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).

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.