Colorado Gold

The state of Colorado has many colors and is often called “Colorful Colorado“.  The very name (taken from the river that springs up in the western part of the state) is Spanish for the color red or reddish, which is the color of the water in the Colorado river, coming from particles of the red sandstone that is part of the state’s geological heritage.

But more than anything else, Colorado is known for gold.  The gold dug out of the mountains that brought Caucasians and their culture first to Colorado and that kick-started its economy, yes.  But the gold that Colorado is famed for now is the gold of autumn in the high country, the gold of the turning leaves of aspen, their final glory each year before the leaves fall and winter sets in.

On Saturday, I took a drive/hike/walk in Rocky Mountain National Park to see the color (that’s what we call it around here, “going to see the color”). And with just a few comments, I’ll mostly let these photos speak for themselves.

Long's Peak in the distance

Long’s Peak in the distance

My special mountain, Long’s Peak, but look at the patches of gold on its lower flanks.  Those are aspen.  Aspen have some unusual, even fascinating facts, information to share.  For one thing, a grove of aspen does not consist of separate trees, but of one organism connected via a root system and appearing to be individual trees.  Aspen are a member of the birch family of trees, with paperwhite bark and heart-shaped leaves.  These leaves are attached to the twig in such a way that each individual leaf quivers in the slightest breeze — so much so that the tree is often called a “quivering aspen”.  Aspen are first growth trees.  In areas of land with very poor soil or little topsoil, or land that has been burnt over or clear cut, the first trees that will grow on such land are the aspen.  They will seed themselves after scrub oak and other lower, ground-covering bushes and plants, and will help to prepare the soil over time for the more needy pines that, in our part of the world, are considered the “mature” forest.

So, in a sense, aspen are placeholders, but such beautiful placeholders.  Mostly, during fall weather, when temperatures get low enough, the aspen turn gold, with some trees for reasons that are unclear, at least to me, turning orange, rusts or even nearly red.

Small aspen grove

Small aspen grove

Artist and Aspen

Artist and Aspen

Moraine Park View, Aspen Groves

Moraine Park View, Aspen Groves

Moraine on Bear Lake Road

Moraine on Bear Lake Road





Rocks in the River

Rocks in the River


Be Careful What You Wish For

This blog was written, but not published, very soon after the flooding that affected about a quarter of the state of Colorado.  Now (December 16, 2013), according to observation and the latest news (I get updates on Facebook, Twitter and email from the Town of Estes Park and Larimer and Boulder Counties), we are returning to normal.  Virtually all the county, state and national roads are in some kind of repair and are usable, the FEMA office is closing, we’re back to “normal” status, whatever that is, regarding all emergency services and even Fish Creek Road is being repaired.  There are still some people who have lost their houses, some who can’t get to them (I think primarily in Little Valley and Glen Haven), some of the reason for which is that the roads in those places are private and the money for repair is quite limited.  It isn’t the normal we had, but we are reaching for a new normal that will be workable, we hope, for Colorado.  So what follows is, more than anything, the way it felt to me.  The way it still feels.  I’ve decided to put updates in italics and brackets throughout this blog if I have new information.

Flooded Creek - 34

Flooded Creek – 34 (Photo credit: Nikkayla Green)

Be careful what you wish for.  You see, last year, in 2012, Colorado was in a state of drought so terrible that we thought the entire state was going to burn down.  We had fires all over the place, ranging from a little baby fire that nevertheless destroyed over 20 homes and caused the evacuation of hundreds right here in Estes Park (including me), all the way up to fires that torched thousands of acres and hundreds of houses and other buildings.

So we all thought a little rain would be nice.  Wet things down and make it a bit harder for the pine trees to burn like fireworks.  So whether we prayed and prayed or hoped and hoped, or just wished for it (or as is more than likely, our individual and collective thoughts and prayers had nothing to do with it), this year we got it.  It rained.  And then it rained some more.  And then it really settled down and started raining.  Building an ark kind of rain, cats and dogs kind of rain.  Three weeks ago come Wednesday [this was first written on October 6, 2013], it started raining again and it rained all night and into the next day.  I remember going from window to window (apparently in the hope that I would find a window where it wasn’t raining outside) saying to myself and out loud “Oh, this isn’t good.  This is really bad.”  Having lived here for long periods at various times in my life, I already knew, as do we all who live here, two things:  First, that this was not normal Colorado late summer rain and second, that the Rocky Mountains are called that for a reason.  Underneath the three inches of gravel that we fondly call topsoil is rock.  Not a bunch of rock, but one big solid rock.  And rock is not really good at holding moisture.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

This map shows the incorporated and unincorporated areas in Larimer County, Colorado, highlighting Estes Park in red. It was created with a custom script with US Census Bureau data and modified with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plus, Estes Park sits at the top of a series of canyons carved out by normally cheerful bubbling streams of water plashing over rocks and providing beauty and recreation and a fish or two thousand.  But there’s this little thing called gravity (according to physicists, it’s a “weak” force; I’m sure they have their reasons for calling it “weak”, but obviously they’ve never been downstream of a flash flood) and water is heavy.  So because the land can’t absorb it, and gravity pulls it to lower ground, there’s nowhere else for water to go except down those narrow canyons.  And if it really rains, water swells those sweetly flowing streams into raging torrents that climb up the canyon walls and take out anything lying around loose or even attached that isn’t actually bedrock.  Including, in both the primary canyons with the main roads coming up to Estes Park, the roads themselves.  Sometimes wall to wall.

Highway 34, from Loveland to Estes Park, is a scenic highway at the bottom of a steep canyon that usually runs side by side with the Big Thompson River.  It’s 22 miles from Loveland to Estes Park via this highway.  In one night of rain, 17 miles of that stretch of road were torn out by the Big Thompson River, either partially (one lane) or literally wall to wall.  The town of Drake was nearly wiped out and the residents of cabins and streamside houses from Estes Park to Drake were evacuated to Estes Park, while those below Drake were evacuated to Loveland.  The north fork of the Big Thompson, which runs through the tiny hamlet of Glen Haven, virtually removed Glen Haven from the map during the flood, took out the switchback road from Estes Park and tore out all the electric lines to Glen Haven and to a rural mountain community known as The Retreat.  [Highway 34 is now open, but from what I hear will still require up to as much as $48 billion in permanent repairs to guard against another such flood from destroying it again.  I believe that residents in the Big Thompson Canyon and in Drake have returned to their homes, those that weren’t destroyed, but many people in Glen Haven are dealing with private roads (as mentioned above) and are still not able to live in their homes, although power has been restored.  Also, just to be clear, I didn’t know any of this, none of the people up here knew any of this, until several days after it took place.]

Highway 36, from Lyons to Estes Park, is a bit longer, maybe 24, 25 miles.  It is a wider road, and designed for heavy-duty traffic, since it is Estes Park’s main supply line from Denver, Longmont and Boulder (the staging areas for mail, food for grocery stores and restaurants, FedEx, UPS and other deliveries).  The damage to Highway 36 was initially harder to determine, primarily because the little town of Lyons, at the base of the canyon road, seemed virtually destroyed by the flooding.  The St. Vrain river there cut a new channel, taking out the sanitation department, the lighting and power department, and natural gas lines.  So although, thank heavens, in the end only (ONLY!) 25% of the houses in Lyons were destroyed, it took weeks to be able to get Lyons up and running again.  [On November 20, I drove down the reopened Highway 36 to see flood plains where before there had been meadows and a much narrowed roadway where the river had taken out big chunks.  Lyons is now open for business, but it’s sad and brutal to see the smashed houses and the heaped up wreckage of cars still piled by the roadside.]  Bridges were washed out, cutting off the hamlet of Pinewood Springs, and several small earthen dams were destroyed in the neighborhood of Big Elk Meadows.  [Residents of Pinewood Springs are back in their homes now, with electricity restored, and their community is fully functional again. I have no information about Big Elk Meadows residents.]

