Day Ten A collage of my United States of America
Well it’s been a wild Memorial weekend ride around the Denver area, and it’s only Sunday noon as I write this. This week, by some otherworldly twist of fate (twist being the operative word here) I found myself in two of the exact and most threatening locations where funnel clouds were spotted around the city, just days apart. How strange.
I never say that I don’t get out much – I do get out a lot – I am all over the place actually, driving and doing stuff from Boulder, 45 minutes to the north to Evergreen and Conifer in the mountains west of Denver and then twenty minutes south of the city where I live. Every north, south, east and west direction has been under the assault of Mutha Nature. We have had a session of turbulent skies bringing walls of rain so dark that you cannot see what is going on around you when you are driving in them, hail ranging from marble to almost softball size bringing severe damage, wind and flash floods all resulting in many insurance adjustments. I like weather drama but this is over the top. The 2 funnel clouds I found myself directly under – one while having lunch with a friend in the Cherry Creek area ( where the waiter asked us if we would like to go to the basement and we, for some crazy giggly reason, was it the Sangria? – declined) – and the other being an enormous, dense black storm cell wall of water I actually drove through as my cell phone was screaming an alarm to me to “TAKE COVER IMMEDIATLY! – never actually got their funnel acts together enough to do anything more than wave around in the sky in a serpentine tail, trying to touch ground. I saw them on the news. If I had known what was over me I might not have been able to keep a grip on myself.
I have never driven through such a storm as I did in the second experience – I could not pull over, I could not stop, because cars would have hit me in that process since none of us could see the lines in the road or what was ahead. There were no possible shelters. I had no idea, when my excruciatingly loud cell phone alarm sounded whether I was driving further into the center of the storm action or if I was lucky enough to be driving out of it – the car radio told me next to nothing, thanks a lot. Luckily I was soon going to be driving west, up the canyon to Conifer, so I knew that when that exit came, things would improve….but barely. Tornados just do not happen in steep canyons and mountain areas….I have been told. However the rain had created an actual river coming down the canyon highway, so deep I was afraid my engine would stall out since the car was making waves as I drove.
When I finally arrived in Conifer and we turned on TV the weather map showed the area I had driven through was the very middle of a gigantic storm cell containing funnel clouds, slowly moving north and east away as I turned west into the canyon. I had been directly under that phenomenon for about 8 miles. I was shaking. My friend, who had been a car or two ahead of me but out of sight, poured me a vodka shot. He seemed fine – I was not. It took us a while to laugh.
The outdoor decks, flagstone terrace and steps, ground and rocks on my friend’s property in Conifer were covered with what the hail damage had caused a couple days before – it looked like chopped broccoli but was actually shredded healthy green pine needles and branches and pine cones – the trees had been mauled. They looked pathetic. It was overwhelming to see such destruction – and that was just the yard. The house and other buildings will all need new roofs. A skylight is broken and leaking. The Ping-Pong sized hail pounded the place for a full half hour.
OK so does all of this adrenalin-fueled fear go away, after you realize you are still alive? No. I can still feel all of that experience sitting here as I type. Sun is out, sort of, but I am right back in it in my mind.
So what am I going to do with myself? Well of course I ‘m going to paint.
We shall see what that brings…..the YLC is talking to me again.
This weekend, as my beloved Rocky Mountains tip-toe lightly into SPRING, careful to sidestep any more major snow and wind events, I was fortunate enough to return to a favorite mountain hideaway. A place isolated from the circus of everyday life; up a long, lethargic driveway, meandering around Aspen groves and pines, hidden high on a sunny south slope enfolded by trees, commanding a place of importance under gigantic rocky outcroppings. This place is a sanctuary for me and I am its’ grateful guest. In my absence of six hard winter months, I dreamed often of its hand-worked beauty and primitive silence. It is a place like no other. When I could not sleep I would wander its rooms, imagining how strongly the wind was rattling the roof, wondering how many mice families were frolicking there, riding out the winter in its relatively balmy interior. Hoping no trees were uprooted. Looking forward to seeing the wildflowers that were planted last summer just outside the kitchen door.
