San Luis Valley Potato Festival

That’s today — yesterday was hard work, but the rewards at the end of the day made it worth it. A fellow writer here on WP put before me exactly the question I need to answer to move forward with whatever it is I’m doing with my novels. It was almost as if it were a board game or video game and I’d landed on the square or the level, I could only reach after completely certain tasks.

The question is, “What is this all for? What would it be for me to ‘win’?”

I don’t know. It started out me kind of proving that “I don’t need no stinkin’ publisher.” Now it’s something else, more?

But today I am recharging and thinking.

Most people don’t know that Colorado’s San Luis Valley is second only to the state of Idaho in the production of potatoes. In September my town celebrates the potato harvest with the Potato Festival. I’m the first to say it’s about as low-key as a festival can possibly be, but that doesn’t mean anything. On this day the people who surround me get to be themselves. The tourists are gone. Summer is over (it ends quickly here in the largest Alpine valley in the world) and the things they love to do and value come out. There is a kind of cultural diversity that is very special. In this small community are Mennonites, Amish, descendants of the 16th century Spanish immigrants, Ute and Navajos, African Americans, Mexicans and ordinary white people like me. I love it. There’s even linguistic diversity — I can hear the Swiss German the Amish speak among themselves; the Spanish of this region of the world; Mexican Spanish; Native American languages.

It’s a chance for the organizations that keep my town alive to raise some money. The Rainbow Girls sell cinnamon rolls and lemonade. The classic farm equipment club churns homemade ice cream using a tractor for power. The various community supported organizations — which include our theater — sell watermelon, baked potatoes, and other things to raise funds to keep things running.

There’s a train — oil drums cut open on top, painted bright colors, equipped with steering wheels and pulled by a tractor. There are pony and horse rides, on mini-horses with exotic pink tails! An enormous “jumpy.” Big “hamster” balls for kids, a climbing wall. Arts and crafts booths.

Besides being the largest Alpine valley in the world, we are also a community that lives on the edge of poverty, but we’re not poor. I can’t explain it — it’s just how it is. It’s an economy that relies on human effort and generosity to work. It’s communalism.

Last year I sat in a booth for the art co-op I was a member of. This year I went with a friend and saw other friends. We went to a couple of cooking demos that were really interesting. Among the things we got to learn about were cod and mashed potato fritters; my friend has Swedish ancestry and so do I, so we could joke about them being Lutefisk tacos… But they were good.

“Half the town is here,” said one of the chefs, looking around.

To someone who doesn’t know what that means, it would only seem to be a handful of people. My friend and I both commented on the great turn out.

Not a day goes by but what I feel gratitude for the chain of events that led me here, crazy and scary though some of them were. In a little while I’ll go walk the dogs and enjoy the chilly air coming off the mountains, the September sky, and the peacefulness of my beautiful small town. My neighbors — which is everybody — will wave as they drive by and I will wave back, even though we don’t know each other. ❤

6 thoughts on “San Luis Valley Potato Festival

  1. Now that is a festival that wold be right up my street. Sounds fun, and I love potatoes in all variations (except for mashed). I would love to hear the Swiss German spoken by the ethnic minorities in your area and experience the various diversities in culture. You must live in a wonderful place (except for the long snowy winters).

    • I wish you could come and visit me. You’d probably be enchanted by the space, the light, the people. Our winters are long, but not that snowy and the sun shines most of the time. But they can be very cold, that’s true. The Amish speak some old dialect of Bernese Switzerdeutsch. You might be able to pick up something and that would be so cool. 🙂

      • Solothurner tütsch is a similar dialect to Bärntütsch, so I might understand them. Don’t forget the Gerbers come from Emmental originally, and if you can understand that, you can understand almost anything.

      • Well that would be wonderful if you could stand at one of their tables where they sell baked goods and ask for something in their language. I don’t know how they’d take it – quite stoically, I imagine, probably just tell you the price and take your money.

  2. How fascinating to read about this place that you clearly love so much, and its people. It sounds as though moving there was the best thing you could possibly have done. I’m so glad for you!

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