The Beautiful Snow Child of Crested Butte
[Â story By Dawne Belloise | photos By Nolan BlunckÂ ]
The surname of nna Fenerty is quite apt for a local born and raised in Crested Butte where the winters are long and deep. The Irish name “Fenerty” is derived from O’fionnachta, which means “beautiful snow” in the ancient Celtic language. Anna traveled to Ireland in 2018 to explore a college, which she has not yet attended. âMy sabbatical has gone on,â she smiles. âEducation is stupidly expensive in America and education is such a privileged thing. I see no reason to go into debt thousands and thousands of dollars when I have the access and motivation to learn on my own, âshe says. After visiting the Irish college and telling others about it, Anna didn’t think it was the right choice for her. However, she determined that Irish citizenship could be part of her trajectory. âIt’s a country that reflects my own political and social values,â she explains.
Anna’s parents, Locals Maria and Brian Fenerty, moved to BC in the 1980s and Anna arrived in 1997. âI was a wild hippie kid, for sure. There were a lot of bare feet running around in the woods and pretending. Being a kid here was amazing because you had the freedom and the mountains, âshe says. âI remember letting my imagination run wild and having nothing to do except be a child. It was a huge privilege. Anna notes that she was raised without a television (and of course, a computer), so she had no right to be bored, which she attributes to her vivid imagination.
âWhen I talk to other CB kids, they always think they’re the last generation to be raised wild,â she laughs and notes that there is safety in a small town. âEveryone knows where these kids are and you know there are people looking out for them. I am the last generation to have met the elders, the families of miners. I was lucky that mom worked at the museum when I was little, so I was able to interact with the elders.
Anna didn’t particularly like being a teenager in CB. As a teenager, conforming to standards just wasn’t part of who she was. âYou become more aware of social expectations,â she realized. âIn elementary school, during recess, you played in the dirt and aspens. And then very quickly after that you were chasing the boys and sitting in little circles of girls not talking about anything in particular. But you weren’t crazy anymore. It was a change she didn’t like. She graduated from CBCS in 2015, in a class of 12 girls and 20 boys and felt it was the end of childhood as the city suddenly felt too small.
Anna had spent her entire junior year in South India as a Rotary Club youth exchange student. In 11 months, she lived with three different families. âIt was a city of 1.3 million people. I found a new appreciation for this valley, its beauty, its mountains and its calm and I was less bothered by the little things, âshe says. She suddenly felt lucky to have grown up here, but it also sparked a taste for travel in her by realizing all that one can learn while traveling.
She still wasn’t sure if she needed to go to college, but Anna wanted to study anthropology and her interest was to understand history in the context of humans. “But,” she thought, “spending all that money just on writing history books that no one else would read?” Instead, she loaded the car for a 10-month road trip, intending to visit all national parks in the 48 mainland states. Of the 47 national parks, she visited 41, spending at least three days in each. âI left Crested Butte with $ 300 and my Subaru, which brought me to Vermont,â says Anna, where she did odd jobs like clearing brush on private land so she could further fund her trip. âA lot of the people I stayed with had connections to CB and helped me along the way. I drove until I ran out of money, then worked a bit to get more to keep going.
Afterwards, Anna said she had a choice. She could either start school or take care of her aging grandparents whose health was declining. She chose to go and spend more time with her grandparents. “What’s one more gap year in your life?” She supposed. She headed west to Davis, California. “I would be there for six weeks, go to Hawaii, then come back for six weeks to take care of my grandparents, then tour around California and come back for six weeks.” She was also a nanny in the Dominican Republic for a Californian family whose children she looked after. âIt was a sporadic year. I spent a lot of my time with my grandparents, but then I left with the travel bug. Her grandfather died in 2018 and her grandmother, who was in a retirement home, died this year.
Anna’s brother Cal persuaded her to come back to Crested Butte in 2019. âAnd I realized how much I missed it and the mountains,â she says. Moving into her parents’ house, Anna worked at the front desk at the Old Town Inn, where she worked until high school. She also took a job in the kitchen at Dogwood. Last winter she worked at the front desk at Westwall, Old Town Inn and was a babysitter, “But only for local families.” She currently holds the three jobs necessary to live in her paradise – at Alpengardener, at the Daily Dose and at the Old Town Inn.
During the pandemic, she was able to move into Anthracite Place with the stimulus check she received, but she says she still needs three jobs to keep herself afloat. Living in Anthracite Place, she thinks, âIt’s a reasonable price to pay to live on my own in CB, but what I find unreasonable is that I can’t be a full-time student, that’s part of the lease. There is also a cap on income, so I have to be careful about how much I earn. If I wasn’t a seasonal worker, if I worked full time, full year, I would no longer be eligible to live in Anthracite. I don’t see how I can continue from here. I don’t know how I’m supposed to take another step to be part of this community, âshe says of the restrictive system and the qualifying parameters that allow her and others to live in BC. âI appreciate it, but I don’t know if it really helps me. I can’t grow financially at all and I can’t afford a place. You can’t even find a place. I work really hard. I can earn money to pay rent, it’s more about finding housing.
From last summer, when businesses partially reopened, Anna also noticed a change in the attitude of visitors, making customer service even more difficult. âPeople understand less about the downsides. I had been working in customer service at Old Town Inn since I was 16 and it seemed like you had to ask people to wear their masks and it didn’t suit them. The hot tub was not open (due to COVID) and people weren’t able to take the inconvenience. They weren’t as receptive to wait times.
Anna decided to quit all of her jobs, taking September and October to focus on more creative things, and started writing a screenplay. She’s also honing her creative poetry style and started an evening of open poetry. âFor a year, I have made room for creative culture through poetic expression. What started as a way to meet during social distancing last spring has grown into a weekly pseudo-speakeasy. A place where everyone can come, socialize, discuss and improve themselves as well as our community through exposure to topics and writers from far and near. Anyone in the Valley interested in doing more poetry should ask Daily Dose for more information.
One of her dreams, along with her family’s, is to be able to have land here in the valley, “A place where my parents can grow old and have fun.” Where we can grow food and be sustainable in a valley that doesn’t really allow for sustainability because everything is shipped. A place where we can develop our assets and contribute to this community that has raised us, from my parents to my brothers and sisters. After working three years and saving, we can put a down payment on a down payment, âshe notes of exorbitant real estate prices. âAs the valley changes and more money comes in, it seems more unlikely because we are being excluded from the community we want to live in. Affordable housing is the reason I’m still in this valley and there isn’t enough of it. âAnna remembers the time her parents won affordable housing for the residents of the Red Lady Estate trailer park.
Getting more involved in local issues is perhaps in Anna’s future, and certainly in her field of action. âYou can complain your whole life, but if you’re not back here trying to make Crested Butte the place you want it to be, then you have nothing to say. Not that those who had to leave weren’t justified in their complaints, but personally I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to keep Crested Butte the wild and crazy little town that raised me.