My Love Letter to Colorado

The Flatirons in the 1960s from Crossroads Mall, our favorite place to shop!

I was introduced to Colorado at the ripe old age of twelve when my Dad decided to take a new job in Boulder. A move from Emporia Kansas to this mecca of hippie culture in 1966 moved me fast forward into a new way of seeing. I’ll never forget the time some guy on “The Hill” offered me acid at age thirteen. I much preferred candy at The Country Store on Broadway at that age. For us the culture shock was just beginning!

A couple years later we moved to Colorado Springs so my Dad could take a job at Colorado College. From one of the national centers of hippie culture to a majorly conservative military town, how shocking for our young, vulnerable minds. Between Fort Carson, The Air Academy, Peterson Air Force Base and NORAD, the military presence was hard to miss, and our teachers in junior high and high school were often retired military officers. My brother John, the natural rebel, had the most trouble with the conservatives there. He got suspended from school for wearing a peace symbol around his neck! We all wore black armbands when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine on May 4th 1970. This was the first time I protested anything.

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio… ” – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Then I went to college for short periods at Colorado College (2 years), University of Northern Colorado (1 semester) and CU-Boulder in quick succession. What was I seeking? To understand Asia and learn Chinese after living in Bangkok at the end of the Vietnam War.

Over the years after college I lived in Asia, on the West Coast (Seattle), near the East Coast (Cornell University) collecting graduate degrees and worked at a number of university libraries. But Boulder always called me back. I felt safe and comfortable there. After one of my most harrowing years, studying Chinese at the Stanford Center in Taipei, I found myself sitting there wondering where I should move next. I chose Boulder, a place where I always felt safe and comfortable. I ended up with a position at CU-Boulder libraries for a few years.

Mount Blanc Fall of 2018

So really the theme of my life has been, go out and explore the world, then return to Colorado for safety and reassurance…

The crowning glory of my love for Colorado has been our move six years ago down to the foothills west of Walsenburg. With an astounding view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, out in the country, far from all people noise, that’s the Colorado I love best! I have climbed peaks, run rivers. even biked a few off-road trails, but now I’m happy just looking outside and dreaming of past adventures…

“The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. YEATS

Photos of building passive solar in Colorado in the winter: Deck the roof, not the halls!

My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.

Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.

I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…

But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.

We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!

The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!

But there were still a million more details to work out…

but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.

Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop! We cannot get enough of this even years later. The silence is magnificent!

What’s blooming in my Colorado Sky Garden?

After two inches of rain in the past few weeks (!) my garden is smiling every day now. It seems the worst is over from the critters eating everything that blooms.

First of all, we just fledged our second set of Rocky Mountain Blue Bird chicks this week!

My Russian Sage and Purple Hissup are in full bloom now…

And falling under the believe-it-or-not category, my Red Riding Hood Penstemon is blooming again after only being planted this May!

Everything else is smiling brightly, even the cholla cacti I transplanted here a couple years ago!

They’re not blooming yet, but I look forward to seeing them bloom next July!

My Portulacas are even smiling through their protective cage top. Be careful or the critters will climb up there and eat you!

And then there are our native Navajo sunflowers, volunteering again this July!

How Careful Observation, Writing, and Gardening Create New Meaning

One week ends another begins, but both seem the same. It’s that sameness that wears on us. The near term is the same, and the future seems clearly uncertain. It’s impossible to make travel plans, not just for now but for the fall and winter. Some people have started referring to 2020 as the “Lost Year.” Imagine how those in my family feel, having lost my Dad right before “the virus” took over our lives.

I am saddened to learn that COVID-19 may be taking a toll on Americans’ heart health even if we’re not infected with the virus. According to new research, cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are on the rise among those without any specific illness. This occurs when part of the heart becomes enlarged and is unable to pump blood effectively, preceded by intense emotional or physical stress.