I have spoken before of the significance of PLACE. If you are someone who has an extraordinary place to go to – one that gives you back your sanity and holds the rest of the world at more than an arm’s length for you as you regroup – well – if you have that you are indeed blessed. This special place need not be grand; it could be a humble chair in a tiny space by a fire, could be a beach, a trek, a restaurant, a cabin, an art studio or a journey to St. Peter’s Basilica. But if it always without fail gives you the gift of peace and comfort, it is a home place.
Walking in the door was like returning from an enforced confinement somewhere else. A home without a family comes alive again when a door is finally opened, after long days and nights signifying nothing but the passage of time on empty rooms, and people arrive. Everything looked bright in the noon sun. The dust motes danced in swirls as we entered, instantly transforming the stagnant internal climate with our human presence. Piles of dead bugs were neatly arranged in corners as if they all knew where the graveyard was and went there when the end was in sight. Cobwebs swinging like iridescent threads with the breeze of our movements, the smell of powdery, dry dust – it was all perfect. We smiled and embraced the beauty.
Getting water back in the pipes. Turning on the heat. Cleaning the bugs out of the sinks and bathtubs, then discovering a small bathroom window that had been accidentally left half open all winter long! Through record-breaking snows and roaring wind racing through the pines at break-neck speed this window gave old man Winter access to the house. Why didn’t a raccoon tear through the screen seeking warm shelter? I wonder how much snow had piled up on that floor….what the temperature plummeted to in that area of the house – mysteries we will never have answers to.
A builder of fine homes once told me that houses need people in them – they deteriorate rapidly when they are empty for long stretches of time. The materials that go into the construction and the interior finishes need the warmth and humidity that people provide, doing all the things that people do. Cooking, washing clothes, taking showers – all that and more is what houses need. Houses are almost alive. Wood needs to breathe. Call me crazy but I firmly believe that houses need love, laughter and conversation too. If you do not believe that houses have a heart, a soul, and a need for human companionship then I am sorry for you – you have missed a key point somewhere along the road of life. Several of my very best friends have been magnificent old houses, weathered, wrinkled and wise…
Your special place need not be a house, of course. The discovery is yours. But do find yourself a unique footprint that you can return to for re-fueling. It will keep you sane, prolong your life, listen intently to your thoughts and that place will watch for your frequent return.
A selection of sunsets for your viewing pleasure, Kona HI
So during my recent stay on the Big Island, drinking sunset wine on the western deck at 1000 ft elevation, with the Specific Ocean spread out before us like glass, and well into the prime time viewing portion of a dazzling, colorful display in shades of pewter, silver, steel blue and iridescent gold underneath the warm colors of sister sun…we are feeling no pain and talking about birds.
Birds are plentiful there – squawking and screeching and calling to eachother for answers to the big bird questions. It begins about 4:30 or 5 am and continues with different groups and choruses all day long until dusk. Since lots of chickens roam the island in the epitome of the much sought after free-range chicken life, you are liable to have roosters nearby who of course signal the dawn in big COCKA DOODLE DAMN DOOOOO (I am awake now and so are you) announcements every single morning – the good news is the free-range part because eventually they move on to greener pastures and bigger bugs to eat.
And there are crows. Remember that all these birds first breezed into the island at some point in a very ancient time, either purposely or riding involuntarily on the prevailing winds or perhaps a storm that they could not get out of, like being in a giant washing machine headed somewhere. I am fascinated – glued – to James Michener’s thick, almost 1000 page classic book “Hawaii”. I got it when I came back to the mainland and can’t put it down. Well sometimes I have to put it down because it weighs too much to carry around all day. At the time of the Roman Empire and Christ the islands were still being formed by volcanic activity and did not yet exist as a habitable location….they were forming, becoming a potential paradise, but still without edible food and clear water. The Big Island of Hawaii and her smaller sisters had not even come close to being discovered or habituated by a human person. Think about that, and think about the first people arriving and how amazed they were….but I digress.
