On an unnaturally warm February morning, one of many in a winter that never made up its mind south of the 40th latitude, the Braford family went for a run. Through town on Shrine Road, up toward the local water supply, to the Boulder Gulch trailhead where the dirt and slush turned to snow. The oldest son, Blaze, bounded ahead, his long blonde hair bouncing with each gangly stride, while the younger two children, Raja and Soren, lagged behind, lobbing snowballs at each other. Raja’s pink top and blue tights stood out brightly against the snow. Their father, Cody, called back, “Come on, runts!” as he charged ahead toward a bend in the trail overlooking town.
Cody Braford and Ivy Lefebvre moved to Silverton, Colorado, eight years ago after a slow courtship with this tiny former mining town, the population of which shrinks to around 420 in the winter and expands only slightly when the snow melts. Cody’s car broke down here when he was 17, back when he was aimlessly following the metal band Ministry around the country, and he always planned to come back. These mountains tend to do that.
Cody is a contractor, and Ivy is the janitor and electrician at the public school, which has so few students—65 this year—that their oldest son, Blaze, is the only kid in his math and science classes. He and his father share the same laugh, an animated and frequent explosion. Both parents plow snow for the city during normal winters. Raja, the middle child and only daughter, skillfully fills in the gaps of her siblings’ stories. The youngest, Soren, was born in the living room of the family’s green prefab house which they call, “The Aid Station.” It nearly killed both him and his mother. In addition to the kids, who range in age from 11 to 17, the house is also occupied by a cat, a dog, at least five tarantulas and a 160-pound pig named Simba.
Running is a tool that the Brafords have given their children. It’s economical and configures their time together—from weekends to vacations. It’s a replacement for one alcohol addiction and distracts from the possibility of another. It’s time together and an outlet, a way the family has learned to artfully navigate their respective interests and use small-town loneliness to foster intimacy and independence. Intentionally or not, it’s nurtured a precocious curiosity. Blaze wants to be an engineer. He wants to go to college in a place where he can still run in the mountains. And he says this, not as if it’s a line he’s been fed by overindulgent parents, but as a genuine requirement he’s arrived at on his own. Just like he decided to become a vegetarian after learning about Hinduism in school and when Raja decided she wanted a pig.
“It can be lonely here,” says Ivy, glancing down at the slant-roof houses below. She’s struggled for the past few years with diabetes, trying to manage it while continuing to run. She’d like to open a health food store in town someday. The kids agree about the loneliness, but they shrug it off like it’s an inevitable compromise for the mountains. Which in many ways it is. The Brafords fold running into their family as habitually as brushing teeth. Their lives aren’t easy, but they’ve never known anything different.
“Onward, Macduff!” Cody shouts, calling his children to attention from where they’ve stopped to scramble on the rock formations at the base of the trail. They shout the misquoted Shakespeare back, “Onward, Macduff!” then sprint in formation, careening down the trail, Ivy sweeping from behind. They jostle for position and race, agile and without hesitation, over the rocks and patches of slushy snow, hollering at each other as they go.