Saint Vrain Canyon

Saint Vrain Canyon (Photo credit: Ed Ogle)

This was a major disaster for those of us who live in Estes Park (as it is for everybody who lives in the watershed area of northeast Colorado), especially with the government shutdown [now thankfully over, at least for the moment], because of the only two roads that remained open and actually left the area to get somewhere else.  One of them is Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous roadway in the United States and runs from Estes Park through the center of Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake.  RMNP was closed during part of the shutdown and reopened using state funds before the shutdown ended.  Thus one of our two lifelines to the outside world was, just like that, closed.  Thank you, Congress.  [Please also note that by this time, December 16, 2013, Trail Ridge Road would be closed for the winter in any event and was, in fact, closed for the winter by the end of October.] The Governor of our state, John Hickenlooper, earned my vote in his re-election bid next year and my undying respect, by the way, for stating that Colorado would use Colorado emergency funds to keep the National Guard working on repairing the roads into and out of Estes Park and reopening Rocky Mountain National Park.

The other road we had, a combination of roads including Highway 7 to Allenspark, then switching to Highway 72 to and past Nederland, going all the way down to Central City and then getting on I-70 to Denver, or turning back on flatland roads to Boulder or Longmont, was, during the emergency, held together with spit and bailing wire by the constant efforts of CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation).  This high mountain road was never designed for heavy traffic and for some time was our only means of getting in or out or getting supplies in or out.   Apart from anything else, the loss of Highway 36 until November 4th when it reopened ahead of schedule turned a pleasant 30- to 40-minute drive down to the front range cities of Colorado into a marathon that could take as many as five hours (one way).  After Highway 36 reopened, life (or at least travel and resupply) returned to something like normal in Estes Park, although it’s not exactly the same normal it used to be.  The trip takes longer than it used to because the road in places is narrower, with sharper curves, and there is still ongoing reconstruction, which often results in delays as they reduce the road to one lane in order to work on the other lane.  We’re still too grateful to complain, believe me!

Estes Park itself didn’t actually lose any houses and only a few business buildings were condemned, for which we are all deeply thankful, but our major rivers–Fall River, the Big Thompson River, the North Fork of the Big Thompson River, Fish Creek, and the St. Vrain River, which all come together in downtown Estes Park (except for Fish Creek, or as we not so fondly called it for weeks Fish Raging Torrent)–left devastation in their wake.  Most of the digging out and gathering debris is over by now and a lot of the shops are doing business (while for others clinging to hope, the floods were the last straw).  We have two sanitation districts up here and one of them, the Upper Thompson Sanitation District, had to work frantically for weeks to repair the huge breaks in their major sewer line (which followed the creekbed of Fish Creek), with residents on both sides of Fish Creek living in a “no flush” zone so that raw sewage would not go into the watershed.  Porta-potties became the new black up here, very fashionable, although like a skimpy little black dress, they quickly began to get real chilly, especially after dark.  One of the favored Halloween costumes for grown-ups at the Halloween festival Estes Park holds every year was something to do with living with Porta-potties.  [This, thankfully, is over with and all the sanitation facilities are working properly again.  Perhaps this helped the popularity of the slogan (printed on t-shirts and sweatshirts and bumper stickers) that we up here are “Mountain Strong.”  I got real sick of that phrase.  As one of my friends said, she’s a “mountain weenie”.  Well, so am I.] 

Porta Potties On South Beach For Winter Party 2011

Porta Potties On South Beach For Winter Party 2011, but Estes had lots more than that (Photo credit: Phillip Pessar)

Other than that, if there can be said to be an “other” to losing one of the basics of modern life, we’re doing a lot better than many communities downstream.  The town itself did not lose power (until after the flooding was over, when a transformer blew) or internet, although cellphone service and landline phone service were out for several days.  [Outlying areas, especially Glen Haven and parts of Fall River, if I remember correctly, did lose power and that was the first priority the Town of Estes Park made in terms of repair.]  In my part of town, several crawlspaces were flooded and had to be pumped out, although that did not happen to me.  Two sets of friends were in the “no-flush” zone, which ended up being more boring and inconvenient than anything, according to them.  Another couple had their basement flooded so severely that they spent days, even weeks, in the clean-up, trying to salvage possessions and furniture.  During the emergency days, and again I am grateful for this, that’s official, my own worst problem was not being able to find out any information about my friends and determine whether they were all right and if they needed any help I could offer (weak back, weak mind, but I can still carry stuff, and did).

The most remarkable circumstance up here in Estes was that unless you got as close to one of the rivers as the barriers would let you, it didn’t look much different.  The aspen turned gold, the effect against the blue sky was startling (now wind and snow have stripped the aspen for another year and we’re in deep winter, with the bears denned up, a huge snowstorm and the beginning of the wind that will be our constant, if not much-loved, companion until March or April).  The mountains stand as they always did, now with a frosting of snow that’s getting thicker and more beautiful with every storm.  It’s underneath and behind that you see the effects.  The edges of Lake Estes are piled with debris.  [Cleanup of this debris has been ongoing and is nearly finished now.]   (The town, in an excess of what can only be called highly creative common sense, scooped out a lot of the debris from the lake to use as crushed underlayment to fix the roads next to Fish Creek and going down to Glen Haven, thus lowering the burden on our then one frail highway supply line, not to mention the costs of rebuilding Fish Creek Road.)  Fish Creek is twice as wide as it used to be and is still flowing as if it were spring and not fall (the rock underlying this portion of the state, having absorbed more water than it can manage, then started percolating that water UP to the surface in the form of spontaneous springs (most of which seem to be situated under people’s houses), so the streams ran very high, quite near the tops of their banks).  [NOTE:  This was written in  November — because of the deep freeze we’re in now, the streams have drained back to their winter levels.]  We got mail service back after five days (because of a heroic convoy over Trail Ridge Road to pick up mail that had been piling up in the Grand Lake post office), FedEx and UPS were back so quickly, it seemed they were never gone.  We have new and beefed up cell towers, landlines have been fixed, Safeway (also heroically — can you imagine in a town meeting the biggest applause going to the Safeway manager?) kept us supplied with all normal foodstuffs, prescriptions and so forth.  Restaurants are open for business, and so is RMNP.  And certainly the elk are cooperating by spending their winter all over the place, especially, it seems, in my front yard.  However, we would love tourists to come up here and see for themselves, stay a few days, help us out by buying some Christmas presents or fall souvenirs here, have a nice dinner out.  Because economically Estes will be having problems for years.  Many businesses did not have (because they could not get) flood insurance and it turns out flood insurance does not pay for loss of business or inventory.  Convenient, right?  For the insurance companies, that is.  Also, in terms of businesses and homes, you don’t have to get it if you’re not on a flood plain, and to everybody’s surprise, some of the worst damage to homes were those definitely not on flood plains but on the sides of hills that could not absorb one more drop of rain.