Birds are usually found in groups which are not always called flocks, and while sitting on the deck we googled bird info and the names of various bird groups. Here is what we found, and we could not stop reading, while opening another bottle of wine.
A bunch of Crows is actually called a MURDER. Then we also have : Teams of Ducks. A Mob of Emus. An Ostentation of Peacocks! A Pitying of Turtledoves…. A Cast of Hawks. A Wedge of Geese (while they are flying). A Siege of Cranes. A Herd od Swans. A Charm of Hummingbirds. A Company of Parrots. A Conspiracy of Ravens. An Exaltation of Larks. A Parliament of Owls. A Tiding of Magpies. A Scold of Jays.
Well it got funnier and funnier. You had to be there ( we wish for you that you were…). We also made up some of our own – well of course we did. It was sunset in paradise and we had the time.
There are many more to be found if you follow this link to the Palomar Audubon Society page: http://palomaraudubon.org/collective.html
Open a bottle of wine and watch the sunset wherever you are.
“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is a matter of the will, quality of imagination, a VIGOR of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life”. – Samuel Ullman
I believe that if you can find a geographic place – a safe and enfolding place of contentment, magic and wonder where you can go when you need renewal – you have found your version of the fountain of youth. Some people never manage to find that unique and stirring location, but others who are young at heart and keep an open mind to the gifts of the universe search for and find their particular GPS of choice and they use it time and time again to recharge the batteries of their souls. My daughter who has traveled the world says one of her favorite places of all she has seen is Yosemite Park, practically in our own backyard.
I have not traveled the world but still I know what brings me back to the places where my heart is fulfilled and brimming up with contentment and peace. For me there are several locations – Big Sur, the big island of Hawaii, Yellowstone and Yosemite Parks and the mountains of Colorado – and when I spend time in those locations I feel sure that I am a positive force in a greater universe. I am infused with such joy at every return trip, highly energized, feeling that my life is enhanced and perhaps even prolonged by the adrenaline rush I experience. The epiphany here is that what you want to happen will happen, and so if you believe in the power of a place, you will undoubtedly reap the rewards by using it to bring quality to your days and additional time to your life. You are what you think constantly about, as they say, and so whatever brings positivity and happiness in its purest form directly into your veins – to your very being – can only be good. If it is in your power to find your place, do find it and hold it dear. If for some reason you are unable to go where you want to go, use your powers to picture it, find it, embrace it in your soul. Do not allow the boundaries of your physical world to confine you. Go beyond and get there.
This Colorado weather and its record low temperatures takes some practice and I have not gotten the hang of it yet after moving back here from living in northern California for the past six or seven years. My internal California thermostat re-set itself at a higher comfort level while I was out there. I was happiest at 70 degrees. I had forgotten that in Colorado most people wear layers all winter long and setting one’s indoor household thermostat at 67 for daytime and 65 for night is common. Coloradans are a hardy bunch, and energy conscious too. So now my first authentically cold winter in years has arrived with a blast – and the first day or so of it I am so stunned and intimidated that if at all possible I decide not to go outside for even one little minute. Then there is another night of bitter cold at 15 below followed by today that brings a high of 7 above and I begin to realize that life must go on. I cannot shrink like a spring violet under the winter cold – it is only December and there is a long way to go. So I gathered my best version of how I used to be when I was a Colorado girl and I ventured out. I was out doing errands, sort of, within a small perimeter of my house. That is progress. Everybody else was out there too. Looking just fine I might add. I was dressed and layered as if I were on that Antarctic expedition with Prince Harry.
I dare not walk for my usual daily mile and a half because I can’t manage to get a deep breath of air in this deep freeze, so I went to the neighborhood gym. That requires practice as well, since I dislike exercising within a swarm of sweating specimens, all riding or propelling humming machines yet going nowhere. I prefer to actually go somewhere when I make the motions of walking.
My friend called yesterday and said she had slept with her PJ bottoms tucked into the tops of big wool socks so that the legs would not ride up during the night. Don’t you hate that? You turn over just once and your legs are bare up past the knee. The bed is damn cold in the parts that are not under you, and so it is a shock to reposition a leg or an arm if they are not totally shrouded in pajamas. This is what they call a 3-dog night because you need 3 huge dogs in bed with you to keep you warm. No wonder the people in the middle ages slept in the same room as all their livestock, but talk about sweating, smelly specimens – yuk.
