I have a cold. A plain, ordinary, garden-variety cold, one week coming, one week here, one week (please, please) going. Nothing special. Except, of course, that you would think, to listen to me and watch me as I wander the house trailing wads of Kleenex and coughing like Camille, that nobody had ever had such a serious illness before. I do not do sick with any grace. I am an impatient patient. All doctors and nurses beware of me because I exasperate them into losing their bedside manners. I’ve done it before and probably will again.
Of course, this cold is perfectly ordinary, which means that I have run the gamut of sore throat, gunky cough, filled-up nose, wobbly limbs, fuzzy thinking, inability to lie down without coughing spasms, and, now, as a coup de grace, laryngitis. Which is one reason I’m typing rather than boring my friends (well, some of them might still consider themselves friends once I’m through this siege) with my raspy voiced opinions. And I even managed to communicate some of this to my right eye somehow, which has been, in consequence, red and weepy for two days. It’s better today. Wish I could say the same for the rest of my gestalt.
Those of you out there who manage, with smiling grace, grit and purpose, to live with illnesses that are debilitating or chronic or possibly life-threatening, I can only salute you and hope that you do not get a cold on top of whatever you have. Because that will take the starch right out of your smiling grace, that’s for sure. To mention nothing of your grit and purpose.
It is summer in Estes Park (well, it’s summer all over the northern hemisphere, but didn’t I say just above that this cold is making my thinking fuzzy?). It is dry out here and there are wild fires and it’s quite frightening, but right now in Estes, the sky is a clear deep turquoise, the trees are just fully leafed out, the streams sparkle in the sun, and we’re filled with tourists enjoying themselves, the elk and other wildlife, and the beautiful mountains. The city fathers and mothers have planted flowers in every possible location, and the wildflowers themselves are beginning to bloom. And here I am in a darkened bedroom, trying to remember where I stored the last box of Kleenex and feeling sorry for myself. Colds in the summer are redundant, unexpected, definitely unwanted, and miserable. Phooey.
Because summer is such a wonderful thing. All seasons are, I think, when they get started. The first snow of winter, the first frosty nip turning the leaves in autumn, the joy of the first robin in spring, the first series of clear, bright, warm days in summer. We get used to them, later, and wish for the next turning of the earth, but when they’re new, wow! And I would like to be out in it, taking a walk, wandering the shops downtown, driving around my big backyard, the national park, taking part in the sun and the air and the gorgeous.
Oh, it’s not that summer here in paradise doesn’t have its snakes. The title of this essay is, after all, “Colds and Other Summer Complaints“. For one thing, summer brings the tourists, and they bring the money that allows us all to live up here, but it’s a small town with one main street, and several side streets and in high summer, it’s impossible (while driving in a car) to turn left at any street without a dedicated left-turn signal (which is all but three of them). Our town has perhaps a half-mile, maybe a bit more, of shops on the main street, with two intersections. In summer, it can take as long to drive the whole length as it does to get cross-town in rush hour in Manhattan (I’ve measured). And forget about the elkjams. Whenever a driver in a car (tourist car, of course) spies an elk, a deer, a bear or even a rock, bush or tree that looks like an elk, deer or bear, he or she will stop wherever that happens to happen. If you’re lucky, the car will pull to the side of the road, but that is not a given. The pile-ups can be truly massive, again irresistibly reminding one of Manhattan at most hours of the day. After a while, the elk, deer or bear will wander off, or the people in the cars will realize they were all looking a rock, bush or tree, and the whole thing will unsnarl, only to reform a few hundred yards down the road (Look, Ma, isn’t that a mountain goat?) (Uh, we don’t have mountain goats in this part of the Rockies, we have bighorn sheep, which are quite shy and don’t often come downtown, so No, that’s not a mountain goat, that’s a husky.)
The people, once out of their cars (and do not get me started on trying to find a place to park) do the same things. They will stop short on the sidewalk without giving any indication, so that others pile up behind them. They’re also really good at walking abreast, the whole party of five, filling the sidewalk. So, if you’re walking in the other direction, you have to step into the street. Which is filled with cars. And horse-drawn carriages. Which have the right of way. Sigh.
But all the shops are open, and the brave new shops (there are always brave new shops, some of which will disappear after a couple of years) have their brave new signs and merchandise, and if you’re trying not to regain all the weight you lost, walking down Elkhorn is hard, because there are such wonderful places to get candy and caramel corn, and taffy apples, and (best of all) saltwater taffy (best in the world) and lovely greasy hamburgers and fries, and deep-fried ice cream (you have to try it) and cherry cider (ditto). It’s also hard to walk down Elkhorn because some of the shops have wonderful merchandise, like turquoise jewelry, and hand-thrown pots and hand-blown glass. There’s also lots of t-shirt shops, but then again, why not?
Another summer complaint felt by all locals is just how much fun it is to go to Safeway when the tourists are stocking up for their campsite or vacation condo. It is a kind of rule, I think, that all individual grocery stores, even in a single chain, must organize their store differently from all the others. So you have bewildered families with crying kids standing at the end of the aisles asking all and sundry where the hot dogs are. Surprise, they’re not exactly where you would expect them to be. In the meat department? How utterly boring. No, they’re in refrigerated cases at the end of the aisles where charcoal and buns and paper napkins and whatnot are stocked. So those of us who have run out of cat food, dish detergent or lettuce are somewhat, shall we say, impeded. And, of course, since the store is a compromise between the size (and stock) it needs to be (and have) in the winter when it serves about 5,000 people total and in the summer, when it serves maybe 15,000 every day (at any given moment in summer Estes Park, there are at least 85,000 tourists in town, or so it seems), it’s almost impossible to get the carts through the aisles. It’s a great opportunity to watch people caught in the act of being themselves. Or so I tell myself.
Meanwhile, here I am, quarantined by this ordinary pestilence to my house, wishing I could be out there enjoying and complaining about summer in Estes Park. If my eye is better, can my cough, my voice, my miseries be far behind? Have a wonderful summer, with no colds and as few summer complaints as you can manage!