All the above is just one small, not truly important except to us, story in this vast disaster.  The floodwaters, having scoured the canyons and picking up debris (everything from logs to pieces of highway to rocks to propane tanks), then hit the foothills cities, which were (of course) built next to the watersheds for water and sanitation.  From the northernmost (the Cache le Poudre River, the flooding of which was worsened by the fact that last year’s fire had already scoured the ground so there was nothing to hold the floodwaters back, going through Ft. Collins like a wet freight train off its tracks) to the middle portion (the Big Thompson took out ALL the bridges on north/south streets in Loveland and for several days even closed I-25 while the St. Vrain played with Lyons like a destructive child whose building blocks were actual buildings) to the more southern tier with Boulder Creek rising to a point where the University had to be closed because of flooding.  And there were lots of little tiny streams, most of which are usually dry this time of year, wreaking havoc with small settlements, backing up septic systems, eating away at narrow dirt roads, pulling down power lines, all through the foothills and mountains east of Highway 7.

North Platte River

North Platte River in normal times (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

And then the waters really got going.  All the northern rivers in Colorado east of the Rockies pour themselves into the Platte, which is a major river system that eventually goes through Nebraska and feeds into the Missouri and then the Mississippi (south of Colorado Springs, mountain streams one the eastern side feed into the Arkansas which eventually itself feeds into the Mississippi).  The Platte, which is on a very flat flood plan and usually is a fairly wide, shallow river, crested at over 20 feet in places, a bulge of water that can only be compared to a large rodent being digested by a python.  Evans lost its sanitation system completely and so many houses were pushed off their foundations that I don’t think all of them have actually been counted even yet.  [I have no new information on that, although I suppose by this time they’ve gotten housing organized again.]  Weld County, watered by the Platte and irrigated, usually, from the Big Thompson, is the second most productive agricultural county in the United States (topped only by Fresno County in California).  I read that somewhere and having lived near Greeley as a child, I see no reason to doubt it.  It was about to go into harvest, vegetables, fruits, orchard fruits, so many delicious things.  I’m fairly certain the flood waters destroyed the entire crop for virtually all the farmers in Weld County.  Not just by drowning the growing things, but because by the time the waters got there, they were a really ugly soup of feces, sewage, chemicals, debris, all churned into the water and impossible to separate out.  I wonder how long it will take to clean up the soil in Weld County so that it isn’t toxic.  The flood waters also knocked oil and natural gas tanks off their foundations and that got added to the stew.  For a long while, quite a few agricultural towns remained cut off, their bridges out or their roads turned into asphalt kibble.  [Latest news I’ve heard is that all county roads in Larimer County have been repaired to some degree and are open, but I don’t know about Weld County.  All news is local news.]

But the waters weren’t finished yet.  Up they went, north with the Platte, to mess up Sterling’s sanitation plant and evacuate quite a few more homes and businesses.  Other news has taken over, of course, as it always does, but I would imagine that Nebraska did not enjoy its part of the Great Colorado flood.

Nearly one-fourth of the state was directly affected.  It was the greatest natural disaster in regional history, second only to the last time Yellowstone blew itself up with an earthquake and rearranged that portion of the geography of the west.  And, because of the news cycle and because of the even worse horror that the Philippines also underwent, it is already a more or less forgotten disaster to all but those of us affected by it.

Heavy Rain Shower

Heavy Rain Shower (Photo credit: AlmazUK)

And what will be the aftermath?  All of this has made me think a lot.  Part of that thought is that I’m not real fond of myself right now.  I wasn’t directly affected, my house was and is dry and kept all its services, both in and out, except that I lost cellphone for a while, and basic cable for a few days.  Oh, poor me, right?  So there’s survivor guilt.  And there’s the fact that for a long while I couldn’t get out of here.  I have a bladder disorder and the longer route had very few facilities along its length.  So I was basically going stir crazy.  There is nothing like not being able to get out of a place to make you want to get out of a place.  Desperately.  I was irritable and unable to concentrate and biting my own head off, not to mention having to be very careful about what I said to friends.  And (and I stress this)  I didn’t have any problems.  I was thinking it was just mostly me and that I was a selfish narcissistic bitch (old cartoon based on a combination of those fifties-style romance comic books and Andy Warhol–gorgeous blonde with a tear in one eye and the caption says “Nuclear war?  What about my career?”), which of course being an “artiste” I pretty much am–narcissistic, that is, although I do try to work on the “bitch” part.  But I’ve discovered there are a lot of us with this less than comely combination of irritability, survivor guilt and cabin fever up here.  In my case (and for so many this wasn’t possible), a trip to New York City to see friends and, well, just get out of town, helped immensely — ironically, of course, three days after I got back, I got snowed in, but thank heavens for the break; otherwise, the snowed-in week would have resulted in my cowering in a corner, gibbering nonsense and picking at my cuticles.

That whole internal reaction got me thinking, though, not just about my not being the saintly strong wise tough (but funny) person I’d like to pretend I am, but also about the fact that no matter how awful the disaster actually is, it stops feeling like a disaster, the critical right now crisis reaction stuff in your mind and heart, and starts being mostly a huge inconvenience.  And it doesn’t take long for this to change.  It apparently is a constant in human nature throughout history.  After 9/11, many pundits were saying that the spirit of cooperation, of help, of getting things done would mean a long-range change in the way people in the US behaved.  Uh, well, no, it didn’t.  The horror became yesterday’s news, none the less horrible and tragic, but not immediate any longer, the emergency energy that filled us and made us help and work and cooperate returned to our usual baselines.  We want normal.  I hate to say this, it seems so callous, it is so callous, but even when death comes into the picture (and Colorado’s flood left us incredibly lucky, comparatively), the desire for normal grows and the grieving, while it leaves holes that are never filled, has to become a background to living, and we have to go on.  We want normal.  The disaster recedes and becomes a monumental clean-up job, an inconvenience to our lives.

San Andreas Fault 1101

San Andreas Fault 1101 (Photo credit: DB’s travels)

I was in LA during the Northridge Earthquake, and it surprises me still to realize how quickly I went from terrified to worried about my friends and relatives, to helping out in the neighborhood, to getting really sick and tired of being in the house, to wanting things back to normal, even if the “new” normal was different than the old normal to, finally, annoyed at Caltrans for not getting the I-10 fixed faster.

Somebody from another planet would, I imagine, think of human beings as adrenalin junkies, always going after conflict and terror and excitement.  After all, it’s on the news each night (even if some of it feels manufactured), it’s the central tenet of all our entertainment, even the so called “reality” shows, it’s the primary topic in the newspapers and magazines.  We must live lives of incredible emotion, not just fear but terror, not just love but ecstasy, not just anger but rage.  All the time.  But most of us, let’s face it, want all that adrenalin to stay where it belongs, on the other side of the TV screen or movie screen.  Even the most naïve of us really do know that when the Gladiator dies so bravely at the end of the movie, the director yells “cut” and the actor gets up, grinning (we hope) to the plaudits of the other actors and crew for a job well done.  And goes back to his trailer and calls his sweetheart, or wife, or kids, or maybe agent (“hey, get me a gig where I don’t have to die, okay?”).  In other words, his normal life.  And ours.  We leave the theater, having felt all the Gladiator feels, our hearts bumping with terror and rage and ecstasy and loss and all those adrenalin-filled emotions, and then we go home, kind of wrung out if the movie was really good, and we’re very glad that our homes are working normally, that we are in our usual and normal state of health, that our families and friends are living what to that visitor from another planet would consider to be lives of amazing boredom.  We want normal.