And another thing. Can you imagine sitting down on a toilet seat in the night in this weather? Of course it is inside the house, but it is like an ice cube even so. We are supposed to open all the cabinet doors under all the sinks so that the pipes have full access to the heat within our homes and theoretically they will not freeze. Have you ever had frozen pipes? Ever heard the creaks and groans that plumbing makes at night when it’s this cold? That keeps you on alert. Ever heard a pipe pop open and spew water like a hydrant as it warms up and thaws? When we lived in the mountains of Evergreen, CO. as the kids were growing up, frozen pipes were almost a yearly thing. And when the electricity went off during storms, our well water was inaccessible. We had a wood stove for back-up and used it several times to cook a sort of dinner. Wood had to be chopped for the fireplace as well as the stove. We chose to live in the country with all the fun and inconveniences of that lovely lifestyle…oh the kids could tell you some wild stories.
Mr. D. our neighbor in Evergreen had cattle who were lucky enough to pasture at 8300 feet amid Aspens and pines, grazing on fresh grass in bucolic meadows surrounded by mountains. One late fall a freakish blizzard blew in and it snowed big hunky flakes that accumulated at an inch every hour and by morning of the next day we had over two feet. Mr. D’s cattle had not made it back to the barn and had been huddled against the wind and the snowfall all night in the leaf-less Aspen grove, just about a hundred yards from the road. The next morning as we drove by in the car we saw quite a spectacle for the eyes of my two young children. Mr. D. and his ranch hands were cutting up the bull of the herd and sliding out huge chunks of blood-red meat on tarps across the snow. The crimson splattered snow was unmistakably the scene of a killing. But why?
Did the coyotes kill the bull? Or a bear? I called Mr. D. and got the full story from him so that we’d all rest easier knowing the truth. When a bull’s testicles freeze, he must be shot or he will die a slow agonizing death from gangrene. A bull’s testicles hang pretty low, and in two or more feet of snow it becomes impossible for him to escape his fate. Right then and there he was shot and cut into edible pieces to be frozen and eaten later in many a meal. The scraps were left under the trees for the coyotes and we could hear them howling all night with their good fortune.
The local news here has coverage of the livestock and how the farmers care for their animals. People are foolish enough to leave dogs and cats outside…what are they thinking? It is cruel and inhuman.
This story and others come to mind as I experience a grand weather event such as this. If you follow this blog you remember that last fall we had a five-hundred year flood event here, all along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. We were underwater! They said that if it had been snow instead of rain we’d be digging out for days. Now the snowy weather has begun and unusually cold temps are here. I think it’s going to be a doozy of a winter! And I am pretty excited about it.
PS – I know the picture above is not a BULL but it is the best I could do.
photos courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk
Phew. I feel dryer today and more relaxed too. The weather is now sunny and warm with scattered showers expected tomorrow but a general forecast of better days on the way for the next week. When the storm was raging last week, they started out by calling it a 100 year flood; by about the third day of incessant hard driving rain and many damage reports coming in it was re-accessed as a 500 year flood of Biblical proportions, but this morning Al Roker of the NBC TODAY show pronounced it a 1000 year flood. I am just calling it a LuLu of a storm the likes of which I hope to never see again. Of course the water did not come gently, but raced down the many creeks and rivers audibly snarling through the canyons of the Rocky Mountains and then widening out along creeks and rivers in an amazing path of destruction below – the South Platte is now 10 times as wide as it normally is and still spreading in a lot of places. Our gorgeous parks have suffered, huge chunks of asphalt have been ripped from dozens of highways, nearly 18,000 homes are destroyed and hundreds of people still missing. Babies were born during this flood as other folks were washed away in their cars and unaccounted for. The U. of Colorado is conducting classes again, but hundreds of businesses in Boulder, Estes Park, Evergreen and other quaint mountain communities are devastated. Sink holes are beginning to happen – OMG! those things. Rivers and streams have cut new erratic paths that were never there before and I can already imagine people saying, “Well I remember when the river ran in that direction until that damn flood of 2013.”
