Louis L’Amour and the Quaking Aspens!

I’ve been enjoying a Louis L’Amour novel this fall, while also indulging myself in some amazing quaking aspens.

aspen 2018 near Blanca Peak

Up above Cuchara near Cordova Pass…

back of Blanca Peak with golden aspen 2018

and up by Blanca Peak! Now is the BEST TIME to see some beauties!

Have you ever read the novel Conagher? A friend bought me a copy and said I had to read it, so I did. She said it reminded her of her dilemma since she moved here a few years ago. She loves the silence and isolation of her new life in the mountains, but sometimes craves companionship with someone special.

Conagher book

I thought Mr. L’Amour only wrote about the men of the West, but this novel is about a lonely female settler in rural New Mexico in the late 1800s who finds an ingenious way to connect with lonely cowboys. She even finally finds love way out in the middle of nowhere and just by chance. I love Mr. L’Amour’s descriptions of the beautiful but lonely West. Here’s a few lines from the main character Evie:

“She never tired of the morning and evenings here, the soft lights, the changing colors of sunlight and cloud upon the hills, the stirring of wind in the grass. Out here there was no escaping the sky or the plains, and Evie knew that until she came west she had never really known distance.”

I find it interesting how this character somehow captures my own feelings after just a year or so of living here, giving a marvelous explanation of how one adjusts to the silence and beauty of this unique and lovely landscape:

Sunrise through snowy trees January 2018

“Evie Teale suddenly became aware of something else. For the first time she was at peace here, really at peace. She had believed the land was her enemy, and she had struggled against it, but you could not make war against a land any more than you could against the sea. One had to learn to live with it, to belong to it, to fit into its seasons and its ways…”

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Why I love where I live!

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AMAZING views of a thunderstorm south of us and heading towards Walsenburg and Trinidad! The mountain is the East Peak of the Spanish Peaks. In Navajo we just got big winds and tiny bits of rain…

Creativity and Memory Loss

I heard the most amazing statistic the other day on the PBS News Hour:

Creative artists experience 73% less memory loss and Alzheimers than others!

I believe it too! For me, creativity has been the key to maintaining the memory I have left after a traumatic brain injury ten years ago and 2 or 3 concussions.

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Photography, writing, interior design, and gardening are the areas I love to explore in a creative way. Creativity seems to truly relax my mind and let it flow in its own way.

The wonderful monsoon rains we have been experiencing since our Spring Wildfire the week of the 4th of July have done my garden a world of good! Plus Mike has been helping out building retaining walls in the garden.

cloudy Spanish Peaks with snow and garden

Our yard is right on the edge of a hill facing the Spanish Peaks, so we have to build it up or it will all wash away eventually.

nice garden scene at comanche drive

I’m now working on rebuilding the garden after the terrible drought we had here all winter and spring. I took another trip over to see my friends at my favorite hangout, Perennial Favorites near Rye, Colorado. They pointed out a few plants that seem to not interest the deer around here, so now I have a lavender Hyssop plant, Russian sage, only the yellow yarrow not the other colors, etc. They were so kind. They gave me two free plants because of our evacuation situation.

With all of the the rain we’ve been getting (over 3 inches so far this month!) and the cooler temperatures I enjoy working outside again. I have new garden hope!

BEAUTY is the GARDEN where HOPE grows!

What would you take in a wildfire evacuation?

Being evacuated from our lovely new home in southern Colorado last Saturday, as the “Spring Fire” raged west of us, was a first for me. What should I take? What would I really miss if I never saw it again?

The irony was not lost on me. Four years ago we got rid of most of our personal belongings to move down here from Fort Collins. At that point I felt like half of the selection at the local Goodwill was mine! We moved from a 2,000 square foot house up north, into a 1,000 square foot rental in Walsenburg for a year, while building a 1,400 square foot passive solar retirement home in the foothills.

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We have been in our new home less than three years now. Within that process I have learned so much about non-attachment. It is true. Clearing out the space around you does help you to clear your mind. We usually choose to keep things around that remind us of our past loves, trips, and lives.

So what did I quickly pack into my car last week? All of my pictures and journals going back decades, my books, an ink painting I picked up at the Great Wall of China, my cloisonne ginger jar from China, clothes I like to wear, my entire desktop computer, a big Chinese lacquer box and quilts my Mom made. I wanted to load up my Mom’s hope chest, built by her in 1950, but it was just too heavy for us to lift.

Driving away from our new home was devastating. We had struggled and suffered so hard to put this new home here in the Colorado outback. Were we really going to just leave it here to burn?

morning sun on comanche drive

As you can probably imagine, this week has provided gigantic ups and downs for me. Just a few days ago I watched as tremendous plumes of smoke rose up near our new home. Ask Mike. I was one hot mess!

Now that the smoke has cleared, literally, I can feel nothing but supremely fortunate to live in a country that takes care of us when we are so terribly vulnerable.

We spoke to one of those great Forest Service men in Walsenburg yesterday. He was explaining where the fire is now and then my friend ask him how we might make donations to help their cause. He said, “We can’t take tips, this is our job.” His partner came over and said, “Just keep paying your taxes…”

Retirement in rural southern Colorado: If you don’t take the risk, how will you ever know?

Four years ago, on June 17th, Mike and I sold our nice home in suburbia and left behind everything familiar to us. After living up in the Fort Collins area for the past few decades, this move felt like a gigantic leap of faith.

906 Deer Creek Lane front view

Here’s a photo of our past home in south Fort Collins. In the past four years it has increased in value more than $100,000! Wow, the prices of homes up in metroland are growing by leaps and bounds!

morning sun on comanche drive

After over a year of emotional and financial struggle, we triumphed over a million difficult challenges to create this passive solar home west of Walsenburg Colorado. We have been quite happy living here for the past few years. Retirement agrees with us, and especially in such a quiet, natural part of the West. BTW, passive solar works great down here!

