INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Weekend in Paonia


Ellie Milner


My last event as an undergraduate student was the final film festival for my climate change and film class. In typical undergraduate fashion, I was running late to the screening. And as I was actually running to get to the ATLAS building I wasn’t thinking that this film would have changed my post-graduation plans. I was lucky to have screened my short film first as I also had a work function to get to quickly after the show. I watched my film and my peer’s film’s and thought about the future, what kind of job will I find, where will I travel next, what kind of people are going to cross my path along the way. I slipped out of the theater and on to my next work event, there I got a text from my friend Stephanie who told me the good news that we both had tied for first place! I felt grateful and surprised and excited to see where the summer internship would take me leading me to further question what kind of job, people, and places this opportunity would take me. After a December graduation, I still had time before the summer internship started, and the feeling of limbo had sunk in a bit. I was living in a series of “if then statements.” If I get this job then I will move to that place, and if I do this then I can do that. The only concrete thing for me was this film. When I found out I would get to work with Stephanie and this amazing team, the nervousness of uncertainty outweighed the excitement. Driving into Paonia overlooking the Anthracite Range and ragged mountains at dusk, falling deeper in love with my home state, I felt the energy of possibility of this film, this weekend, and this movement.


I like to live life with little to no expectations, that leaves me room for wonder, adventures, and surprises at every turn. I didn’t know what to expect for Paonia and upon meeting everyone involved in this film, the weekend was full of wonderful, surprising, adventures. We got in late Thursday night and upon arriving I was greeted warmly by the Boland family, a local hard cider, and Stephanie and her boyfriend, Michael, playing music. We spent the remainder of the evening with small talk, going over details for the next day, and practicing songs for the event. We fell asleep in tents on the Boland’s Family farm that is positioned on top of a mesa and woke to the sunrise slowly lighting up the valley beneath us. As the sun rose so did the animals, I heard the howl of the resident lamb, Dave, the clucking of the chickens, and the attempt of a coca-doodle-doo from the rooster. This place is special, that much is clear to me. The day passes with preparation for the Energy Party and as the guest’s start to arrive, the fire in the pizza oven gets hotter, and Steph and I grab our cameras. We filmed into the night and into the following day. We documented the progression of the energy party and heard from local women; their ideas and dreams for a better energy future. The juxtaposition of the beautiful landscape and the knowledge of the coal mines making clear scars in the earth up the street gave for interesting dialogue. It was heavy, inspiring, daunting, and hopeful all at the same time.

After the guest’s left, Steph and switched into the making of the second video. We left Clara and her dad to do their thing writing the script for the story she wanted to tell. She wanted to write a letter to her grandmother, a woman whose path she has inadvertently followed. We spent the afternoon roaming the farm, the same earth that Clara’s grandmother had lived on and tended to. We tasted leaves, tomatoes, and strawberries from the garden. We saw the site where Clara and her husband Matosh will build their house, we saw the spigot where their water line will connect, and we swam in the canal that will source the water to their home. The water was freezing, by the way, it was snow a few hours before we jumped in. At the end of the day we settled in for dinner and ate the best grilled cheese my mouth has ever met. Fresh bread made in the pizza oven, cheese, and butter. Simple and delicious. Just like life on the farm, simple and delicious. The whole weekend we were met with nothing but kindness, openness, and great conversation from the Boland Family. It was a weekend I will never forget.


A recurring theme of the weekend was reaching young women who were at a point in their lives where they are making decisions that will dictate the way they consume energy for the rest of their lives. I too am at that point in my life and have been reflecting a lot about it. I have gotten a job at an adventure travel company that is the leader in conservation and is also 100% carbon neutral. Knowing this going into interviews was a major reason I accepted the job. The company is continually raising the bar and pushing for their employees to live a more sustainable lifestyle. It feels amazing to be working with such dedicated conservationists even if it isn’t in their job title. I am reevaluating my eating habits, the source of my food, my travel habits, how I commute, even the language I use when talking to people about the issue of climate change and sustainability.

Another thing that I took away from the weekend in Paonia was accepting and loving moving back in with my parents. As Clara and Matosh’s house isn’t yet built they live on the farm in the same house as her parents. It was refreshing to witness the love and fun that the Boland family has. It helped solidify the feelings that I have about my own situation. I am enjoying the opportunity to live with my parents, I will most likely never get the chance to live with them like this again. I get to nurture the unique friendship with my mom and dad that I will be forever grateful for. That is an amazing gift.

I know that this weekend will forever impact the rest of my life. I’m excited about the future and now I need to get back to editing. Thanks to everyone involved!