The faces of our Colorado tour guides are earnest. We had just finished the tour of their cabin, walls festooned with Ohms and happy platitudes. There were spaces for yoga. Now we were outside. Our boys were about 20 feet up the incredible rock formations so my attention was about equally split between the hippy settlers, the huge and numerous piles of dog crap and the possible sound of a son crashing into paralysis. I look back to their faces, one eager like the enormous dog and one open like a super moon. They are nodding vigorously sometimes in rhythm, sometimes just off beat until I wonder about destructive interference in the waves of their affirmations.
Steve is looking at me with an eyebrow raised, the man has his arms out like a shotgun and all of a sudden he is blasting away some invisible intruder. “If you take this place” he tells me “you will need to defend yourself.” “You will need to be armed.”
“For the bears?” I ask this beacon of love and light. “Well, you would never shoot a bear unless you had to…” “But you never know about the people out here.”
I let that sit for a bit.
He told us he would leave behind gold panning equipment and Leo was ready to tirelessly sift to fund our family right after he bought every minecraft add on ever made. Oliver was interested in the sky. They told him he could see the entire milky way, and even without science behind them he took their point. There was nothing nothing nothing here. And that was everything to him. For the first time Colorado felt like home.
We climbed one of the smaller hills and looked down at the pond. Leo grabbed a large chunk of quartz from the ground. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked me and before I could answer he continued “I wonder what I could get for it on the internet.”
We walked back along the stream bed and saw trout and fallow raspberries. The gravel voiced woman had told us of sage and lavender, wild onions and mushrooms. They pointed out the “zoo window” in the kitchen where the animals had worn a natural staircase down the mountain right to the pantry door. While she told me of rabbits and squirrels I ran a disney soundtrack in my head. Then she moved up the food chain to black bears and I couldn’t hear her over “night on bald mountain.” The path to the pantry was a Colorado wildlife highway.
Inside again all of the cabin windows darkened behind tapestries. I pulled them back to reveal aspen groves and red rocks. I imagined a snug fire in the fireplace, maybe with rain falling outside the big picture window. My kids are tired from climbing, dramamine, and the endless lyrical grate of our guide’s voice. She is telling them about lightening now. How it is not a joke out here and they need to get inside as quickly as possible if a storm hit. Leo didn’t think this was a problem, he can run faster than the wind and maybe he could here. One little dot in the 3 million acres of National Forest. Populated by bears, and birds, and the occasional human visitor who may or may not get their head blown off by the man of the house.
It is time to head home and the wind has picked up. The field isn’t golden anymore, the clouds have thinned in anger and the sky has lost its blue. Leo shivers in his t shirt as he gathers arm loads of sticks for the ride home. Our host tells us there are plenty of coats in the cabin. “I’ll leave some for you” he chirps. ” Gold panning equipment, a row boat and coats. What else would we need? We can gather our own sticks.
At home the sticks come into our kitchen which for once really does seem snug.
“Why are these inside?” Asks Steve. “I don’t want anyone to TAKE them” Leo responds forcefully. Three hours removed from the cabin the magic has faded. Our imaginary life of bears and shot guns pushed aside by minecraft, laundry and risotto.
But we will always have the Colorado sticks.