One quite elderly man was swept away, stripped of all his clothes by the angry water and left shivering and clinging to a limb high in a tree. They found his wife, who had also been swept away but survived with a broken leg, and asked her if she knew the naked man they had just rescued from a tree far away….”Well yes,” she gasped, “that is my husband.”
The local early news report is doing a story on Mail Delivery and stranded animals right now – regarding mail, thousands of people who have had to evacuate their homes are expecting medical prescriptions, SS checks, payments of all kinds and even deliveries of the animal variety that come to farmers on the plains east of Denver . Baby chicks, turkeys and even many insects used for pest control are delivered to farmers by US Mail. All those live things are being held at small town post offices, including accompanying responsibilities for keeping things alive as they have sleep-overs there while waiting to be delivered, belong now to the USPS.
There are countless images on TV of stranded animals – the lucky ones who have found some small patch of higher ground to rest on until help arrives. Many were not so fortunate. Helicopters are rescuing and evacuating as fast as they can, both animals and human beings alike. One lone horse stirred the compassion of all viewers, standing by himself in hip deep water and cold temperatures, tied to a small portion of a wooden fence within eyesight of the barn but unable to go there. No food, no clean water, for 3 days he stood there. Finally yesterday he got some help. The cows in the next corral finally made it through the water to a huge soggy mound of hay and burrowed inside to eat the edible innards of the mess. Some of them ate enough to practically walk inside it, nearly disappearing from view. They had not eaten for about 3 days. These are just a couple examples that we have seen – think of all the other unfortunate creatures who are struggling to survive.
I have survivor guilt – I don’t know how I have been so fortunate. I feel like I have dodged a bullet. Just 3 months ago I was in Denver prior to my move from northern California, looking for a nice place to live. I seriously considered a couple of the areas hardest hit. I chose this area instead, because I love being on hills or in the mountains. I thrive on constantly changing vistas, and this community of Palomino Park is on a rise overlooking the magnificent view of our Rocky mountain range to the west. I will now feel more at home here than I would have before, dry and safe as I am….but I feel the pain of the others who could not escape the wrath of the water. The power of the water is beyond our imagination. I have never witnessed such weather drama.
Mother Nature has been in a bitchy mood this week.
You can go to this website to help, as well as the Red Cross, but be sure to specify on your check or in your instructions that the money must be used to help Colorado, otherwise it will go into the general fund….
Go to BING.com and search Colorado Flood Images for more visual info.
Big Thompson Flood July 31, 1976
I have lived here in Colorado nearly all of my adult life, starting with my college years at CU in Boulder, and with the exception of a few blocks of time when I had to be somewhere else. As most of you know, I just returned here, finally and permanently, after 6 years in California. Just 2 months ago I found a lovely place to live and re-settled back in.
Fast forward to now. I have never in my life seen unrelenting, violent, biting rain like this, and I have lived in some rainy, swampy places. A good year of precipitation in the Denver, Colorado area is around 12 inches of rain – we are considered the western “high plains” where tall grass naturally grows and herds of antelope used to roam by the thousands. Peaceful rivers run through us and Indian camps were plentiful along their banks just 100 years ago. In the high mountains, situated just right there in your face to the west, we almost routinely accumulate snow in the hundreds of inches, and we love that. But in this past 4 days, we along the “front range” of the Rockies, (an area which parallels and hugs the first steep hills that hint at the larger mountains to our west) have become a flooded area that stretches over 150 miles long from approximately Ft. Collins to our north down south through Boulder and Denver and its suburbs to Colorado Springs. It also extends to our east, into those flat farming plains. I experienced 7 inches of rain two nights ago! 7 INCHES! And we were told to expect additional staggering amounts in the following 3 nights, and the weather guys and gals were correct. Since then, I have been drying out and waiting to see when the second shoe drops. I am in sunshine right now, at this nano-moment, here in south Denver, but the rains continue to the north and east of me. They are calling this a flood of Biblical proportions.
