Friday, September 30, 2016

Colorado, redux

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
coming home to a place he’d never been before…
John Denver

It was, indeed, the summer of 1977, my twenty-seventh year on the planet, that I first visited Colorado.  Back then all focus was on Rocky Mountain National Park and a backpack trip with my wife and little Jennifer, age four.  Up Roaring River trail to a couple high country backpack camp sites took us away from park traffic and into the quiet, sublime world of pine and aspen.  Such a good time it was. 

And, if the truth be told, my idea of Colorado for many years had been that ‘north of I-70’ variety: green, lovely, and full of magic mountain peaks.  Then about ten years later my buddy Mark Maley invited me to collaborate on his Geology Field Study summer high school trips to the American Southwest to show kids a broad collection of some of the most spectacular exposed rock anywhere in the world.  The high point of those expeditions were long, strenuous hikes down into and out of the Grand Canyon, though Colorado sites played a role in our travels, primarily Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verdi, and Rocky Mountain National Parks.  

But it wasn’t until I heard the Paul Winter Consort’s ‘Crestone’ album that a new personal vision of Colorado replaced the first.  I suppose my affection for Paul & his musical crew solidified with his ‘Canyon’ album, recorded just about the time of the first GFS three week expedition.  I used cuts from that album for two-projector slideshows to both remind those young ‘uns who went of their adventure and interest other potential trekkers of what awaited them.  But what really got in my head was that Winter & his consort of fine musicians recorded many of their albums away from the studio and out in wild locations where the ambience of side canyons and natural amphitheaters combined with instruments to capture the essence of truly magnificent places.

Their ‘Crestone’ album won a Grammy back in 2007 and caught my attention soon thereafter.  As with all of Winter’s recorded-on-location albums, I wanted to know more about the venue.  Turned out Crestone is an old mining town on the western skirt of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, not in northern Colorado where much is green, but in the dry, sandy southern San Luis valley, a chunk of real estate locals like to say is ‘the size of Connecticut.’  The recording actually took place at Crestone Lake, high in elevation in the presence of a handful of 14,000 foot peaks.  It didn’t take me long to conjure up the need for a new family trip into that mountain state to see just what Crestone and environs were about.  

If you are a regular reader of The Back Porch blog, all of this might sound familiar.  It was summer 2009, a couple years after the release of the ‘Crestone’ album, that wife Cindy and I headed cross country to hang out in Crestone at the Nada Hermitage there for two weeks to soak up what was offered.  I’m pretty sure I wrote an entry in my newly minted blog every day then, reflecting on what felt important. 

Much life and travel have happened since then.  This week marks my fourth venture into the San Luis, my third with Cindy.  One trip included grandson Noah, family friend Adel, and another good buddy and former student, Bruce.  For that trip we stayed in a rental home, but all other visits have been at Nada.  

Since that time, too, I discovered a former high school teacher I was very fond of and husband had retired about a hour north of Crestone just below the Collegiate Peaks.  Needless to say, visits up that way to the Arkansas valley near Buena Vista were in order.  In fact, Cindy & I fixed dinner for Phyllis just the other evening before we sat and witnessed the first Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and He Who Must Not Be Named.  Lovely visit it was, too.  

Still, if we learn anything as an aging adult, nothing is so sure as change.  Early this year Phyllis lost her husband to a nasty condition, leaving her and their good dog buddy, Libby, holding down their fort in the mountains.  And just this week we heard that the good people of Nada — the completely overworked three of them — have decided they cannot continue their ministry.  They’ve been in touch with attorneys to figure out the best way to make their exit.  One more year, for sure, but after that only the Lord knows.

Nobody ever said change was easy, even if it opens up new ventures not anticipated.  Such is true for Suzie, Connie, and Eric, our Nada friends.  Same for Phyllis.  Same for Cindy & me.  

But one thing is true:  Colorado’s geological peaks and rivers will remain the same during our brief lifetimes.  We’ll be back to the Sangres, that I truly hope.  When we do, though, we’ll be looking for new adventures.  I trust we’ll find them. 

Today’s elder idea:   A daily practice of listening, watching, and waiting blesses us and the world we live in. 

Anne Silver
from ‘Playing and Praying Our Way to the Stars’
in Nada’s Desert Call, fall 2016

images:  top:  Fall panorama at Ohaver (O’Haver?) Lake (National Forest campground), accessible via Poncha Pass

lower:  Tom & Cindy at Nada with our ‘little house’ in the background.