Why I fell in love with Colorado

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Patty Lim­er­ick Patty Lim­er­ick is Colorado’s state his­to­rian, fac­ulty di­rec­tor and chair of the Cen­ter of the Amer­i­can West at the Univer­sity of Colorado, and was re­cently named as a mem­ber of the Na­tional Coun­cil on Hu­man­i­ties.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.