The charming mountain community of Evergreen, just 45 minutes west of Denver, where we raised our kids, has a dam at one end of Main Street that holds back the friendly, peace-loving, agreeably contained Evergreen Lake where fishing and ice skating are a few of it’s seasonal pleasures. The lake is Evergreen’s water supply. Bear Creek flows into that lake from farther west and its water continues over the dam and down in a normally civilized and quite picturesque creek-form, along whose banks you can dine at outdoor cafes and sample wines at funky little wine bars. Farther into the village of Evergreen you can have a bawdy old time at the Little Bear Saloon where Willie Nelson used to drop in and play a set for free back in the day. If you are having an especially great time there, and you wear a bra, you might be invited at some point in the evening to remove your bra (either modestly pulled out from under your t-shirt or taken off proudly in full view) and sling it up over the rafters where it will live for the remainder of its bra life. You can shop for unique clothing, including a new bra, that you’d never find anywhere else, visit art galleries and eat ice cream at the Baskin Robbins where my son worked after school. Evergreen still has Fourth of July parades down Main Street where the street lamps are festooned with flower pots and America flags. Bikers show up and line their Harleys up against the wooden rail outside the Little Bear exactly where stagecoaches used to tie their horses. The history of Evergreen is fascinating and available in many nicely done coffee table books. We loved it there.
About 20 years ago – maybe longer – the dam was repaired, in spite of skeptical minds, to be capable of withstanding a 100 year flood. This week we are there……as some one said in the news today, “This could be the one that brings us to our knees.”
I just heard this minute that the Evergreen dam is holding and safe, but uncharacteristically angry Bear Creek has taken out half of a parking lot located along its roaring and raging banks, directly across from the Little Bear Saloon. When the water leaves Evergreen it has to race down through Bear Creek Canyon – one of many canyons that pierce the mountains and enabled early settlers to travel west. These canyons are steep-walled and deep. If you would like to read about just one of them, Google the Big Thompson Flood which occurred back on July 31st, 1976, the first year we lived in Evergreen. As the mountain rain water accumulated in a surreal, film visual effects- type event and then picked up speed while careening down from higher elevations, it raced thunderously down the Big T canyon like a liquid freight train monster, widening out in some places and narrowing again at the tight canyon curves where, since it could not be wide, the water had to deepen up, scouring the steep rocky canyon walls of their higher mountain residences along with trees and rocks and mud. This all happened in a flash – thus the term flash flood. Resulting in total devastation.
Last night I experienced one of those reverse phone call warnings coming across on my CELL PHONE! A screeching alarm telling me to head for higher ground. Thank God I am in a community that is perched on a lovely green hill – but the intersection just a mile away from me became an instant lake and the exit ramps from the highway to the street in front of my home were taken out by fast-rising water. They are gone.
Who would have thought this could happen in a city renowned for being 5280′ above sea level? It would seem that no water could accumulate here! In truth, all of our water drains into the South Platte River which runs directly to the Mississippi River and then to sea, where all good water needs to go. But the mud – that is an entirely different story. Like chocolate pudding with debris, it lingers and clogs and traps cars. It sucks things under. We are told to expect a brief respite from the water starting now, until late tomorrow night when it will return, we are told, with several more inches. But one thing of which I am sure – this has not brought us to our knees. Local news pictures are of course all about humans saving humans and people being generous. Animals being rescued and hot meals being cooked. Like others you see all over the world facing adversity, we’ll be fine eventually. The difference is – this is HERE. First time I have ever seen this up close and personal. And now I have new appreciation for all those other people and what they endure. I thought I knew – I thought I could imagine – but I was not even close. Being wet and cold and homeless and thirsty for clean water, and hungry. Worried to the point of being sick about friends and relatives and kids and elderlies and animals. With no answers for days and days. OK I get it now like I never got it before. I am living it now. That’s actually how an epiphany happens.
For fine news coverage of this Biblical flood, go to www.9news.com or search for KUSA Denver