Nine years ago this month, Mike and I drove down from Fort Collins to choose a few acres in Navajo to buy. We didn’t know much about this area, only that we loved how it felt to our suburban souls. It took us another year to build our passive solar home facing the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Mount Mestas to our west.
I was reminded again early this morning why I love living here. I woke up around 6:30 AM to see an unobstructed view of a bright red sunrise to our southeast. This is BIG SKY country to me, where the landscape and the silence are the main characters! Every time I go outside in the morning I stop and feel astounded by the silence. This is what the earth used to be like. Maybe a few bird sounds, but otherwise perfect silence…
Sure there are also unattractive features to this area, but the land is encouraging and haunting all at once, and the summers are glorious!
Our first summer here we had so much fun exploring the back roads and back stories, like this dilapidated adobe schoolhouse slowly sinking back into the earth west of here…
or taking the train up to Fir to hear the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band play in a big mountain meadow.
When I first met Mike he said he wasn’t moving again until he could look at something besides the house across the street.
We found this cartoon in a magazine and laughed together about it. Then we went in search of someplace with truly ‘spectacular views.’
I only wish I would have known long before I did, that the more interesting life you lead, the more fun you will have remembering it in your 60s. To celebrate my birthday this year, I have decided to share with you a few of the crazy adventures I have had through the years. These are the things I enjoy thinking about today. Sometimes it feels a bit like reading someone else’s tales, but I’m not making any of this up!
Early in my time at Colorado College, a few of us decided to go backpacking in Canyonlands in southern Utah in August of 1973. BTW, it’s super hot and dry there in August! Showing further bad judgment, we decided to split up into three separate groups.
My friend Margie and I decided to follow a trail that led to Peek-a-boo Springs and near there we found a cave with some amazing artifacts in it! We camped there for a couple days and then headed back to meet up with the other two groups, but they never arrived. We decided to talk to the rangers who were quite concerned because of the heat and extreme lack of water at that time of year. We ended up flying over the entire Salt Creek Canyon in a helicopter searching for our friends. In the meantime, the rangers got confused and called my parents to report that I was lost in Canyonlands. It all ended up fine. The one friend ran into a rattlesnake and decided to turn around. The other two hiked the whole Salt Creek Canyon and came out the other end none too worse for wear.
Then there was the time a friend and I joined up with her boyfriend and another guy who said they were being paid to move a sailboat from the west end of Puerto Rico (Mayaguez) all the way to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. For future reference, this is NOT a good plan. We were going against the wind the whole time and only made it as far as Ponce before we decided it was basically an impossible task. But three of us still wanted to see Tortola so we took a flight there for a week. We stayed on Cane Garden Bay and loved every minute of it! There were very few tourists because Hurricane Hugo had come through in September 1989, so we had the place to ourselves.
To tell you the truth, building this rural passive solar home in southern Colorado was also more of an adventure than either Mike or I were looking for. Being new here, we had no idea what we were up against, like only one building inspector for the entire county, and it just went on and on with an amazing number of major obstacles and delays. Sometimes it felt like a hopeless battle just finishing it, because our builder kept putting us off. Finally we dead-lined him with, “We’re not paying you until it’s finished.” and “We need to move out of our rental the end of July.” Finally something worked!
All in all I feel super lucky with how my life has gone. So many of the circumstances seemed like that old Chinese tale about deciding too soon that an apparent misfortune is in fact a blessing in disguise. I loved all of my river trips, backpacking trips, adventures abroad, various chance meetings and romantic liaisons, because they led me to this exact moment in this tremendously beautiful place with the love of my life. I am quite content with that.
Shoot me an e-mail if you would like to learn more about our decision to move south and our experience with building a solar home west of Walsenburg. My book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.
In my last post I wrote about healing relationships, relationships that truly saved my life. But I have not yet shared one of the most important transitions I have gone through in the past eight years. I hear so much these days about Boomers who are trying to find the best place to retire. Of course, that will be different for each of us, but for me, retiring as close to nature as possible has transformed me. And the irony is that I was not certain at all whether I wanted to come here in the first place.
Eight years ago at this time, Mike and I was crazy busy preparing to sell our beautiful home in the Fort Collins suburbs so we could build a passive solar home on three acres west of Walsenburg, Colorado. Mike was always convinced that this was his ideal retirement plan. I was not so sure. Still surprised that I would even be able to retire by age 60, our options still hadn’t struck me. Then, after we moved into a rundown old miner’s home in town while we built our new home 13 miles west of there, I became really worried. I could not figure out where I was for a while. You try moving from a big cosmopolitan city to a tired old town of less than 3,000 souls, then you tell me if you don’t feel a whole lot of culture shock.