But we never wish for normal, do we?  We wish for excitement, for drama, for love, for rain when it’s dry and clear skies when it rains and maybe we overdo the wishing part, not realizing that we don’t really want all that excitement, we want normal, with maybe just a hint of novelty and fun, but we’ll go to Disneyland or the movies for that if necessary.

So maybe we should think a little when we wish.  Maybe even wishing for normal is too much.  Because the world isn’t normal.  It is filled with all sorts of things, events and movements that are not normal.  I’m not suggesting that there is a clearing house up there or out there that listens to our wishes and gleefully or even absent-mindedly leaves the water running (“they want rain, we’ll give them rain”), although that’s how it feels lately in Colorado.  Just that I’m going to try to wish a little more carefully for a while.  You know, there is something called the law of unintended consequences.  You want something and you wish for it and you work for it, and you get it, hooray!  And instead of a lovely summer of no fires and plenty of wildflowers and growth, you get floods.  That happens in human transactions, too.  You can’t always see all the consequences.  But it may be a good thing to at least take a few of them into consideration when you’re wishing and hoping and praying and working for something or someone you want desperately.  Be careful what you wish for.

Estes Park Colorado


August full moon

August full moon (Photo credit: Stelios Kiousis)

It is now August and those of us who, whether by choice or simply because here we are, deal with tourists on a daily basis are beginning to grit our teeth when we smile.  It’s not actually the tourists’ fault, I suppose, it’s just that there are so many of them.  This is of course a very good thing for our small town’s economy, but a mountain valley town with one main street, no matter how hard we try, is not really well constituted to accommodate daily influxes of 85,000 or so people, none of whom really know the area and most of whom seem to think they’d lose their amateur standing if they looked at a map.

I have commented on the ways tourists behave in the supermarket before.  I have compared getting through Estes Park on its one street (Elkhorn) to attempting to get crosstown in midtown Manhattan.  I have pointed out that elkjams are a lot of fun for tourists, not so much for locals trying to get to the post office and probably not as much fun as advertised for the elk.  (Mostly, this time of year they’re in the high country, which is cooler, so they’re harder to spot anyway.)  So what is it that makes all this more interesting (I was going to write “annoying”, but I’m snarky enough right now and am trying to be pleasant) now than say, in June or July?

Traditionally, it is simply weariness.  When the tourists first come back (like the swallows to Capistrano and for the same reason), townspeople whose livelihoods depend on the tourist dollar are so RELIEVED.  The cash cow will moo once more.  And, let’s face it, there are moments in this paradise of ours, moments we call January, February, March and April, where paradise has some ragged edges, mostly brought about by the incessant wind.  And we get tired of our own company, too.  It never gets less strange being the only customers in a restaurant (survival tips for winter restaurant dining in Estes Park:  don’t go out on Monday, a lot of places are closed or should be; memorize when the Sysco truck deliveries are so you can be more sure of relatively fresh food; go to the several truly popular places because they won’t be holding on to the food as long as humanly possible and there will be other people there, although not on Monday; order something that would definitely have been frozen, since thawing a frozen entree can at least assure you of the smallest amount of bacterial life, whereas “fresh” definitely would not).

So, the tourists are very very very welcome and we worry when they’re not enough of them.  The shops furbish themselves up, the new shops put on their brave displays, and we smile benignly when the visitors stand in the middle of the sidewalk making it impossible to turn your car left, right or go straight.  They’re HERE!  Everybody smiles and it’s a real smile, and when the cash registers start to ka-ching, we hope it’ll be a good summer, because that means a winter in which we can actually make ends meet or at least wave at each other.  So June is good.

Then, as summer wends its way through July, fresh Colorado produce actually makes it all the way up here and turns up on restaurant menus and even in Safeway, the afternoon thundershowers keep things green and pretty and cut the dust (and pull the tourists into the shops until the big drops stop splatting) and the locals get used to not being able to make a left turn and figure out their favorite this-summer way to avoid downtown in their errands.  The summer residents come back, which sort of makes up for the fact that social life takes a nosedive because people are so busy running shops and catering to the tourists, and all the houses that can look a little empty in the wintertime have kids playing some kind of ball in the front yard, and chairs pulled out under the trees to catch the fresh breezes and look at the mountains.  Hikers are all over the place, most of them, thank heavens, staying on the hiking trails.  And the wildlife, looking sleek and well-fed, delight everyone.  (Estes Park, because it has a lake, is a favorite stopping off point for birds, especially, migrating to and from summer and winter feeding areas, so June and August are filled with birds you would never expect in the mountains so far from an ocean, including pelicans, ibis, egrets, even seagulls.  And of course we have the occasional trumpeter swan, lots of Canada geese, ducks, each lady duck trailing her own little comet tail of fluffy ducklings, our own bluebirds, Stellar Jays, hummingbirds (more than three species, all of which fight over any and every red flower and/or feeder–fierce tiny creatures), and eagles and hawks.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our mammalian wildlife ranges from miniature chipmunks who dart around almost too fast to see to moose, who are newly arrived and seem to like it here.  We have a couple of beaver dams in the Estes valley, although most of these industrious creatures stay well away from humans because they know how much we like (for various reasons) to disturb or destroy their dams.  We have predators too, of which most people see only the black bears (oddly enough, they look cuddly but are NOT, and in many ways are more dangerous than the mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes who are also make these mountains their home).  And elk, deer and bighorn sheep, most of which are sleekening up for the rutting season to come up in the high country.

Moose -animal - Wildlife - Alaska

Moose (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Estes Park, in addition to very few streets, a huge and glorious national park, lots of high mountains and tiny gem-like lakes, hiking trails and wildlife, also has two golf courses, a go-kart track, a “family fun” center (which is hideous but which apparently makes money hand over fist), miniature golf courses almost without number, an aerial tramway, and rivers that always are festooned with fly fishermen in the summertime.  We also have a “fairgrounds” (so-called, but all the signs say Stanley Park), with a horse show or an exhibition every weekend.  So there’s lots to do, and a lot of people to do it, and if they’re also spending lots of money and filling up the motels, hotels, B&Bs, condo rentals and restaurants, there’s a lot of smiles on the faces of the locals, even if they do start looking a little weary.  (If you run a shop or a motel, your daily worklife lasts at least 10 hours and usually runs from practically dawn to midnight.)


August (Photo credit: randihausken)

So now that it’s August, it isn’t that the tourists are, in themselves, worse.  It’s just that our smiles are wearing thin, the elkjams are getting annoying instead of charming, and why is it that nobody’s kids have any manners any more?  You see, now we all just want the visitors to come, look around and gawp, spend all their money as quickly as possible, and leave, preferably in about three days.  Or three hours, if we could manage it.  We’re tired.  And disgruntled.  And soooooo ready for them all to go home and back to school and leave use our town for ourselves for a while.

Of course, there will still be the blip that comes during the autumn color season and the elk rut, but that’s smaller and we’ve caught our breath a bit and quite a few of us have looked at the books and realize that winter will be a lot nicer if we get a whole lot of people coming to see the elk play and aspen turn.

And then, of course, being human, we complain that the tourists are all gone too early and we didn’t make our nut and what is winter going to be like?  And so it starts up all over again.

