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But less than a mile away, I spotted another place, with a Jeep Wagoneer idling out front. A man was inside. I stopped a few yards away, rolled down my window, and waved at him. A moment later he cracked his own window. I climbed out of my truck and, in a show of my confidence and good intentions, walked over to him. We talked for a while. He was just back from rehab, he said.

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I asked for what, and he said opioids. It was cold and windy, and I had left my jacket in the car. Then, when he came back, he and the guy had gotten into an argument and the guy shot him. T he next day, bumping down a lonely road, I saw a small S.

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The driver saw me and slammed on the brakes; she wanted to know who I was. I got out and introduced myself. They signaled that I could follow them to their rickety mobile home. The day was sunny and warm, and we gathered around the back of the S. Rhonda had hair going straight up from her scalp and an animated style of talking. Her husband had died a few years before. The next day, I drove past a white-painted front fence without a gate and parked under an actual tree near three other cars, one with the hood up, its battery connected to a solar panel that rested on the ground.

I stepped out and was thronged by four dogs, three of them blue heelers a type of Australian cattle dog , a ranch dog popular in the area. Their owner, Paul Skinner, was an affable gay man in his fifties who said he had lived in his mobile homes two of them joined together in an L shape for more than twenty years. He invited me inside and made me tea. So they were a sign of constancy. As the cruiser approached a property where a new house was going up, I saw a woman jump into a red truck and drive away quickly.

Only one of the guys in the cruiser was dressed like a cop; he was actually wearing a bulletproof vest. The other one, shaggier and wearing a Denver Broncos jersey, was doing the talking.

In the driveway listening was a man who had been working inside the new house. After I introduced myself, he gave another one to me.

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And then they left. He nodded and told me that Jinx, the woman in the pickup truck, had very much not wanted to meet them because the permits—for a septic system, for a driveway—cost money and required expensive additions to the work plan. Costilla County, where I was, had been particularly harsh lately with code enforcement. The time has come for the masses to rise. The two were now in jail in San Luis. I knew they lived somewhere nearby, and the next week I pulled up to their place.

The Gruber family. It was the first dwelling I had seen that was totally without windows—basically a wooden box. In lieu of a regular doorknob and lock it had a hasp for a padlock that could be set when the occupants were away. They started wagging their tails. A teenage girl came outside wearing a parka and slippers.

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Also, he limped because last summer somebody had shot him in the leg. She ducked back inside to get her mom.

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The mother told me her name, Sam McDonald, accepted my offer of firewood, and told her son, also a teenager, to come help me unload it. Yes, she said, and the dogs came in at night as well. Her son slept in a reclining chair, and one daughter slept on the couch. I gave her my cell-phone number, and she asked if I might just spin back by in a day or two, since they were out of minutes on their phone.

I promised I would. As I drove away, I paused once to look back at the house. They lived just a five-minute walk from the Rio Grande canyon. Down by the water there were Indian petroglyphs. Beyond the canyon rose a gentle mountain. On all sides was golden grass. And they were surviving, it would seem, on thin air.

F rank had helped me set up my generator, and now my heat was slightly more reliable. Then, during night three, the last bottle ran out. I needed more propane, and I needed more gasoline. I could have also used a shower. I drove into Alamosa.

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Tona was easy to find in the homeless shelter, which she ran. I told her about my challenges keeping warm at night, and she suggested I get a Buddy heater—a small propane unit to keep me warm if the main furnace went off. I was sold on the name alone! But apparently Buddy heaters were quite efficient, and I knew my trailer was far from airtight. He had a new story to tell, of trying to make contact with an extremely reclusive resident who, the only time Matt had seen him, discharged a shotgun into the air to show he was serious about wanting Matt to leave.

Okay, so I left more wood. Next week I come around I get a note on a piece of paper. He said he was nonpartisan. I knew he valued self-reliance, because he practiced it. He agreed with Trump that food stamps should not be an ongoing thing for anyone.

He disapproved of people taking government money who could get a job. But then he qualified that by saying that single moms are a special case: it makes no sense for them to get a job just to pay for day care they could do themselves. Once a month, around fifty staffers attend these meetings, gathering in a circle of folding metal chairs and old couches in the meeting room of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Alamosa before work.


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Lance Cheslock is always there, but often he does not preside. It falls to Matt Little, who is no fan of large meetings or public speaking, to report on rural outreach. That week he told the story of a girl named Raven whose family moved out to the valley from Missouri after their house burned down.