There it was. My favorite weather of all. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and it was snowing.
I stood at the window, warming my hands with a mug of coffee, and thought to myself, "This is a the last time I'll see snow falling under a clear blue sky." And somewhere before that thought even ended I realized that for more than a week, I'd been living in that half-reality created by nostalgia.
Since I decided to leave Steamboat, everything has been glowing under the strange light of "this is the last time."
This is the last time I'll be able to order something besides the Fourteener at Backcountry Provisions.
This is the last time I'll see that guy with the cowboy hat riding his bike down U.S. Highway 40 in a blizzard.
This is the last time I'll ski by "Why Not" and joke to myself, "There are a lot of reasons."
This is the last time it will take me 20 minutes to get my mail at the post office because there are so many people to visit.
This is the last time I'll stand in the dairy aisle at Safeway and discuss City Council politics.
This is the last time someone will meet me for the first time and say, "You look so much taller in your picture."
This is the last time I'll wonder when Azteca is going to re-open.
You get the idea.
Life changes when you're at the end of a chapter. It looks different. When you can feel the back cover of the book bend because there is only one page left, you finally can see the whole story from beginning to end.
As I walk away, Steamboat is packaged into a perfect four-year chapter. I can see myself on that first night in town standing at the Go-fer Foods pay phone and trying to describe how much snow there was to a friend on the East Coast, where winter hadn't even started.
And I see myself at the end of the chapter. Me: cleaning the coffee ring off my desk at the Pilot and peeling my "I Love The Alleged Cat Eater" sticker off the wall of my cubicle.
As Steamboat disappears in my rearview mirror, I'll mentally package my time here into a column for another community. Maybe I'll tell them about the Yampa Valley Curse.
First I'll tell them that I don't believe in it. I do not believe some Ute chief stood at the edge of the valley before he was taken away to a reservation and threw a curse on the place that everyone who comes must return.
The curse is something else entirely.
The curse is that Steamboat feels good. If you stay for a while, it embraces you. You feel welcome. You feel wanted. You feel safe.
People recognize you on the street. If you are standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, someone driving by will honk and wave and smile. And that feels great.
As you leave for other places, I imagine you don't remember the endless snow shoveling or the financial struggle or the treacherous dating scene.
You remember the way Steamboat loved you. That's the curse.
And if the Yampa Valley Curse is to feel at home in a place, then I have it.
Let us all be cursed.
That was it. That was my three-minute Oscar speech. My last wave at the end of a four-year parade. My goodbye to all of you. My last Four Points column.
Thanks for reading.
See you when we're older.