But right now, it’s August, and we really wish, in our hearts of hearts, that they all would just go home.

Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guesting in Colorado’s Summertime

Panorama of Estes Park, , , taken at an altitu...

Panorama of Estes Park, , , taken at an altitude of about 9,000 feet. Picture is taken from the mountains around Gem Lake, north of the town. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some very good friends visited me in Estes Park for about a week and a half.  They flew back to Los Angeles yesterday (in an airplane, of course) and Nico, Bella and I are still feeling a bit lonesome.  While I enjoy living on my own with a couple of cats, it was a real pleasure to have compatible and interesting people around to talk with while eating breakfast, strolling down Elkhorn to look at all the shops, and to drive to various other pretty places in Colorado to tour and take part in summer.

We’ve had, as a state, a frightening summer so far, as probably everybody knows by now.  Wildfires all over the place after a very dry spring and an exceedingly hot June, causing more damage and loss of property (homes especially) than ever before in our history, apparently.  During June, I was evacuated from my house for a few hours while they got the Woodland Heights fire under control (thank you, thank you, thank you to our fire fighters and the helicopters and tanker planes that spent those hours away from the High Park fire to contain our much smaller (but very close to our downtown) blaze).  I was very fortunate indeed.  The adult children of some dear friends of mine were evacuated because of the Waldo Canyon fire for six days and they are lucky too, because apart from smoke residue, their house was untouched.  So many people lost their homes, and still they are grateful because the system of “reverse 911” and public warnings, as well as the fire fighting itself, saved lives.  We lost irreplaceable people, of course, but there was much less loss of life than such horrific, fast-moving and hot fires would seem to predict.

Waldo Canyon Fire

Waldo Canyon Fire (Photo credit: lars hammar)

On a personal and much less important note, I spent most of June with an upper respiratory infection, feeling rather punk and without energy.  When the fire danger became extreme, everybody living in Colorado spent a nervous time, worried about thunderstorms (much needed for rain but the lightning could start another fire),  smelling smoke whether there was smoke in the air or not, and jumping every time we heard a siren.  Between coughing like Camille and sudden heart acceleration any time I thought I smelled smoke, a great many of the (probably a little too elaborate anyway) plans I had been making for my summer guests got simplified, but in retrospect that was undoubtedly a good thing.

On the day they arrived, wind from the north brought a great deal of smoke down from the Wyoming and Montana fires and one of my guests, who has allergies, was having a hard time, even up in Estes, which had clearer (but not clear) air.  Luckily, by the next day, the wind had shifted and the smoke was mostly gone.  And the rains came.  While normally one doesn’t cheer the onset of pouring rain during a summer vacation, we were all delighted for so many reasons:  primarily, of course, because the rain was a good soaking rain which lowered the fire danger considerably; but also because it cleaned the air and it made Estes Park cooler and with its typical clean, pine- and sage-scented air, which our lungs simply drank in.

It was a bit harder to love, love, love all that rain on the Saturday of their visit, when our plans included seeing Richard III at an outdoor theater on the Colorado University campus in Boulder.  We went down early, had lunch with a friend who had moved back to Boulder but that we knew from Los Angeles, wandered the Pearl Street Promenade, and then the rains came.  In Colorado, summer rains are called, with typical hyperbole, “monsoons”.  Mostly they aren’t, but on this Saturday, it seemed as if all the water droplets in the sky over all the United States coalesced and dumped themselves on Boulder.  Sharon and I found refuge in an antique store, where I found a length of silk designed to be a sari, in changeable maroon with gold threaded woven in paisley shapes throughout.  A delicious piece of cloth that I could not resist, since I had always wanted one.  Sharon found a raw silk garment she loved equally and by the time her husband had dashed through the water and returned with the car, we were pleased with our purchases and with life in general.  But then came the time to go to the play, which, remember, was to be presented outside.  For a while, the Colorado Summer Shakespeare Festival people apparently were going to go on with the show and were planning not to give refunds.  But after a month of illness (barely over with), I simply could not sit outside in a puddle on a flagstone slab and be rained on for three hours.  Richard III would have to plot and plan and get killed on Bosworth Field without me.  As it happened, the show was canceled, which was a shame, because the reviews were marvelous and we were all looking forward to the evening.  Drat!  Sigh.

Richard III, Act 5, scene 3: Richard, played b...

Richard III, Act 5, scene 3: Richard, played by David Garrick, awakens after a nightmare visit by the ghosts of his victims. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we squelched our way back to the car, which we had parked, at Sharon’s request, in the underground portion of the parking lot, and found a place to have dinner, an English pub, which seemed somehow appropriate.  There, they were having a trivia contest, the prize for which was $200 in cash, which we won!  We were as thrilled and “up” because of that as we had been disappointed and “down” because of not seeing Richard III.  An exceedingly volatile day.

We also had a party, to which I invited pretty much everybody I knew who lived in Estes Park, quite a few of whom came and seemed to have a very good time.  It was the first time in at least ten years I’d had a party bigger than two couples for dinner, but we all three helped prepare (I had done most of the cooking in advance and kept the items in the freezer, and we also got pre-cut items).  Joe, Sharon’s husband, kindly acted as bartender, at least to get things started, and Sharon made her Greek salad, which is the best I’ve ever tasted.  (Apparently, the guests thought so so too, because that was completely gone at the end of the evening.)

And we had a contest.  Sharon and I are co-writers of a novel,World Enough and Time, about which this blog will give more information as we get closer to a (hopeful) publication date.  (We will also have a website devoted to the novel at the right time.)  At the moment, we are working with a free-lance editor to structure the book.  In any event, during a sequence in the novel, we have one of our main characters create a summer refresher she calls “Lemon Popsicle”.  So Sharon and I decided to figure out what would be in such a drink and we put together three formulations.  We asked the party guests (those who drank alcohol, of course) to take tiny sips of all three concoctions and mark on a form which they preferred.  Virtually everyone liked the drink in the green-lidded pitcher, so we have our formulation, and the drink recipe will be found on our website once it is up and running.  I enjoyed having a somewhat big party again, and it was a good way to plunge in, with houseguests being such a good support system to get the party off and running.

English: Archipreneuer (Adam Crain's) Photo of...

English: Archipreneuer (Adam Crain’s) Photo of the Denver Art Museum by Daniel Libeskind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also went to Denver to see the Yves St. Laurent exhibit (and the American Indian rooms) at the Denver Art Museum, after which we enjoyed (and did we!) afternoon tea in the Atrium at the Brown Palace Hotel.  If you ever visit Denver, I can without reservation recommend both the Denver Art Museum (affectionately and locally referred to as “DAM”) and the Brown Palace for tea, dinner, lunch, staying overnight or just wandering around one of the more beautiful and beautifully restored Denver buildings.

English: my own shot; release under gfdl

The Brown Palace Hotel (Wikipedia)

Another day in Denver was spent having lunch at Casa Bonita (an experience not to be missed, but which need not be repeated) and the afternoon at Elitch Gardens Amusement and Water Park (an experience not to be missed, but which should definitely be repeated), with the most spectacular sunset in front of us as we drove back toward Boulder on our way home.  I will post (with his permission) Joe’s pictures of that sunset when he sends me a copy as he has promised.  It was Colorado putting on its best show for all of us and, not surprisingly, many people got off the Denver-Boulder highway onto a turnout to take pictures or just to experience such an amazing sunset.

