I see the 3 a.m. cloudy sky and weep. It is a night too long and too filled with the intrusions of man. Where are they going at this hour? Why so many? This valley, once my sanctuary, gave a respite from the ills of humanity, an escape from the noise of urbanity. The change – exploding like dynamited mountainsides in the nearby gambling towns of Blackhawk and Central City — uncontrolled along the Front Range of Colorado, has reached the fringes.
And now, it’s found me.
I struggle to sleep through any given evening. This past Tuesday morning’s Six a.m. guttural outbursts brought Jake brakes blurting and burping their way down the highway, vacant of gravel yet filled with impatience. The echo reverberated off the deeper canyon walls miles below, sending their acoustical memory back up. Roads washed back to earth from epic floods in 2013 are being rebuilt, five years later and counting. Every day it’s the same. The State Highway is newly filled: Monday through Friday is material-moving time, bringing new things up the mountain and carting old, used things down. Friday afternoons usher in crotch rockets clustered in groups of two to six. Frustrated, testosterone packages of new CU freshmen swarm up these roads – Canyon carving – surpassing speed limit signs like swatting flies. Any hope for respite and quiet succumbs to gangs of rich urban bikers mounting Harleys (not made in China) announcing arrivals with mufflers meant to scream on every summer weekend. I turn my back and close the windows this morning, hoping for a few hours of peace before rising to meet the demands of the day.
I envy the quiet, maple tree-lined neighborhoods in the gilded City down below. The occasional passage of a noise too loud, a single utterance of the presence of humanity, pales in contrast to the explosion of multitudes of deeply stressed souls. Outbursts of horns inform of angst screaming for release on the edge of what was once my peaceful valley. I’d move down the mountain, if I could. But the passage of time has fueled the rise of real estate to a price tag of $1.2 million for a north side bungalow. It’s happening all over the United States – lifestyle pooling of all manner of preferences, from political to economic to lifestyle – if you can afford to move to the place of your choosing, there is a newly redeveloped Victorian waiting just for you.
Boo hoo, poor you, people say. And, I say in response, that change comes to us all, but the heart hurts and the mind spins, when it’s the land you once called home. I’m not so self-absorbed I can’t recognize it’s a national trend, and that this new movement of escapism into nature is affecting us all.
But it is this valley for which I now mourn. On the banks of its creeks and in the quiet of other autumn mornings, I often woke to the sounds of the Chickadees and drifted into sleep to the hooting of the Great Gray Owl. For ten years’ worth of waterless mornings and dry evenings, I heated water in pots from containers lugged by the 6-gallons-full up three flights of stairs to the solar-powered barn loft where I rested my head at night. It was the place for a menagerie, a sanctuary of many. Roosters alerted at the shuffle of aspen leaves under the paws of coyotes stalking through the woodland floor below. Horses grazed the grasses on the land where once, decades before, miners drank shots of Jack Daniels and fought with their wives over the hardships of the hills. On this land, my Longhorn heifer bellowed as the Nubian goats bleated in the company of the lambs laid down beside them in their stalls on starry nights. This place, once so quiet I could hear the llamas mounting, grunting and groaning on that poor ol’ Nubian goat on the ground floor below, was meant for party lines not at all partisan, but those of the Green Acres kind. I ache for the tone and voice of my retired miner neighbor John, now long gone,
Honey, just let me know when you’re done, so I can call my daughter in New York, and the click as he hung up his end of the line.
Who was that? My friend Shirley used to ask from her end of the line.
In this home, modern conveniences became not-so: the toaster, the hair dryer, the vacuum cleaner, the microwave. Reverse polarity is incongruous with solar electricity. I turned on the ol’ Honda generator to do the week’s vacuuming, drank powdered and evaporated milk until propane refrigerators came into my life. I did things that I’d rather not say with half-pound coffee cans and plastic grocery bags, for the winds of January at 8,000 feet above sea level deterred wee-hour morning visits to my doorless outhouse.
For three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days of my younger life, I washed my face in water heated from the propane stove in the cabin and then the barn, cooked burgers and boiled water. I cut my hair boy-short, for long hair requires too much maintenance. Back then, I longed for friends to sit on my couch next to my rooster beside me, or recline on my sleeping bag laid along the creek, gazing up at spectacular night skies. Nary a soul could be enticed to join me and my then-husband in the sip of a homemade beer alongside the creek or a cup of tea on the 100 square-foot deck outside our rude little cabin.
You live like hillbillies, I heard all too often, that common refrain. Not even the mailman wanted to visit, dumping snail mail in the box staged a quarter-mile above the valley along the State Highway to the north.
I’m sixteen years or 5,844 days along, and everyone wants to come here now. To fish the creeks in which I once bathed, to capture images with digital cameras or smart phones toted in back pockets of the meadow once filled with horses I rode on. To release their new ills of living or escape the rising temperatures of incessant, irrevocable climate change. This place, once an escape from humanity for a population of one or two, has now become that of many. It is a sign of the times, the passage of years that somehow flew by, bringing to this valley an entirely new ambience of living.
Lucky you, people utter, staring up at Ponderosa and Lodge Pole Pines edging the southern boundary of our valley. They shake their heads, are they sighing from relief or envy? — at the valley where once not so long, but 5,844 days ago, no one ever wanted to come, much less, remain…