Why I fell in love with Colorado
Inever wanted to move to Colorado. As the newly appointed Colorado state historian, I aim to earn a high ranking for the celebrated virtues of transparency and full disclosure.
In the early 1980s, I was teaching at Harvard on the “revolving door” plan. Assistant professors arrived on campus with the knowledge that we would be departing in five years. Those who did not abide by this understanding could choose, instead, a humiliating ordeal: being reviewed for tenure with a 99.9 percent guarantee of failure.
So my professional ambition acquired sharp definition: I wanted to leave Harvard before I got booted out. And so, hoping to get back in training for the strenuous sport of applying for academic jobs, I applied to CU and was surprised to get a job offer.
With 2½ years remaining on my Harvard contract, I asked the history department chair for a consultation. He convened senior historians to see if they had any inclination to encourage me to stay.
When I went to his office to hear the results of their deliberations, one very legible note sat at the center of his desk:
“No on Limerick.”
I did not move to Colorado because I was a skier eager to hit the slopes, or because I was enchanted with John Denver, or because I had recognized that staying on the East Coast was going to come close to eliminating my opportunities to reach Western audiences with my perspectives on their region’s history.
Evidence that I had been unbelievably lucky was not long in presenting itself.
Awakening to the restorative power of the landscape, I soon rechristened one of the Flatirons as “The Mountain that Makes Life Worth Living Again after a Difficult Meeting.”
Another telling indicator of my change in thinking was a rising tide of condescension and pity for people who lived elsewhere. Visiting universities around the country, when faculty members took me out to dinner, I had to work hard not to tell my pleasant hosts, “I’m sorry you are stuck living here.”
And then there was the emergence of an improbable and unexpected trend by which Coloradans aplenty invited me to give speeches on every imaginable subject, and some that went a step or two beyond imagination. Given access to podiums in nearly every part of the state, I eased into a role as the Kilroy of public speaking in Colorado. (If the excellent phrase “Kilroy was here” has expired as a recognized and familiar figure of speech, then I will put reviving it on my to-do list as state historian.)
Having been born and raised in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, I was grateful beyond measure as my speaking circuit set me up to acquire hundreds of new friends. And when my first husband, Jeff Limerick, died of a stroke in 2005, I was immersed in the compassion of Coloradans.
Back when I was a more sequestered academic, I wrote about “the Western sense of place.” It was a spectacular turn of events to come into possession myself of the sentiment I had been studying.
I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
And I cannot imagine a greater privilege than serving as Colorado state historian and becoming even more of a champion for the place where I live.