Most of my worries about moving here never came to pass, and other completely unexpected problems replaced those. The biggest challenges for me have been health-related. My body made a quick decision to start falling apart soon after age 60, creating new opportunities for compassion towards others who suffer. And the truth is, I have met so many here who have been forced to retire early because of health concerns and disabilities.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Huerfano, meaning orphan, is a poor, rural county down near the New Mexico border, with a total population of around 6,500 and an average age of 54 years. With few good jobs and an abundance of natural beauty, the Huerfano attracts those with less money and more appreciation of rugged country and rural life. We live on three acres in the Pinon-Juniper ecosystem right around 7,000 feet elevation.

Judging by the rapid increase in traffic in Walsenburg, the many homes sold here in the past few years, and how crazy Highway 160 has become in the summer, it looks like this area has been “discovered” by those living up north in metroland.

AMAZING sunrise over the Spanish Peaks January 2018

We have found this area to be slow and quiet, especially in the winter, and windy as hell. If you hate the wind, don’t move here! The slow country ways are what now attract me. I can go into La Veta and always see people I know. I like that.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

Laura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. She has produced four books and one workbook on personal change, midlife psychology and how country living changes you.

Don’t miss her new one: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

Why take major risks in midlife?

Mike at home

Mike woke up one day after we moved in, went straight outside and did this!

I met a nice couple who just moved in below us on Tuesday. They are like us, newlyweds in their 60s from the metro area up north. They came by to explore their new neighborhood, although in our case the homes are pretty far apart. I showed them my memoir about the tough process we went through when we first got here and they bought one.

Then I started reading my memoir again. How time flies! It’s been almost four years now since we plopped ourselves down in Walsenburg, and started building west of town. And yes, an author can actually forget what they wrote a few years ago.

Although certainly imperfect, this book is an honest and funny account of my experiences in a part of our country which at first felt a bit like a foreign land. Building here was fraught with major challenges. In case you don’t know, one definition of fraught is: “causing great anxiety or stress.”

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you now imagine.  – Thoreau

Why did we do it? Here’s a short essay from my book that explains everything:

The American Dream In Progress  –   March 6, 2015

I am surprised how much interest there is in building solar in rural America. My views on this blog have increased dramatically recently, and that includes views from all over the world.

But then I got to thinking, and realized the dream we are presently pursuing is the most fundamental of all. The immigrants who risked everything to come to America did so just to be able to purchase their own land and build a new life here. Having your own piece of land is, in a sense, what this country is all about.

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

Mike on an ancient cedar before we had to cut it down!

This realization makes me very happy and proud. My husband Mike has held this dream for most of his life. Building a passive solar home has been his primary goal since he was a teenager. Now we almost have our home completed, and in spite of the many unexpected difficulties and inconveniences that have arisen in this process, we will soon be living the life we only dreamt of last year.

Hold on to your dreams! Don’t give up when those dreams require taking risks that scare you. Don’t let others talk you out of your most important goals. You have the needed vision to live your dream.

“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” –  Chinese proverb 

Do YOU have what it takes to follow your dreams? Check out my memoir…  and please follow me on Twitter!

Now that I’ve gotten used to being ‘old’…

An elder friend told me years ago, ‘old’ is always ten years older than you are right now! Actually, I still do struggle with the apparent fact that I am now 63 years old. In my mind people in their sixties are like my grandparents. They are retired, checked out of the work world. I barely remember my grandparents before they retired. I mostly remember them as elderly folks who hung out a lot watching TV. This all reminds me of how different and out of it I must seem to kids today.

I’m beginning to think I’m the last person on planet earth who has never owned a “smart” phone and never really needed one.

I still communicate with my friends through e-mail to set up dates, etc. It works and does not add all those additional monthly expenses for mobile phones. I suppose my thrifty nature has made it possible for us to retire early… But then you do run into the whole, “What do you do with your life now?” question.

First of all, anything would be better than my life back in 2004 when I lost my last job. I was driving a hour each way to Denver to work at Regis University Libraries. I swear I’m still suffering from back and shoulder pain from that daily trek down I-25 to a job I hated, with people who apparently hated me. After six years I got fired in a way that felt like the end of life itself.

That turned out to be the best thing ever! Yes, my life since then has been the perfect example of this Chinese parable from 2,000 years ago:

A Chinese farmer gets a beautiful horse, but it soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad!” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. 

The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, but is then thrown and breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared...

Proving once again that nothing is as it seems at the time. From my first (and ONLY!) firing as a professional librarian at age 49, I learned that it’s best not to get too hung up on what happened today. Even something that seems like the worst EVER can turn out to be a hidden opportunity to improve your life!

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Our Walsenburg rental, an 100-year-old miner’s home!

My best example of this is four years ago when we moved down here to build solar in the foothills. When we first got here I was not certain this was such a great idea. Moving from an up-and-coming city like Fort Collins to a poor, quiet, rundown town like Walsenburg left me thinking,

“Is this a bad thing? Have I lost my mind?”

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

But resilience and patience got us through the difficult adjustment and building stage, and today I am supremely happy to be here now.

Lesson to Myself: Allow LOTS of time for personal adjustment around major life changes.

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One new hobby I took up after moving here, photography!

And yes, we do find excellent ways to spend our days, even in retirement. We have learned to enjoy a much slower pace with lots of time to just be. I have also learned how to truly live in the present.

If you can find a better way to live your life, go for it!

“There’s nothing sweeter than falling in love with the moment we’re given, the only one we have.”  — Marcia Smalley