Editor’s Note: I am the host, producer and photographer for the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast. I also write a monthly guest column related to the podcast for two local newspapers in Chaffee County, Colo.: the Chaffee County Times (Buena Vista) and The Mountain Mail (Salida). This is my column based on my conversation with Thordis Simonsen.

I think it’s difficult to adequately describe or encapsulate Thordis Simonsen and her varied and creative life in a column here. But I’ll give it a go by hopeful way of enticing you to listen to the conversation I recently had with her on We Are Chaffee’s “Looking Upstream” podcast.

If you’d rather read than listen, there is a transcript of the conversation available online, as there are for all Looking Upstream conversations, at wearechaffee.org.)

Simonsen is many things. She has done and is doing many things. By my estimation, she is bold and creative. She is compassionate and thoughtful. She’s resilient, persistent and courageous. And she has many stories to tell because of all of that.

Simonsen is the founding director and curator of the Museum of Authenticity in Salida. She’s a painter, photographer, writer and speaker. She’s a book author. She’s– well, as I said, many things. And no matter how many descriptors I list here, I feel it’s somehow not enough.

In my hourlong podcast conversation with Simonsen, we scratched the surface of some of her inspiring experiences and stories. If nothing else, I think these might spark a listener’s (or reader’s) curiosity to know more, and then maybe even to go see her at the Museum of Authenticity, and have one’s own direct experience with her. 

There’s information for visitors on the museum’s website, museumofauthenticity.org, which notes that its open “by reservation or by chance.” Charmingly, the museum’s availability has a special rhythm that is in sync with Simonsen’s.

“Some kids at an early age decide they’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer or a farmer, whatever, and end up doing it, and have very fulfilled, happy lives doing what their original thought was, if you will, or origin of themselves as an adult,” Simonsen said. “I didn’t have that. I feel like I almost came into the world without a conscious idea of what my life would be like down the road.

“There’s a Jungian psychologist who tells a story, as I understand it, that’s told in the Talmud, that during our gestation, that the story of our lives are imprinted in our being somehow, and that at birth that is erased, and we spend the rest of our lives rediscovering what was written. And if anything, that’s how I feel my life has evolved.”

Simonsen and I talked about how she came to leave a career as a teacher, first of biology and then of cultural anthropology. She would go live in a small Greek village. She had a grant for a project in which she would interview villagers and document life there as a photographer. Never mind that she did not know Greek. 

Thordis Simonsen, Portrait by Adam Williams

Thordis Simonsen

That experience ultimately would lead to her selling her Ford Pinto station wagon and buying a house in that Greek village with the proceeds: $2,000. And never mind that by “house,” we’re actually talking about a stone-walled structure with dirt floor and no roof, and it had been used to stable sheep. 

Simonsen, with no prior experience as a stone mason, would spend 10 years rebuilding that structure by hand into a house for herself. She also would cultivate what would be a 40-year relationship with that village. 

She did learn Greek along the way, and she became the stone mason that she needed to become to rebuild that house. That she leaped into this 40-year adventure with no prior experience for that work is essential to who she is and the inspiring way in which she lives her life.

Of course, this is not the only story from Simonsen’s life that we talked about. There’s much more, including details about the limited-edition re-release of her book, “You May Plow Here.” Stop by the Museum of Authenticity (or better yet make a reservation!) and I bet she has a copy of that book within reach and that she would be happy to tell you about it.

Learn more about Thordis Simonsen and the Museum of Authenticity by listening to our “Looking Upstream” podcast conversation at wearechaffee.org or on any podcast player.

Adam Williams hosts the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast every other Tuesday. Follow @wearechaffeepod on Instagram.