I’ve lived in Boulder, Colorado a few months now and I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not sure how I feel about it. There’s much to love here, and equally much I am challenged by, though the two much-es barely overlap. Which leaves a strange, fractured existence, half of me joyous at the sunrise lighting up the hills and the other half angry at every car, for each of them seems hellbent on endangering my life as a pedestrian.
I am not built for this town. I don’t want to own a car. I love being outdoors but pursue no activities that take me there. I am not white, or straight. I’ve stopped pretending to fit in anywhere, let alone in a place that seems to treasure conformity. I dress weird. I once thrived in that intangible indescribable thing I snobbishly (and with more than a hint of rose-tinted nostalgia) call real community; I now wilt in the faint approximations of community I seem to find here, unsure if all I’m seeing is the view from the outside or if there really is no there there. I love my job, though, and there’s a way in which I am grateful for the person that Colorado is forcing me to become—a person who has surrendered more than ever before to something like fate. But everything and everyone else feels…distant.
People ask me often if I’m going to learn to ski now that I live here. “No, hell no!” I reply quickly. There are many reasons I don’t want to ski, even some reasonable ones, most of which I can’t explain. I’ve only recently learnt that explaining myself—my likes, dislikes, hopes and wants—isn’t really necessary most of the time. Maybe the distance I feel here is changing me after all, into someone unapologetic. But by failing to muster any enthusiasm for skiing, I know I’m being stubborn and missing out, electing to avoid an experience that will make me more of this place, an experience that might even be fun.
So be it, I say today, because I now know how to shovel ice off a fucking sidewalk, and that’s the specific Ambika-meets-Colorado experience I needed instead. Not shoveling the day after snowfall when it’s easy. No, seven days later rather, when the first ten inches of snow has packed down into ice and then another ten inches have fallen atop it and then the next day is somehow more than twenty degrees warmer and every shovelful of what was cotton yesterday is now lead. The ice should yield to that perfect mixture of salt and sunshine, muscle and care, persistence. I ask my quiet neighbor’s advice on strategy, and while he approves of my plan he seems bewildered too, at the whole exercise. Surely it’ll melt in today’s balmy weather? I’m certain it won’t—I have never done this before, so your guess is as good as mine where this certainty is coming from. Some vague recollection of the physics of water in its solid forms, I suppose. But the quiet neighbor says, expose the pavement, that’ll help, and he’s right, so I get to work.
I admire the shovel’s metal edge, perfect for the job. I watch and feel underfoot the snow crush and melt and freeze and harden, shapeshifting within moments as I work. It all begins to feel like a dance where you need to know just how your partner moves in response to the slightest shifts in pressure. Something like respect grows within me for the ice and for the task at hand; as my back bends, I know this ache to be worthwhile.
I’m learning to be an individual in Colorado, sometimes individualistic even. Most of the time I hate this transformation, but as I chip away at the ice, doggedly and alone in strange warm weather, I sort of see the appeal of some kind of individualism. My distance from everyone here, and the distance I trust they’ll keep from me, means that I owe no one an explanation for my actions. I could, like my other neighbor, have chosen to do nothing about the ice. In all likelihood, it would have melted fully sometime this next warm week. No one is going to thank me for shoveling. But this only proves that I’m not shoveling to be thanked, I’m shoveling because its the right thing to do.
I had worried that living here would leach from me all of my commitment to the collective—I mean, I’m not even sure I like public transit here, which is a sentence I never believed myself capable of uttering. And so I’m grateful for the goddamned snow that collapsed under the weight of booted feet and, in it, the chance to remind myself that even here, I am who I am, still mostly me. I recognize myself in Colorado, finally, reflected in some sidewalk ice.