Being raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri and then living in the Washington, DC during my twenties, I really wasn’t familiar with small-town living. It wasn’t until I first moved to the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California that I experienced rural, small-town life first-hand. A place where there was only one post office, one grocery market, and when running errands, you frequently ran into someone you knew.
Nederland is small mountain town living personified with an emphasis on the community part, and the annual community Thanksgiving dinner is a great example of the tight-knit community that is Nederland. It is typically held on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, but this year they moved it up to last weekend, to allow more of the community to participate. It is held at our Community Center (where else?), and the town provides 40 turkeys and stuffing, 200 pounds of potatoes, and the townspeople who attend provide the rest pot luck style. Of the 1300 residents that call Nederland home, 800 people attended this smorgasbord this year. A local community ensemble provided bluegrass and Irish music to accompany the festivities.
This is not the only example of the community bond the residents share here. In March, 2003, a 3-day snowstorm blanketed the are with 4-6 feet of snow. As you can imagine, it was difficult getting out of your house during such an epic snowstorm, and power was cut off to most of the town, including the local B and F Market. Knowing the perishables would go bad anyway, the market held a community barbecue in its parking lot for anyone who could get there, in any way they could — by snowmobile, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing — all who made the effort got free food and a sense of camaraderie that we could get through anything.
Wildfire evacuations bring about that same sense of people helping their neighbors. I first got to know the people in my neighborhood about two months after we moved in, when the Four-Mile Canyon Fire broke out. We were on pre-evacuation and I was really scared about what was going to happen. The saving grace was walking the neighborhood with our dogs, talking to our neighbors, and reassuring each other we would be ok no matter what. A small fire a few weeks later actually forced us to evacuate, where most residents waited it out at the Community Center.
Last year’s historic flood brought about the same sense of cooperation, and willingness to help each other. In fact, an entire campaign broke out among the mountain towns affected, complete with bumper stickers and a slogan — “Mountain Strong.”
While living in a small mountain town can sometimes make me feel isolated, and the amenities can be lacking, I really value the community spirit that abounds here in Nederland, knowing I am never alone, and that the true spirit of helping your fellow neighbors is alive and well.