Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let It Snow

The other day when Julie and I were buying our season ski passes at Winter Park, one of the clerks said that the early snow had been the best they'd had in years. "It's, like, February conditions out there!" she enthused. And it's true that we have enjoyed pretty steady snow since before Thanksgiving. Happily, too, the wind hasn't been bad, so it's easy to see the number of inches based on the buildup on the railings enclosing the decks.

It's incredibly peaceful at the Lodge right now. About the only sound I hear when I cross from one building to the other is the crunch of my boots in the snow and the tinnitus in my ears. We're muddling about doing a lot of catch-up right now from the full house we had at Thanksgiving.

Reservations are sparse until the week before Christmas, when we will be jumping. However, between now and then, we expect reservations to pick up, courtesy of an incredible deal being offered by Winter Park: a two-night stay will net guests two free lift tickets at the area, and steep discounts for additional lift tickets. I expect that we will be getting a lot of last-minute reservations. Just remember: mid-week is the best time to ski, if you can play hooky from work.

The snow right now will make it worthwhile. Last year at this time, we were still seeing dead grass peeping through the snow in the pasture; not this year. The snow's already deep enough to hide virtually all the vegetation--though the horses dig down to it  quite happily.

Last night when I was driving back to the Lodge from Denver at 10 p.m., the wind was whipping up snow as I drove over Berthoud Pass. But my headlights illuminated the snow-covered evergreens rising on either side of the road. Because of the darkness, they looked almost two-dimensional: a painted backdrop for a stage play about the perfect Colorado vacation.

Or the perfect place to live. It was good to get home. And I didn't even mind shoveling off the decks this morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Horizontal Snow

Looking west from the High Mountain Lodge toward Sheep Mountain

When you live as high in the mountains as we do, directional dimensions can be a little confusing. Instead of the mountains being "up there," they are "over there"--directly in front of you. Clouds, too, don't seem so far up in the air as much as they appear to be in the next valley over, hiding behind a mountain, then drizzling down one of the valleys into the next lower drainage.

Why, even the stars scarcely know their place. True, the Milky Way still stretches across the heavens high enough that you have to look up to spot it in the inky-dark sky over the Lodge.

Nevertheless, it's pretty disconcerting to look out the window on a wakeful warm June night just before dawn to spot the Big Dipper upside-down on the horizon balancing on the line of the mountains, as if God had taken a drink, then upended the ladle in the dish drainer to dry out.

Up here, it's easy to believe the world really is flat and that the firmament truly is a bowl with holes in it to let through the light of the Empyrean in the form of the stars.

Consequently, we weren't all that surprised to wake up late last week to a snowstorm that had to come from a 360-degree torus of clouds encircling the Lodge. That was the only place the snow could be coming from: The sky above us was achingly blue and cloudless, but snow was drifting down quite steadily. It had to be coming from the horizontal clouds. No wind to speak of, but that snow didn't fool us; it was coming from "over there."

In successive days the weather got organized, and the clouds covered the whole sky. We had four successive days of pretty much non-stop snow. For the most part, the fall was gentle, though we had a few times when the wind kicked up. But over the course of those days, we got almost two feet of snow.

We bought our Winter Park ski passes last week when it was snowing, and one of the people waiting in line exclaimed that it was going to be the best Opening Day in many years. We couldn't wait! We skied the last day of the season in April, and we were going to ski the very next day that the lifts were open. Hoo-rah!

Alas, it was not to be. I had a choir rehearsal in Denver Tuesday evening, and Julie and I went down that morning to work on cleaning our old house and getting it ready to sell. It was balmy and warm (relatively) in Denver, but in mid-afternoon, Julie got a call from somebody wanting to spend the night at the Lodge because CDOT had closed Berthoud Pass and I-70 west of Denver.

So we spent the night with friends, and by the time we got back to the Lodge the next day, it was mid-afternoon. And today we spent time getting ready for guests this weekend. But even with the disappointment of not making Opening Day, there was some consolation in the sunset we experienced that night after the snow had cleared. You can't grumble too hard.