Everybody deals with this kind of stress differently. I think it’s easier for us gardeners. We have something in our lives that brings us daily joy. We can go outside each morning and enjoy the summer blooms! The fact that our plants need us, even marginally, also helps. Let’s face it, we all need to feel needed. This is why we all need to find positive distractions from this sad time in all of our lives.

I relate to these issues more than most. I sometimes pass out from lack of oxygen and am not certain if I will take my next breathe. I struggle daily to find the good in everything, like the 4th of July celebrations on TV last week. I want to feel good about my country again and positive about our future, but it isn’t easy if I watch the news too much.

So I go outside and walk around my garden. I hang out with the birds and bees, literally! I watch the birds taking a carousel ride on Mike’s great purple wind sculpture.

I sit quietly and observe the end to another glorious day, as the sun sets over Mount Mestas to our West.

Sometimes I take photos of the sunny still life developing on my bedroom wall as the sun comes up each morning. My appreciation of my eye sight is increased one hundred-fold as it diminishes with worsening cataracts.

These are the moments that sustain me… What are yours?

Penstemons are my friends!

After five years of trying to get a Colorado foothills garden going, I have discovered how much I LOVE Penstemons!

First of all, I have a very early blooming native, I believe it is Penstemon buckleyi, that volunteers as one of the earliest blooms in my garden!

Then I started some Penstemon Strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) four years ago and look at them now! They also bloom quite early, in mid-May. They spread nicely too!

This year I bought two new versions that are supposed to be red. My garden is almost all purple at this point in time.

Amazingly, the Red Riding Hood variety (Schmidel?) is already in full bloom!

I also bought two Penstemon pinifolius and put them in. According to my book exclusively on Penstemons, “Penstemon pinifolius is an attractive low-growing evergreen plant with showy, scarlet flowers in June to August.” Mine are just tiny this year. I hope they bloom next year!

My point is that these are the kind of plants to grow here because they are natives! The critters don’t eat them (at least not so far…). They spread nicely and fill up their space by a foot or two, and they love it here!

Want to learn lots more about penstemons? This is a wonderful book for that purpose: Penstemons: The Beautiful Beardtongues of New Mexico.

Exciting new wildlife sightings!

Just a few days ago Mike was out hiking when he heard a loud sound just ten feet to his left.

He glanced over to see a deer struggling with a mountain lion on top of him! Mike was so stunned he stood there for about 20 seconds and then started walking away quickly. He never made eye contact with the big cat.

Last night Mike found a five foot snake out on our patio. Snakes might be just the thing to get rid of those varmits who keep eating my flowers!

Leaving the city behind for a new, rural lifestyle – My Colorado experience

Six years after leaving the suburbs of Fort Collins (50 miles from the Wyoming border), for a new lifestyle west of Walsenburg (50 miles from the New Mexico border), I feel I have a good sense of what that kind of major change feels like.

The first thing you must do if you are considering a similar change is to let go of any romantic, idealized illusions you may have about finding pastoral perfection.

Think of this move as a complete ‘leap of faith” That’s what it felt like to me! And in case you didn’t get the memo yet, in this lifetime, perfection is a mirage… I didn’t have any delusions of grandeur, I was just plain scared. What if I hated it??? It was definitely a precipitous move on my part. I just didn’t know what to expect. On the other hand, Mike was certain this was the right move for us. So we did it anyway, with all of my anxieties and fears fully intact…

When we arrived in Walsenburg with our full-to-the-brim U-haul truck , we moved into an ancient miner’s cabin, the only ‘decent’ rental in Walsenburg or La Veta in June 2014, and yes, it was as dirty and disgusting as it sounds. Then we started to work on finding an architect and a blueprint for the passive solar home we had been planning in our heads for years. We had already bought a few acres of land twelve miles west of town on a hill overlooking the Spanish Peaks. But because there was only one building inspector for the WHOLE COUNTY…

it took over five months just to get a proper heat-absorbing slab on our land.

