1883: “You have the journey – that’s it!”

I have been blown away by watching the Yellowstone prequel “1883” in the past week or so. I did not know a “western” could be so poetic, authentic and full of heart. I loved it so much I watched it again after I got back from Christmas and loved it even more!

First, a little background. I was raised in Kansas near the prairie where my ancestors arrived many decades before me. When I first started reading books, I loved stories about the pioneer West. The first stories I ever wrote were about Native Americans and their ponies. Then I started reading everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the personal journals of westward women. I only wanted to play “pioneer woman” as a kid. I guess you could say I have been unconsciously searching for the perfect “western” my whole life. I finally found it in “1883.”

First of all I love that the main character and narrator is a teenage woman. The whole story is told from Elsa’s perspective, with just the right combination of authentic and sensitively-written narrative and dialogue. I felt like I could see into Elsa’s heart, while also understanding the other characters’ inner lives as well. As the writer, Taylor Sheridan, explains in “Behind the Story,” he wanted this story to feel as intimate for the audience as reading a good novel, or even the personal journal of a young woman on a wagon train heading west. He does a masterful job of that, and yet I keep wondering how a man could have such an intimate understanding of a teenage woman’s worldview.

As I think about it now, the ever-changing landscape is the main character in this story, that and the silence. So many of Elsa’s observations remind me of my own after moving to rural Colorado eight years ago. My amazement at the silence and beauty of each sunrise and sunset, the comfort of the wildlife passing by our home each day, the glorious seasons we experience so intimately, this is what I love about living out here. Elsa’s story seems to authentically capture the beauty and the violence of the American West over one hundred years ago around the time the transcontinental railroad began changing everything. There is so much truth in some of her observations like:

“I think cities have weakened us as a species.”

Another profound aspect of Elsa’s story is how living in the West allowed so much more freedom for women. I enjoyed watching her relationship with her mother develop as her Mom tries to remind her of the limitations of being a woman in 1880s America. Elsa rebels every chance she gets. Elsa enjoyed the loss of rules and customs as they moved west. The big transition came when she decided she was a cowboy and got herself some pants to wear instead of dresses.

I loved the writer’s sensitive portrayal of the other characters, especially when it came to ‘race.’ Race is not a word I use, because I do not believe we humans are different ‘races.’ But back in 1880s America, blacks were treated badly as a general rule. Thomas, the old Civil War friend of Shea, played by the wagon train boss Sam Elliott, understood how badly others could treat him for being black, as he stated at one point, “You ain’t never been whipped.” Native Americans play an important role in this saga and mostly as sympathetic characters including members of the Comanche and Crow tribes. The true “bad guys” of this Western are “bandits.”

Suffice to say this is by far the best western story I have ever seen. It shows the beauty and severe violence of the American West in no uncertain terms, and I believe it may be more authentic as a story than any other I have read. I found the very last phrase in this story so vivid and relevant to my state of mind these days –

“There is a moment when your dreams and memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven, and each heaven is unique. It is the world of you…”

Our Circus Squirrel Performs!

The latest from our backyard garden melodrama. A squirrel just climbed up and started riding around on the new wind whirley-gigs that Mike re-painted this past week…

First she climbed this one but I didn’t have my camera ready…

Then she went up this one and started to enjoy the ride!

Next, it was up to the upper level….

For a quick run around upstairs!

Maybe she went up there for a better view.

Then she turned around, took a bow and waved byebye!

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!

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 idealized illusions you may have about finding pastoral perfection. You may eventually find it, but it will take some work!

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 a century-old miner’s home, 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 to learn more about our big move to 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!

Our Parents’ Spirit Lives Inside Of Us!

I just watched a marvelous story on CBS Saturday Morning, where a young woman lost both of her parents at age 18. The thought floored me. I do not know how I would have survived such an overwhelming blow to my own spirit. And then she said,

“Their spirit is in me.”

I lost my father one month ago, right before this terrible virus started ravishing the entire human race. But thankfully, I see everyday how his spirit is in me. My Dad was a born teacher. He taught others his whole life. We are now learning how many of his past students saw him as a powerful life mentor. The part of his spirit that only spoke to me in the second part of my life was his love of native plants. I have kept a native plants garden since my 40s, learning more each summer about why certain plants thrive in Colorado’s higher, drier elevations. Since moving to a semi-arid Pinon Juniper woodland in 2014, I continue to learn how to plant and nurture the plants that my Dad loved and the ones that love this arid climate. Now that spring has arrived…

I go out to tend my “sky garden” everyday, with its unobstructed view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, knowing full well that I never would have chosen to live in such a quiet, natural place if my Dad hadn’t taken us out camping as children and taught us to appreciate everything about nature. Mike has developed a love of the local birds, which he feeds and provides water for everyday. We have learned to recycle our inedible leftovers by leaving them down the hill for every variety of animals, including ravens and vultures.

We feed the earth as it feeds us...

And speaking of eating, my Mom taught me to produce healthy, nutritious meals for my family by her excellent example. She was not taught to cook by her mother and only began learning when she married my Dad in 1951. Then she turned that skill into an amazing art. By junior high school, when my Mom started working full-time, I began making our family dinners, great training for life!

Mom also followed her grandmother and mother’s tradition by taking up sewing and turning herself into a top-notch seamstress. She first made really pretty dresses for us as kids, and then graduated to beautiful quilts and other meaningful gifts for her friends and family:

Mom-made from Grandma Carter’s bedspread

All of these wonderful pastimes and useful skills dim beside the myriad of intangible lessons learned from my parents like respect for others, intelligence, science, solid research, good communications and a lifelong desire to learn more everyday.

I saw a very powerful program on PBS this week about the Windermere children. This is the story of some Jewish kids who lost every member of their families in the German death camps in World War II. They were generously given a new lease on life at the Windermere Estates in England after the war. This is a story of AMAZING strength and resilience, and fascinating in terms of early child psychology research and the use of art therapy. Please check it out sometime. This story strongly reinforces my gratitude that I was able to know my parents and grandparents for as long as I did.

Their spirit lives inside of me!