Our first year down here was difficult. So many disappointments and worker slow downs in construction, not to mention health concerns. But we did prevail and moved into our brand new home a little over one year later…
Oh, did I mention the view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Rangefrom our new home?
When we first moved in, nothing seemed real. I felt like I had moved into a fancy foothills resort and the management would be coming soon to kick us out. After living in cities and suburbia for most of my life, this felt a bit like make-believe. To finally live in a naturally warm, energy-saving home that we had designed specifically for our needs and up to our standards with a view like that? Wow! But the best was yet to come.
The escape from the frenetic energy of cities was the best! I don’t know that I can properly describe exactly how peaceful this place felt after living with all of that crowding and traffic my whole life. The silence was astounding! I loved to go out in the morning, sit down and just soak it all in; the sunrises, the bird songs, the trees, the mountains. How did I end up here?
In the years since, my love of this place has grown and grown along with my sky garden, dedicated to my brother. How was I ever so lucky? With many new health challenges including head injuries and the need for permanent supplemental oxygen, I still feel so content to watch the sunrise each morning and look out over that tremendous view, knowing that I have finally found the place I belong.
In June 2014 we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our home in Fort Collins, and took off for an ancient rental in Walsenburg, Colorado. It was then we named ourselves the “NEW Old Farts” because we were barely 60 years old. I have been sharing our retirement story here on this blog since October 2014; the year long passive solar construction wins and losses, the big move in and our gradual adjustment to life in rural Colorado. We have fallen in love with living in tune with the sun and seasons, waking up each day amazed to find ourselves in such a beautiful, quiet, natural place. Good luck choosing the perfect place to make your own retirement dreams come true!
Please contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to purchase copies of any of my books.Thanks!
We went up north again this past weekend to spend time with old friends, checkout a boat and the scene around Fort Collins. After leaving over seven years ago, I must say we are so pleased to not live there anymore! One of Mike’s friends bought a new home out east in Severance a couple years ago, so we stayed there. East of I-25 it’s non-stop construction… it appears they are building another city just east of the city!
The drive up was so stress-producing for us, after living twenty minutes outside of a one-stop-light town for so long. Colorado Springs-Denver-Fort Collins seem almost like one gigantic city now. And by the time we got to our friend’s house we were beat. Hours of intense traffic is hell on the human body! Our friend Rad has chosen to install the most ‘wired’ home I have ever seen. The security system actually chirps at you as you walk up to the front door, to tell you that you are being filmed. Rasta had to pee in the middle of the night and I had to get everyone up to turn off the alarm before I could open the back door. Convenient or inconvenient?
It’s like another world up there and everyone we know now works from home much of the time. Mike and I were jealous. There is no way we could have worked from home as a solar design engineer and a reference librarian back in the day. So glad we got out when we did!
The world is changing fast and we are not. That works for us 🙂
We have a strong Christmas tradition at our house. On the snowiest day after December 1st, we get out our old copy of the film “Polar Express”, make some hot chocolate and watch again the story of keeping the magic alive. Each year we seem to see new details that we have never noticed before. This year this quote really struck home for me:
“The Thing About Trains…It doesn’t matter where they’re going. Whatmatters is deciding to GET ON…”
I already had the theme of transformation on my mind before we started watching. How much had our lives transformed themselves since we started watching this movie? What had brought on these major changes and how did we have enough faith to believe in those dreams? We had followed our dreams all the way south to Walsenburg, and then built a new home because we believed so much in harnessing the power of the sun to make our lives better. Mike had so much confidence in his ability to construct a exemplary passive solar home, and I believed in his ability to make our lives better.
Granted, our first year here was rough by any standard. We could find only one place to rent in Walsenburg for that year and it was a hundred years old and mighty crusty. Building a house is always messy, and especially in mid-winter in a rural area with few qualified workers.
We gave up on the idea of having a Christmas tree that year, because our stuff was scattered everywhere and we didn’t have room for one anyway! We just hung our stockings on the wall and called it good.
But the house did get finished eventually, (in July) and we moved in August 1st 2015. The next Christmas was a delight! We were able to go out and cut our own tree on our land. What a beauty!
As the years go by, holidays like Christmas can become a touchstone as we think back to many previous and precious holidays with friends and family. I was inspired to look back at so many old family photographs this week. I wanted to put together a special baby brag book for my Mom to fill her with joy, because she has always LOVED KIDS!
Just to remind her of past holidays with her kids (as little ones), her grandkids and…
…our special addition Nicky, who arrivedinAugust 2021!