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)

Colds and Other Summer Complaints

Poster encouraging citizens to "Consult y...

Poster encouraging citizens to “Consult your Physician” for treatment of the common cold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: A small box of Kleenex.

English: A small box of Kleenex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Lumpy Ridge overlooking Estes Park

Lumpy Ridge overlooking Estes Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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!

English: , USA