not doing these things or anything like them, it starts to look like raising a family in the mountains is, from a financial perspective, utter lunacy. Paycheck to paycheck, nothing in savings, no college funds begun, no home to call our own, vacations nonexistent – it’s something far short of the fabled American Dream, although I doubt our situation is unusual for many working parents in the High Country. Surrounded by second homes and other trappings of great wealth, our very backyards can take on the sheen of a tremendous insult, as ownership of the place we call home is gradually shifted to people from other places who make more – lots more – than we do.Boo-hoo, right? Well, there is a certain measure of self-pity among locals who look around and determine that they can’t really afford to live in the place they’ve chosen to raise their families. A lot of times, it seems as if the cards are simply stacked against us. Just today, I received the new tuition rate sheet from our son’s preschool, showing that the already onerous amount we now pay has gone up 10 percent ($786 per month to $863). If we were really poor, we could get tuition assistance. But, dang it, we’re just not broke enough to qualify.It’s like we can almost hear a voice in the background intoning “Go away!”Believe me, we think about it all the time. But it’s not easy to leave the place you consider home. My wife is a relative newcomer, but I graduated from high school up here, and though I’ve lived in places like L.A, New York, Massachusetts and New Mexico, our Colorado mountain town is home – the kind of place where the guy at the hardware store asks me about my parents as he offers advice on a project; the kind of place where my kids can chuckle at the Class of 1982 composite still hanging in the high school, with dad in his groovy haircut and funky glasses.But one need’nt have grown up here to have it feel like home or to entertain the insane desire to stay. These mountains grow on you, they do. For some, the lure is so strong that all the cons are beaten down by the pros, and we muddle along despite all the good, sensible reasons to beat it for a more sensible place to live. Many of us, anyway. It’s hard to cite exact figures, but my sense is there’s a growing trend by locals with kids – or about to have them – to seriously rethink what it means to be a mountain family. Sure, it’s great up here, but if you can get twice as much house for half or a third the money somewhere else – be it Lakewood, Des Moines or Bozeman – do you owe it to your family to try? I know plenty who’ve answered “yes” to that, many of them long-time High Country dwellers who simply said enough is enough. There’s an old adage about living up here that suggests one cannot eat the scenery, and it’s true. You might be able to feed the soul on it for a time, but ultimately, mountain living as reflected in one’s non-existent portfolio makes it seem like some kind of fool’s game. Will this zero-sum pursuit ultimately lead to a mass exodus on the part of locals?Hard to say. But perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, all that’s left will be a bunch of wealthy, part-time residents served by a migrant, commuting workforce that cares not a lick about the community.Those will be sad days indeed.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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