And, my guests were here while our rodeo was in town.  The Rooftop Rodeo (a rodeo with altitude, as the marketing phrase would have it) has won best small rodeo in the country for several years running and they lived up to that the night went.  Really good competitors, excellently trained stock, and just lots and lots of fun.  The stands were filled with happy, screaming people, and everybody got very much into the spirit of the evening.  Sometimes it’s really good to live in (or visit) the West!

Add to that some walks, some trips into and around Rocky Mountain National Park and still a few days of simply lazing around and vacationing with plenty of good talk and (for Joe) reading through and editing the first draft of his novel, Blood in the Night, which is about vampires in Nazi Germany (not so surprisingly, I suppose, in such a milieu, the vampires are pretty much the good guys, while the Nazis are emphatically as good (meaning not at all) as they were in reality).

And now, having spent some of yesterday and today putting my house back to its normal state and missing the fun and interest of other people living in the house while thinking about dinners with friends, parties, good talk about books (both those we’re writing and those we’re reading), enjoying the ever-changing beauty of the mountains, driving to some very fine experiences and places, I find myself reflecting that the first half of July has been as much a vacation, a rest and a good time for me as for (I hope) my out-of-town guests.  And for all of us who live with this ever-present danger of fire (and sometimes flood).  Because when the rains come and soak in, it’s as if we get our beautiful state back, the one that always smells good, that may get hot during the day but is cool and delicious at night, and which has the most beautiful mountains and forests.  Not that I’m at all biased, of course.

Well, this has been a bit of a travelogue, hasn’t it, but I so enjoyed, after feeling sick and scared and worried, having good friends stay with me and going interesting places I hadn’t been in years (if ever).  Make sure, if you can, that your summer includes some guesting, whether in Colorado or wherever the place you would most like to visit actually is (which may, as in my case, be the place where you live).

Rainy Sunday

Rain and mist.  My little mountain town looks as if it should be situated on a loch in Scotland.  All we need is a castle and some heather.  Instead we have high mountains we can’t see today, lots of pines, budding aspen and the start of a summer of wildflowers, small darting creatures and lots of elk.  Here’s a picture of a sleek gentleman in velvet wading in one of Estes Park‘s rivers on a sunnier day.  The picture is courtesy of Roxy Whalley, and many more of her wonderful photographs can be found at Images By Roxy  and A Picture A Day 2012.  Right now, and of course I can’t remember what I did with my camera, there are a number of elk lying down in the wet grass across the street, only their ears and growing antlers visible to me.  Sometimes I  need to remember and express my gratitude for being able to live here, because it is a gift.

. 05-12-12 - Wapiti in the River

On such a rainy Sunday, while feeling grateful for my blessings and sending up (around? through? wherever!) my thanks to the Author, I’m reminded that among those blessings and thanks are the choices I am given to make and the results of the choices I have made.  Sometimes, I think we all–I know I do–can feel coerced into the lives we’re living, caught somehow by circumstance or fate or some kind of determinism.  Why am I here?  We ask this, and we’re not (as the joke would have it) trying to figure out why we’re standing in the laundry room (in this joke, we’re looking for our glasses).  But of course, what we’re really looking for is either purpose or at least an explanation.

There are many sources from religions to philosophies to governments to mothers to science to (probably the wisest) comedians to tell us what our purpose is, explaining why we’re here.  We all know what they are and each of us has already or needs soon to come to terms with how much those explanations personally resonate.  But in a (very) superficial survey, I would state that reasons given for the existence and ultimate purpose of human beings, of life on this planet, of this planet’s own existence, of the existence of the universe, range from (a) utter determinism and predestination to (z) (or maybe zzzzzzz) mere chance.  Somewhere in the middle of that vast spectrum you will find my own microscopic dot, I’m sure.

choose determinism

choose determinism (Photo credit: alyceobvious)

But today, I keep thinking that for every situation, place, mess, glory or whatnot in which I’ve been plopped down, there is a spectrum ranging between a deterministic explanation and a free will expanation.  For example, why did I move back to Estes Park after a life in Los Angeles and New York City?  Why Estes Park?  Well, my mother and I moved here after my father died because they had stored their furniture in Colorado, Daddy had loved it here, and Mama found a house for cheaper rent in Estes Park than she could in all the front range towns (then, they’re small cities now).  How to parse that decision in terms of Choice, of Chance, of Determinism?  The Universe or God providing a path?  There is no real way to know.  Mama was too much under the survival and grief gun to ponder any of that.  She just wanted a roof, a job and a safe place for herself and her (sullen and hopefully temporarily unhappy) daughter.  So by default Estes Park became home, the place I knew, the refuge when things went bad, the place to escape from when the rest of the world (any part of it) looked better than a mountain valley with few jobs and no prospects.  No matter how beautiful it was.

But it isn’t just that Estes was and is home and I’ve always been homesick for the mountains.   True, when things went bad in my life (which happened a lot, but then that happens a lot to everybody), I’d think about Estes Park as home and want to go there to lick my wounds.  When things got better (which doesn’t inevitably happen for anybody, but which does take place more often than we notice, I think), Estes Park would once again become a nice place to visit.  Then, due to a weird confluence of strange events, I got older.  And due to an even weirder confluence of even stranger events, while I didn’t get rich, or even “comfortable”, as they say, I did manage to inherit, work for and save (saving being, alas, the least of it) enough not to fret over job prospects in a small mountain town.  Because while Estes Park is a hard place to live when you have to earn a living, if you can retire there on even a semi-pittance, Estes Park is a lovely place to live, filled with beauty, friends and important things to do.  So it became a choice once more open to me both in practical and in emotional terms.

But there were other forces.  Chance?  Determinism?  I don’t know.  When I moved to New York City, that choice was mine, but it was influenced by events in my life in Los Angeles that could very well be the universe nudging me toward a specific outcome, or which could have been pure chance onto which I imposed some kind of meaning.  This, by the way is a very old human sport, engaged in because our brains are hard-wired to form patterns.  Scientists believe that this wiring came about to allow us to pick out the pretty fruit against the background of green leaves.  But now, the pattern-formation wiring in our heads also will form patterns of behavior, of activities in the world, in an attempt to find the fruit of meaning against the background of noise.  In any event, the patterns I saw I interpreted in terms of the choice I wanted to make and I moved to New York City.

New York City

New York City (Photo credit: kaysha)

And loved it.  And would be there still were it not for some new patterns forming against the noise.  Patterns of economic disaster for all, physical problems for me, and the combination of isolation and loneliness these patterns (and some iffy choices on my part) created.  (Friends in Manhattan moved to Jersey, I stopped working because of my health, my health kept me at home in my Bronx coop which was very far from anywhere I wanted to be, etc., etc., etc.)  And I gradually came to the realization that I could no longer be there in my coop in the Bronx.  Since Manhattan was financially out of the question, where was I to be?  And was it simply my choice to stick a pin in a map?  Or was there a pattern?

Chance?  Determinism?  Choice?

Looking back makes it a lot easier to see the combinations.  While we’re in a situation, it is very hard to distinguish what parts of the decisions we make are free choice, reaction to random chance, or possibly the influence and caring of a superior entity.  Do I see the pretty fruit because it just happens to be there?  Or do the patterns in the foliage lead me to it?  Or whether it is all noise and background and I’m making up the pretty fruit I was trying to find.

