Ceaselessly into the past

Decades gone by, Japanese grads revisit Fort Lewis

Noriko Takahashi and husband Takema, reminisce about their bygone college days in Durango, 20 years ago. They recalled spending many a night at the Gaslight, the only movie theater in town at the time. Enlarge photo

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

Noriko Takahashi and husband Takema, reminisce about their bygone college days in Durango, 20 years ago. They recalled spending many a night at the Gaslight, the only movie theater in town at the time.

For Takema Takahashi, the memories came back in an instant. All it took was a deep breath.

“It has a nice smell here. Like pine trees,” he said.

Takema and his wife, Noriko, returned to Durango this week for the first time in nearly 20 years. Born and raised in Japan, they uprooted from familiar surroundings and ventured across the world together (shortly after meeting for the first time) to study Spanish at Fort Lewis College in 1990. They graduated in 1994, went home to the Land of the Rising Sun and married three years later.

As FLC students, the Takahashis immersed themselves in Durango’s natural riches and recreation outlets. Mountain biking, rafting, camping and snowboarding – a winter sport then in its infancy – were common pastimes. The activities came with a painful learning curve.

“I broke bones in my arms and legs,” Takema said, smiling nostalgically. “But it was worth it.”

“There was studying, too, sometimes,” Noriko said.

Now, with two children in tow – Keigo, 12, and little sister Reina, 9 – the Takahashis are viewing Durango again through a new lens. Some sights are familiar. Restaurants and businesses they frequented as students are still around, local standbys such as Carver Brewing Co. and Magpies Newsstand Café, and the less local: the Ralph Lauren Polo outlet hasn’t changed a bit, they said, except perhaps less flannel in the display window.

Durango residents are as friendly and welcoming as they remember. And, of course, the mountainous landscape is immutable, save a few ridge-line mansions.

For all the similarities, they also notice how the pace of life has changed. More people, more cars, more commotion.

“We were surprised to see traffic signals in places there were none before,” Takema said.

Their visit to Durango is one stop of a longer pilgrimage across the western United States. They will head north from here to Glacier National Park in Montana for the wedding of Marc Badger, the son of Noriko’s host family in the early 1990s. At the time, Marc was just a diminutive sprout.

“He’s a big guy now,” Takema said. “We’re happy to celebrate with him.”

The celebrations will complete a circle of sorts. The Badger family traveled to Japan in 1997 to attend Takema and Noriko’s own nuptials.

In the lush grass adjacent to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge depot, the Takahashi children dashed playfully back and forth, trying to expend excess energy stored up during their seven-hour train ride.

Keigo has a black belt in karate and Reina is a blossoming ballerina. Sitting still is hard work.

With positive memories from their own college experience, the Takahashis are supportive of their children studying abroad in the future.

They said the kids would have to make their own decisions and forge their own paths. But the wry smiles on their faces showed they wouldn’t be disappointed if Keigo and Reina chose to follow in their parents’ Skyhawk footsteps.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

Takema Takahashi, left, wife Noriko, and their children Keigo, 12, and Reina, 9, relax near the train depot on Main Avenue. When asked what U.S. and Japanese citizens could learn from one another, the Takahashis admired the American spirit of optimism, while giving Japanese credit for their ceaseless punctuality. Enlarge photo

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

Takema Takahashi, left, wife Noriko, and their children Keigo, 12, and Reina, 9, relax near the train depot on Main Avenue. When asked what U.S. and Japanese citizens could learn from one another, the Takahashis admired the American spirit of optimism, while giving Japanese credit for their ceaseless punctuality.