Being taken by this place |

Being taken by this place

There’s probably no way around it. Almost everyone has a few things in the world that downright possess them. It might happen in church, or in love or in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Or in something mundane.

These are the things that grab you at the core and make you well up with a different kind of happiness. You get an unexplainable sense of something unusual from something that’s generally observable. It brings a strange sense of peace, an invigorating jolt of inspiration, a reason to giggle at the root of your soul.

I’ve been “taken” twice this week.

The only underlying theme that binds these two episodes might be a love of something Western. But even that’s a stretch — because one is Western American and one is West African.

Both take my breath away.

Once again, I’ve been swept up in the Yampa Valley’s remarkable sense of place. It’s a wave that hits me every once in a while. I see or learn something new about the familiar scenery we so often take for granted and suddenly I am bowled over by my love affair with this valley.

It started with a trip to the Oak Creek and Phippsburg Historical Society’s fledgling museum, where volunteers have been amassing memorabilia for years. Some of the town’s history is organized in boxes and storage sheds and some of it is just brimming over in old-timers’ brains.

I went there to learn about the history of Sunday’s Pioneer Picnic, but I came away with a smattering of delectable visions from lively Oak Creek days gone by. Oak Creek was a real Wild West town with brothels and miners and nearby lettuce farms. It was the kind of town that attracted immigrants fresh off the boat who spoke in heavy East European tongues. A woman shot her husband for cramping her liberal lifestyle and successfully demanded an all-woman jury to air her grievances in the early 1900s. And one of the local prostitutes kept a daily journal that exists today.

There is a ton of evocative, meaty history in little Oak Creek.

A couple of days later, I went to Yampa. What I love about Yampa is the sense that you’re traveling through a living history museum, a feeling that lingers in the surrounding agricultural landscape.

On Independence Day, Yampa comes to life. It’s kind of surreal. There’s a fabulous parade, barbecue and relay races that are positively Norman Rockwell.

But what really pulls my heart is the action in the street. It’s hard to decide which I like better — watching the broomball polo match full of thundering horses and free-spirited cowgirls, or the crowd. And the day only gets better with the free-wheeling humor of an old-time cowboy chatting in your ear.

I adore living face to face with rural history. I never agreed with my grandmother, who was always happy to rid herself of anything remotely antique by claiming “that’s just old junk.”

South Routt’s unmistakable sense of the West isn’t a marketing ploy — it’s genuine. I am reminded that Oak Creek and Yampa possess an extraordinary sense of place not unlike other unusual locations around the world that have made for brilliant memories.

With the aura of local history lifting my spirit, I stepped into the present to take advantage of one of the Yampa Valley’s more modern cultural wonders: West African master drummers and dancers Fara Tolno and Maputo Mensah are visiting Steamboat Springs this week.

Their dance classes make my body ache and my heart soar. Their drums put me in the best kind of trance. Without ever leaving Robin Getter’s studio, I have been transported to the glorious tropics of West Africa.

I am struck by the different and crazy things that grip me in this speck of a valley on any given week. Sometimes it’s sensory overload.

Perhaps this explains the mystique behind Mike Yurich, the friendly historical society curator I met in Oak Creek, though I failed to ask him personally. After Yurich’s six tours in exotic Peace Corps locations, I can tell that he has been “taken” by those places.

Yet he’s home, poring over history in a town he has known his whole life.

Perhaps that alone speaks to the remarkable sense of place in this space we call home.

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