But I came home, using as much single-minded effort to do so that I had used to move to New York.  And while I still miss Manhattan, I am glad I did.  Here is a very good place.  Whether I’m supposed to be here because some Force in the universe wills it and I am merely a pawn being moved, or whether I’m here because I am as much a maker of my life patterns as I am the one who discerns them, or whether I’m here purely out of rational choice and completely by chance, I don’t yet know.   Perhaps it is some unique combination of them all.

Estes Park in Rocky Mountains, Colorado.

Estes Park in Rocky Mountains, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Right now, I’m not on the downward spiral of a bad decision or a bad place where I’m hunting desperately for someone, something, more wise and powerful than I am, to tell me what to do and assure me that it will all come out all right.  On the other hand, I kind of miss those times in my life when my desire for an outcome, my determination to make something happen, would overcome all chance, all determinism in the world. All gates were open, all systems were go, all circumstances in the world seemed to coalesce, serendipitously, into a green light which would sustain me until the project was complete, or close enough to complete so that clenching my teeth and soldiering on would make it so.

Today, I’m pondering my choices and my chances.  Oddly, like the elk in the stream in Roxy’s picture.  That elk is there because the original species indigenous to Estes Park was wiped out in hunting and another species was brought down from Wyoming to repopulate the National Park.  So, to what extent can we look at this particular elk and see the determinism of the universe and of human beings to place his kind in Estes Park? To what extent does that particular elk’s individual health and luck (the chance of his life) play a part in our seeing him in that river at that time and place and date?  And to what extent is he in that river because he just thought, what the hell, it’s easier to drink the water if I’m already in it?  Determinism.  Chance.  Choice.

What brand-new combination will come to me next, as it does to that elk?  What will move me on, whether metaphorically or (less likely at this point) actually to another place, another goal, another purpose.  While I came back to this beautiful place, this genuine home, to retire, to be still, to do small things and perhaps finally do them a bit better, and I hope that continues, it seems I’m not done with dreaming or hoping, either.  Or wondering if the Author, as I mentioned above, just might have something more for me to do and in just what way that will manifest to me.  As a choice?  As a chance?  As a destiny?

Meanwhile, on this rainy Sunday, I plan to make a small destiny of looking outside at the lovely misty mountains, feel the stroke of the rain on my skin, see if the elk have (entirely their choice, I hope) left the meadow below the road to find some other place to bed down this night, and open myself to patterns, to the fruit against the leaves, the intricate winding dance of chance and choice and determinism, and see what that dance creates for me next.

Driving Miss Tina

2003-2007 Nissan Murano photographed in Colleg...

Nissan Murano (not mine, but similar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I may have mentioned, I christened my car “Tina” after I bought her.  It started as “Tiny” because she’s a big girl, but she didn’t like it, so now it’s Tina.  I have always loved Nissan cars–one literally saved my life in 2003 (that story I’ll blog about at some point, trust me)–and when I moved back to Colorado, with the prospect of snowy mountain roads, I bought a one-year-old Nissan Murano, silver gray with black interior.  She has many talents, my new (still feels new to me) big girl of a car.

Interesting (to me) digression:  While some complex mechanisms remain resolutely neuter, neutral and completely without individuality, others come equipped with personality, gender and, definitely, opinions of their own.  When I was in college, the elevator in my dorm hated me.  It simply did, that’s all there was to it.  My first car’s name was “Prudence Duvernoy” (from a character I had played in Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Royale”), and that car was madly in love with another student’s big old Chevy and always found a way to park next to him.  My second computer seemed a bit miffed that somebody so clueless could possibly be in charge of it, and I spent more on repairs and tech support than I had for the computer.  I think most people would, if absolutely pressed to the wall about it, admit that some machine in their life seemed to have distinct preferences and likes or dislikes.  And acted upon them.

In any event, back to today’s topic.  My car has many talents, chief among which is being the easiest to drive and the safest-feeling car I’ve ever owned.  As I said, she’s a big girl, and in my part of Colorado, which gets a lot of wind, it’s a delight to have this big solid vehicle around me as traffic lights wave around like banners and flags get ripped off flagpoles and construction signs have to have holes in them to protect them from becoming lethal flying weapons.  Tina also has the ability to find a parking space within reasonable distance of my destination virtually every time.  Even in Estes in the summertime.  That’s a very good talent for a car to have.  And, in spite of her size, she doesn’t guzzle gas, but sips it instead.  Very useful in the coming years.  She’s also comfortable and not cramped.  I’m glad she has cloth seats, because leather seats can be sticky in summer and cold in winter.  She has quite a bit of cargo space, and her rear seats fold down nice and flat.  So, yes, I’m very fond of Tina and she seems quite fond of me.

And where does she spend most of her time?  In my garage.  I’m sure she’s glad it’s there (she’s the first car I’ve ever had that didn’t live outside all the time like a husky).  I know I am, because I’m lucky enough to have an attached garage, which is a great luxury in a cold climate.  But Tina doesn’t spend a lot of time out on the road both because of my California gas crisis background (“is this trip necessary?  how much time do I want to spend in line at the gas station?  and I really shouldn’t be using so much gas anyway”  and so forth), and because I’m spending much more time these days at home, writing.  All good things.  But it turns out I miss driving.  Really a lot.

On Monday, when I went to buy my new toy (see previous post), one of the things I noticed about the whole trip was how much I enjoyed it.  Not just driving Tina because she’s a good, drivable car, but simply driving.  When I first learned to drive, my greatest (non-romantic) pleasure was to drive, simply to drive, not to go anywhere in particular, but to go!  I remember when I was a little girl, Daddy would sometimes say, particularly after dinner on a summer evening, “hey, want to go for a drive?”  And we all piled in, thrilled at the idea.  Daddy, Mama, Gail (that’s me) and Velvet (that’s the dog).  Of course, no summer evening drive engineered and guided by my father would ever come home without stopping at A&W Root Beer, so we had a hidden agenda, but so much of the joy was the drive itself.  This was a while ago, so our car didn’t have air conditioning (nothing had air conditioning except the movie theater, let alone a car) and Greeley, Colorado, while it did cool off after dark in the summer, was HOT.  My mother would bring beach towels so we could actually sit on the seats (which weren’t leather, but the particularly stiff and staunch plastic they had for car seats in the fifties) and Daddy would say a few Army words (as Mama called them while she shot a very dirty look at him) until the steering wheel cooled down enough to touch, and of course we’d have all the windows open.  So off we’d set, no seat belts, of course, not back then, and Velvet’s head out the side back window, ears flopping (she was a cocker spaniel), and me with the dog mostly in my lap, talking to Daddy at the top of my lungs.  The best time.  Ever.  (Especially with the soft ice cream cones we’d always get on the way back home, “we” in this case including the dog, who loved ice cream.)

