Sorry for the lapse in posts, dear readers. I’ve been moving up.
We’re now mountain home dwellers living in a tiny abode at the base of Pike’s Peak in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It’s a high place to be, to say the least: We’re at an elevation of about 6300+ feet; and the state just legalized recreational marijuana.
The move was hard. Very hard, and I was convinced I’d live a terrible existence of unemployment and loneliness here. Thankfully I was wrong. I’m normally quite the extrovert, and while I miss my family and friends dearly, the introverted part of my psyche is thriving here. I love it. I love being in the mountains. The weather is amazing. The people are super-friendly – it’s a tourist town, so I think they have to be, but it’s refreshing to live in an area where pedestrians truly do have the right-of-way. I’m making headway on that novel I neglected in November. I’m spending quality time exploring with my 5-year-old. My husband and I have reunited after nearly 3 months apart.
It feels like home.
I think part of that has to do with the culture and heritage of the area. The similarities between Manitou Springs and the Black Hills area of South Dakota – a state that will always be home to me – are striking: Extremely spiritual destinations for local and surrounding indigenous people, but a landscape and history marred by advertising billboards and a sort of local poverty that depends wholly on white tourism dollars.
The narrative of Manitou Springs is quite beautiful – at least the little I’ve heard and have been able to dig up. Geographically, it’s a space hugged on every side by the mountains, and a creek winds and gurgles its way through town. But the area’s most heralded features are the natural mineral springs that bubble up year round from a deep underground system of cavernous aquifers.
As the ancient water erodes the surrounding limestone, carbonic acid is created which gives Manitou’s springs their special effervescence. This natural carbonation forces the water back to surface through cracks in the rocks, where it absorbs high concentrations of sodium bicarbonate (soda) and other healthy minerals.”
– From the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce site
Tribal people – the Utes and Cheyenne, in particular, although the Osage, Apaches, and many others – have used the space for several thousands of years, according to their histories. The cliff-dwelling Anasazi also had a stake in the area (there are abandoned cliff dwellings just above the springs that are highlighted every sunset for me, since I live on the opposite ridge). The place was so powerful – so spiritual – that though many tribal nations warred with each other, the springs were considered neutral territory. Like the sacred Paha Sapa, indigenous people made the pilgrimage to the springs year after year for healing and prayer.
I don’t know what names tribal people called this place, and I can’t really find the etymological history of the word “Manitou” (or at least one that makes sense for the region – Google tells me the definition is Algonquian in nature, meaning it came from way out east) but the locals here tell me it’s a “Native American” word for “spirit.” The vagueness of this makes me laugh – that’s like when people talk about someone “from Africa” and you ask what country and you get a blank look in return. #canyounarrowthatdownforme
It should come as no shock that colonizers would later exploit the area for financial gain; in the late 1800s/early 1900s, the town became a sort of Deadwood-esque destination, but instead of gold diggers (of which there were many here, I’m sure), tuberculosis patients flocked to the springs in search of a cure. Today, historic buildings line the main drag filled with shops selling made-in-China dreamcatchers and stoner art (seriously, there’s a store called Crystal Wizard Gift Shop). To be fair, there are lots of nom-nommy local restaurants and a pretty cool arcade area, but when you live here it’s hard not to feel frustrated that it’s easier to buy useless trinkets at “The Quacker Gift Shop” than, say, a gallon of milk.
As an indigenous activist, the thing to get used to here will be the weird New Age mystical-ness that always rides the coattails of all things Native spirituality. I’m sure these people mean well (and it seems they propel a lot of the natural tourism that takes place here) but in appropriating our indigenous cultures they completely and utterly dilute our spirituality into something that whitewashes the conversation (and our super-important modern-day issues) and can be damaging and harmful. I haven’t seen it be much of an issue (yet – the Native population here is ultra-low compared to the urban areas of South Dakota), but I cringe – and chuckle – inside every time someone asks if they can touch my hair, where I powwow, and whether I can teach them how to make a sweat lodge (true story!) – and I generally pass as white in South Dakota, so it’s new for me to be the token Indian. I plan to join the local Indian center, so hopefully I can get in on some homegrown Native advocacy and activism. Living here now, I feel blessed knowing I come from a place Native people are driven to protect sacred sites, like Pe’Sla and Bear Butte.
Despite – and perhaps because of – the tourism, the place has a good vibe, and my 5-year-old’s elementary school is across the street from where we live. I’m seriously considering selling the two storage sheds full of stuff that won’t fit in our small one-bedroom apartment just so we can settle down here. There are homes for sale within our budget, but they’re all old and super-inflated, price-wise. Plus, I never want to move again based on how much I hated the last move.
I do love it here. More to come.