But after ONLY eight more months, our 1,400 square foot passive solar home was completed! Building in this rural area is DIFFICULT and agonizingly slow! Did this surprise us? Somewhat. Timing was the source of much of our frustration and stress.

Our view of the Spanish Peaks the day they put up our roof!

But we (and our relationship!) survived, and the final product was as close to perfection as I have ever experienced. We joked around about the following cartoon before we moved down here:

But, as it turns out, this is actually true for us. For months after we moved in we would sit and stare at the mountains right outside our windows, drinking in complete silence and serenity every time we looked out.

It felt like we had moved into a deluxe foothills retreat as nice as anywhere we had ever stayed before. Almost daily I experienced inexplicable fear that the resort management would be coming around soon to kick us out!

With Mount Mestas to the west.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Looking for a lot more details about my rural Colorado experience? Check out my memoir here!

Send me an e-mail and I’ll give you a great price on a copy of your own: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Building a Southern Colorado Foothills Garden From Nothing – Summer Solstice 2020

So we have been living in rural southern Colorado for six years now, after a precipitous (on my part!) move down south from our nice home in suburban Fort Collins in June 2014. It took over a year to build our passive solar home here, because building in this rural area is DIFFICULT and agonizingly slow! Then came the garden…

Here is where we started out in 2015. Empty ground, which quickly turned into volunteer sunflowers and weeds in our first year here.

Four years later we are here.

The reason my garden is named after my brother John is because he came up from Arizona for a few years in a row to help us finish the hardscaping. He was here when we laid concrete out there. He was here the next May to help Mike lay out the stone walls…

John & Mike (above) finally laid down the gravel last May. Mike has also put his heart and soul into this project! And I should add, none of us have good backs in our mid-60s!

What a satisfying achievement though!

Through a few years of testing out a number of different native xeriscape plants, I have narrowed my selection down to those that actually survive the winters here and that terrible wind we get regularly.

Lavender and Spanish Peaks 2018.

Now I know what type of lavender luxuriates in this climate…

I also know Penstemons LOVE it here, as well as many kinds of birds, lizards, beetles, and butterflies!

A native Showy Four O’clock, Blue Mist Spirea, Yarrow, Red Knight Knautia and Catmint thrive here!

There have certainly been a number of frustrating moments in this process, but I love my garden now. It gives me GREAT and continuous JOY, especially in the spring & summer months…

BEAUTY IS THE GARDEN WHERE HOPE GROWS!

What are Superblooms? See photos of some in Southern Colorado!

Just this year I learned a new term that I find fascinating: SUPERBLOOM! Having never lived near one, I never gave them a thought. According to Wikipedia, a superbloom is:

A rare desert botanical phenomenon in which an unusually high proportion of wildflowers whose seeds have lain dormant in the soil, germinate and blossom at roughly the same time, like these California poppies to the left. This phenomenon is associated with an unusually wet rainy season. The term may have developed as a label in the 1990s.

Yellow fields of tea flowers in Navajo Ranch west of Walsenburg Colorado!

Well, I’m here to tell you, we have had two of these just since 2014 when we moved here! We are at 7,000 feet in the high desert of southern Colorado. When we first moved here we were receiving far above average spring rainfall in Walsenburg, where we lived from June 2014 to July 2015. Walsenburg averages around 15 inches of precipitation per year, but in May of 2015 we received over 6 inches of rain in one month! In 2015-2016 we received over 23 inches total for the water year!

That’s what helps to create a superbloom!

My first experience with a superbloom is documented in the header of this blog. In June 2015 we had fields full of Navajo tea flowers along Highway 510 on the way into our place. I had never seen such a thing!

Then in the summer of 2017 Navajo Ranch was inundated with sunflowers! We have had a regular crop of sunflowers around our new home, which we attributed to the soil we had to bring in for building, but this was big fields of sunflowers everywhere!

I love a nice crop of volunteers around our home each summer!

The bees also love it!