Obviously, I grew up with the idea that one of the great things to do is get in the car and go for a ride.  And I think that feeling has always been there, even when I didn’t have a car, the time or a full tank.  When I moved to California, after my divorce and before I got so poor I couldn’t afford the gas (let alone trying to be a good person ecologically), I would get in my car and drive on a Sunday or late at night when the world just got to be too much with me and my life was otherwise out of control.  I remember late nights driving up the freeway to Palmdale and letting the car out, with much the feeling that I’m sure a horseback rider has, and driving as fast as I could on those straight empty highways in the high desert.  (For any possible California Highway Patrol person reading this, I think the statute of limitations has run.  I hope.)  I remember trying to pretend I was a famous star incognito driving a convertible (when actually I was a word processor in a Sentra that didn’t even have a sunroof) tooling up and down the Pacific Coast Highway on the way to or from Malibu,  just too cool for school.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California (Photo credit: the_tahoe_guy)

Once I took a vacation and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway practically to Oregon, which included driving the utterly glorious (and terrifying) Highway One to and past Big Sur.  It’s perhaps better to be a passenger on such a road trip, because as a driver, you can’t really take your eyes off the twisty turny narrow heartstopping road long enough to look out at the unbelievable heartstopping (for another reason) view.  But there are lots of turnouts, so I’d stop and stare at the Pacific and get back in my little Sentra and twist around the switchbacks some more.  Anybody who loves to drive someday simply has to drive on that road between San Simeon and Carmel.

The only time I didn’t enjoy driving was, of course, the daily commute to work.  Even then, there were times it had its compensations.  After all, if I was in my car getting to work, I wasn’t AT work, drudging away, so that was still a plus.  And there is nothing quite like the feeling of driving home after work.  The relief of it.  Except, of course, in southern California when it rained.  Just as Colorado drivers forget how, each and every year, to drive in the snow, Los Angeles drivers forget how to drive in the rain.  And a year’s worth of oil and muck on the roads gets as slick as snot (I know it’s a disgusting image, but it’s the only one that really says it) when the rains first come.  One night, when I worked downtown, I remember that it took me over two hours to get from my office to my apartment during a rainstorm.  At that time I drove a stick shift, and by the time I arrived home, I thought my leg was permanently damaged from the constant shifting into and out of first gear, trying to get ten more feet down the pavement.

Until I got Tina, I was also frightened of driving in snow, for the very good reasons of the stark terror I’d felt over the years commuting to work in Denver in the blizzards, and a bad accident (I’ve talked about it on this blog) in Wyoming during a blizzard.  But now, Tina does very well with her all-wheel drive and her big all-season tires and her weight.  She’s only slid around once or twice and that was in my neighborhood, so I may be getting a little too sanguine about what is really more dangerous than standard driving.

But last Monday, even with the high winds, driving was just a sheer pleasure.  Going down the canyon (that’s how Estes residents, or “locals” (see my post on Estes definitions) talk about driving down to the “valley” (ditto)) with little traffic was a pleasure, looking out at the trees and the sky and beauty.  I had lunch at a great place in Lyons called “Oskar Blues” and then set off to Boulder for my shopping.  I found parking places easily (okay, Tina found them), and I had the delight I just talked about in my previous post of purchasing my new iPad.  Then I went to Whole Foods, which is another terrific shopping experience, especially for someone like me whose only alternative in her home town is a pretty standard Safeway.  There I bought produce and strawberries that smelled so richly of strawberry that my mouth was watering right there in the store, and other good things to enjoy.  And then I drove home, up the canyon, out of the worst of the wind.

And I loved it.  It reminded me of being young and taking off on a California highway just for the sheer joy of it.  I know it’s frivolous and ecologically unsound and I do try to minimize my driving for the most part, both for reasons of carbon footprint and pollution, but oh how I love to drive Miss Tina!

Colorado Sky

Colorado Sky--One of the Delights of Driving (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

The Sunday Paper

So many sources, both on the web and off, tell me that newspapers are moribund if not already dead.  Except maybe for the New York Times (which I, in a fit of irony, get on my iPhone).  My response is somewhat like Chuck Heston’s about the NRA, they’ll have to pry the daily paper from my cold, dead hands.  Practically the first thing I did after I moved here, even before I got all the dishes unpacked, was to call the Denver Post and get a subscription.  My day doesn’t really start until I retrieve the paper (which is usually, alas, at the bottom of my very steep driveway, or in the bushes to the side), separate it into sections I will read and sections I won’t, and sit down with some breakfast (or lunch–after all, I’m retired and don’t have to get up at a specific time) and read.  I’m quite conscientious and read the national section and the state section first before I go to the funnies and the puzzles and the agony columns.  But on Sunday, it’s really fun — there are two magazine sections (neither, unfortunately, published as they used to be by the paper itself), a big Arts and Entertainment section which includes book reviews and a travel section, an op-ed section, and so forth.  Lots of reading, plus a New York Times crossword which, I have to admit, normally defeats me.  The Post is quite generous about putting the answers on the same page, so if I just have to . . . .

Because this is, after all, Colorado, the Post also has, during the fall, a separate insert about the Denver Broncos every week, sometimes more than once a week, but always on the day after the game, whatever game it is.   If it’s a “big” game, there’ll also be an insert on game day.  Some of the best columnists working for the Denver Post handle sports, and it has been such a ride this fall with “Tebowmania”, I’ve really enjoyed reading their take on the phenomenon.  Living in Colorado requires being a Bronco fan.  Nobody seems really sure of this, but I think there’s something in the State constitution.  Either that, or in the water, that simply makes it happen.  There is a huge sculpture, brilliant blue with orange eyes, of a rearing horse outside DIA.  I wonder how many visitors to the state ever realize what that sculpture signifies?  More than anything else, it signifies how rabidly fond of their Broncos Coloradans are (although we have a tendency to like them better when they’re winning, no matter how sloppily).  Ooops, getting a little distracted here.  Back to newspapers.

English: Denver Post building in Denver, Colorado.

The Denver Post Building, image by Wikipedia

I dread the time that newspapers disappear.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I perforce got the Los Angeles Times, which is (horrors!) still my standard for a good newspaper.  They still have a weekly magazine, called “Calendar,” I believe.  And a lot of comics.  And I miss that.  In New York, I had a subscription to the New York Daily News, because the New York Times doesn’t have agony columns or comics.  I still have no idea what their editorial board is thinking.  Don’t they want anybody to read their paper?  In any event, I found I enjoyed tabloid journalism, done New York style, and, after all, I never sank so low as to subscribe to, or even read, the New York Post.

Historically, the first newspaper published, or at least the first one that lasted, in Denver was the Rocky Mountain News, which was the morning paper.  Like the New York Daily News, it was tabloid sized and had lots of comics for little kids like me and lots of columns for grown-ups like my folks.  The Denver Post, which started later, was the evening paper.  I believe, without really knowing, that the Post attempted to be a “record” for the state in the way that the Washington Post tried (and tries) to be for the country.  But my memory of the Post during my years in Colorado was mostly that it was amazingly biased, although I actually can’t remember in  what political direction.  When I moved to California and was told that the Los Angeles Times was editorially biased, I had to laugh, because the LA Times was so much more careful in its punditry than the Post ever was.  A few years ago, when the first wave of newspapers dying off was rampant through the country, the Rocky Mountain News more or less disappeared into the Denver Post, which became the morning paper.  A lot of folks were unhappy about that, including me, although I wasn’t living in Colorado at the time.

Of course, the news on the front page is a little dated by the time it’s published — most of us, including me, get our actual news from the TV or the Internet, which by their nature can get breaking stories to us much faster, but I still find that the newspaper articles seem more reasoned and nuanced than what I hear on the tube (which is a nickname for TV that has recently become completely out of date; pretty soon, people won’t understand where that name for it came from (ditto “the box”, for that matter)).

But it is such a lovely and quiet way of reading about what’s happening, much nicer than having it drummed in one’s ear.  And, after all, if newspapers last long enough, someday I may actually be able to complete the New York Times crossword without having to look at the answers.