familiar roads

Growing up in southwest Denver, my childhood springs and summers were filled with crazy storms.  For years, every day around 3 pm, our section of the city would be pummeled by hail, torrential rain, and wind.  Sometimes, a funnel would pop up too.  Always when I was walking the very short distance from school to home.  At the time, I was awkward–in middle school.  I rather loved that weather and never minded getting soaked.  In some ways, it made me feel more alive.

I love rain.  Always have.  Growing up in Colorado, moisture is such an elusive thing.  Despite what everyone thinks, Colorado is actually a desert.  So, we cherish any little bit.  That’s been especially true in recent years, since fire and drought have ravaged our landscapes and ruined lives.  But the kind of drought we’ve had hasn’t been familiar to me.  We were always dry, but the lakes didn’t dry up.  People didn’t lose their homes.  Smoke didn’t coat my lungs when I was a kid.

This year, it’s been different.  We had more of the storms of my childhood.  And just like then, it still brings out a gleeful little girl aching for violent crashes.  I remember many a phone call with boyfriends of relationships past.  Me, yelling, “do you hear that?” As I launched my window open and raised my phone to the sky–like some lighter a fourteen year old would light at some rock concert.  I’d turn on the fans and perch them in windows just to get that air inside–that smell–that perfect, amazing smell.  To me, rain was life.  It was that thing that turned my parched brown grass into lush green blankets.  It made the aspens twinkle in the sun.  It was why I loved autumn and spring best.  And why summer was bearable.

I even created a story about my father that centered around thunder.

To me…the sound of rain on my window was the ultimate comfort.  It inspired so much inside me.

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This year hasn’t been too kind to Colorado–though it’s been better than last year.  Well, relatively better.  The entire state didn’t go up in flames this time.  Just part of it.

But the damage was huge.  We lost precious things.  Besides the impact on families, I think losing the park at Royal Gorge was the worst.  I’d been there the year before, on the way to Santa Fe.  I remember taking photos on that chilly morning of that beautiful old carousel.  I remember the ranger waving at me and smiling as I took his photo.  The bridge–the one I bungee jumped off of the year my mother died–in some effort to prove something to myself and someone else–survived…barely.  Had I known the fire would happen, I would have insisted on crossing it–documenting every square inch–instead of waiting for my roommate in the parking lot.  I figured I had enough photos of it already.

After the fires died down, Highway 24–a highway I’ve driven so many times–experienced a scary flash flood that felt so far away, for some reason.  Like it wasn’t quite here.  Like–because there wasn’t water in my lungs–it didn’t quite matter.  I suppose, after all of these natural disasters, you get tragedy fatigue.  Which is an awful thing to say, but–nonetheless–true.

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The last few years of my life, I’ve spent countless hours driving quiet mountain highways.  Especially the ones between here and Grand Lake/Estes Park/Loveland/Fort Collins.  Part of that was because my Mama’s ashes are scattered near Never Summer and going to Estes is sort of a pilgrimage I make every year–as soon as Trail Ridge opens.  Part of that is because I love how the sky looks during sunset when you’re driving down 25 from Fort Collins.  Part of that is because I love cherry pie and pickled green beans.  And I wanted to see the world through the eyes of someone I let slip away.  And I wanted to change what I thought about things I thought I knew everything about.  And well, I needed water.

Those highways–36, 34, 7, etc…they represent home to me.  Because home here is nature.  As much as I love Denver and its urban sleepiness, it’s the cute creeks between Estes and Loveland that remind me it’s perfectly okay to take off my shoes and wade.  That you can lay down in the sand while an old man catches fish–and no one will judge you.  That golden cows and the perfect sunset are the stuff of photographer’s dreams–and you will chase after them after you fail to capture it the first time.  It’s that little quiet place within yourself where it’s just you and the open road and nothing in particular.

I’ve spent more time in Boulder lately.  Mostly because that’s where I go to heal myself.  I fell in love with Mapleton long before, but now, it feels like a place where I could live.  I’ve thought about it.  A lot.  I always felt weird and out of place in Boulder, but not in Mapleton.  People are nice.  There’s a beautiful tea shop.  And trails that come with sweeping views.  I’ve petted a deer here and smiled at older ladies.  And watched birds.  And maneuvered to get photos of perfect flowers in people’s yards.

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It started raining a couple days ago.  After the heatwave we’ve had, people were overjoyed.  My allergies felt a little better, and I started sleeping soundly again.  Days upon days of gloom–an unusual treat for us–with even more days in the forecast.  We needed the moisture.  It was that happy rain I remember loving so much–the kind that soothes you to sleep.  Good stuff.  And no power outages.  (Bonus).

The rain had been much worse to the north of us.  Heavier–like the ones I remember in childhood.  Various friends talked about basements flooding.  Annoying, but not awful.

And then, last night happened.  Suddenly, people in Boulder started talking about sirens.  And sheets of rain.  They got more than 8 inches overnight.  (The average for the month of September is 1).  Which is bad because Boulder is intimately connected to a Creek and close to the foothills.  With many areas of floodplain.

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I was worried about friends.  I was worried about animals.  Anxious.  This wasn’t normal.  Then reports of deaths.  And mass flooding all through the city.  Evacuations.

Someone lost their life near my favorite trail…near that place where I stood face to face with a deer.  Where a woman waved at me as I took a picture of deep purple irises.  I know that area like the back of my palm.  I have been there every two weeks since July.

Everyone said Boulder was underwater.  That the roads to Estes and Lyons were closed.  Those places were impassable.

On the news, I saw that sign that marked the spot where I saw the golden cows.  You couldn’t see the red rocks or the sun.  There weren’t any cows.  Just the Big Thompson–angry and violent.  No one would be picking up a cherry pie today.

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These places are more than just pretty pictures.  They hold memories of people we’ve loved and people we’ve been.  Of situations we’ve gotten through, and destinations we didn’t intend.  Just as when fire stripped Poudre Canyon of its trees and color, I know these places will return–different, but still beautiful.  I know these stories will just add more meaning to the character of the landscape.  I know–and have seen how–these things bring out the best in people.  I know my fellow Coloradans are amazingly giving people who stick up for one another.

I know this, but it still makes me sad that some things have to die for life to begin again.  No matter how awe-inspiring and beautiful it is.

Photos: http://photos.denverpost.com/2013/09/12/photos-massive-flash-flooding-along-front-range-of-colorado/

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