Home Is Where the Wild Things Are

By Antonya Nelson
Photograph: Jason Holley

For our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to buy four city blocks of a Colorado ghost town. I guess it’s sort of sad that the town is deserted, but for us it’s been a real boon. Our property includes the post office (circa 1888) and the city cemetery. (Who knew you could own one?)
This is the sort of thing my family has been doing for generations: My parents purchased a couple of miners’ shacks in floundering Telluride in 1961 and restored them as a summer retreat for the extended family. When Telluride grew too popular, they found a tiny town in Montana and did the same thing, buying a few shabby structures and fixing them up, but not too much. No need to get fancy when it’s what’s outside that’s appealing: mountains, fishing streams, chairs on porches where one and all sit, chat, drink and watch the bats dive.
For the past five summers, my husband and I have followed that family tradition, driving down the rutted dirt road to our P.O. and doing a modest bit of amateur rehab. We’re joined by family members from both sides: our brothers and sisters and mothers, our nephews and nieces, our son and daughter and our daughter’s fiancé. We camp in trailers and tents, an ever-shifting cast of friends and relations, there at the intersection of abandoned First and Main, and build fires at night with the rotten wood we’ve pulled from the dilapidated structures. At this altitude (9,400 feet) and at this distance from any city, the sky is an insanely bright spectacle. Step away from the fire for only a few minutes and you are guaranteed to witness a flurry of shooting stars. The mountains crowd around the place, protecting it, defining it, and the aspen and spruce thrive, overgrowing what once were homes and shops and offices. Bears, elk, deer and foxes are in evidence, wandering, howling, leaving scat. A pair of hawks circle all day long, lazy locals looking down on our labor.
There’s an outhouse perched across the stream that runs through our land, a leaning two-seater. The Leaning Tower of Piss, we’ve named it. Every year, it seems to lean just a little more.
Since we’d shored up the foundation of the P.O. and plumbed and wired it, last summer we took the next step: designing the building’s future. We did this with our 18-year-old son’s still viable Lego collection, building a colorful model that his young cousins furnished with tiny flat screen TVs and curious occupants (Lego SpongeBob, Lego R2-D2, Lego pharaoh guys). On a rainy afternoon, we studied the structure, imagining and amending, while overhead, mice scrambled in our trailer’s cubbies.
For our twenty-fifth anniversary, we purchased a septic tank. Metaphorically pathetic, I suppose. But for our family it was worth a few days’ excitement, the boys (all ages) exuberant at driving into town, two hours away, to rent the big machinery, and the girls (also all ages) happy to drive in for a hot shower and some time at Wal-Mart. We bought more Legos to plan the porch. A fence for some horses. An art studio. A bunkhouse. And a loft where we can stack even more beds, just in case others wish to join us—future friends we have yet to meet or even imagine.

Antonya Nelson’s latest short story collection is
Nothing Right.

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