So we have yet to get our ski-legs under us. We are, however, within days of hitting the slopes. The next time the clouds band around the Lodge, we'll know to start sharpening those ski edges. It's only a matter of time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank you, soldiers and veterans


Well, we're almost to November 10. If the weather holds, we expect a lodge-full of active military personnel and veterans for Veterans Day. The weather forecast is for snow, and we've already had a few cancellations, but even so, we're going to have a lot of wonderful people visiting the High Mountain Lodge.

Last week, the pool boiler went the way of all flesh, and we wrestled the installation of a new one with the help of friends. We left it firing merrily when we went off to a B&B conference in Colorado Springs, and if we're lucky, when we get back to the lodge, it will have successfully raised the pool temp above the temperature of a November Colorado mountain stream. It will be just in time for soldiers, vets, and their families to enjoy.

It's hard to find another group of people who have made such personal sacrifices for our country. We're honored to welcome them to the lodge and hope to thank them personally when they arrive.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unexpected Beauty


It was not a dark and stormy night but a damp and chilly afternoon at the High Mountain Lodge. Who knew that the sun, obliterated by the clouds, still had enough gumption to turn the brown, dead fields into gold this afternoon....

Frequently it gets so staggeringly beautiful up here that you wonder if the Chamber of Commerce has a contract with some hideously expensive Hollywood special-effects company--as if the Winter Park/Fraser Valley C of C had enough money to conspire with the Big Boys to turn the valley spectacular at any season--including our current slow time....

Not that the Big Boys could pull this one off. They don't have enough imagination.

We live in a place where nature's gestures are overly large and embarrassingly dramatic. The clouds that in any other place would soar overhead, unreachable, here drizzle down the valleys like spilled buttermilk looking for a low place to sour the floorboards in the kitchen.

And, if the sights don't sock you in the eye, the smells in our valley would put a Paris perfumery to shame. Fallen wet aspen leaves have an indescribable dark aphrodisiacal musk to them. It doesn't take much for them to rot and become soil, but in the magical few weeks after they've given up dazzling our vision with their incomparable fall color and fallen to the ground, they ravage our nose instead of our eyes.

It's no wonder all the large mammals lose their minds this time of year. The elk go into rut and start to bugle; the foxes down in the willows scream at the drop of the hat; the moose do creepy moosey-rut things like destroying outhouses; and the coyotes, lordy, the coyotes behave like freshman frat boys having their first kegger.

When everything seems to be dying, the animals give the lie to the season. This is one of the most fertile times of the year. The colder it gets up here, the more life deepens, and when the snow is an even blanket hiding all that life, we'll be skiing on our future spring.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curse you, Marie Callender!

Yesterday in the late afternoon when I was relaxing from doing one of the innumerable chores around the Lodge, I took a break to watch Stupid TV. I don't know what channel it was or what the program was about: it was TV, and hence, stupid.

But I do remember that between episodes, most of the commercials were about food. There was the inevitable ad about that KFC sandwich that doesn't have bread (NB: I actually broke down in shame and ordered and ate one of them. Neither the flavor nor the grease justify the guilt factor. Skip this one.) Then the ads segued to pizza. But I met my waterloo when the ads for Marie Callender's chicken pot pies came on the TV.

"Curse you, Marie Callender!" I shrieked at the top of my lungs (though the imperative verb I used wasn't "curse"). I was so hungry and those pies looked so good. But instead of driving to the Safeway and buying one of her damned Chicken Pot Pies, I decided to make my own.

Here's my recipe:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Crust:

You will need a deep-dish pie plate. If you don't have one, get one. Glass is good.

Put 2 cups flour and a teaspoon of salt in a food processor equipped with the pastry blade; Turn it on.

Gradually add 2 sticks (1/2 lb) butter, cut into manageable pats--about 1-2 tbsp each, and dropped individually through the feeding tube of the processor.

After you've added all the butter, process until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated. It will look like corn meal. If you're not from the south and have never seen cornmeal, think a crumbly mixture of flour and butter.

Gradually add about 1/4 cup of very cold water. Process on pulse. The water should encourage the flour/butter mixture to form a ball.

Stop processing and, after removing the pastry blade from the machine, scoop the dough out onto plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling out.

Sauce

Microwave or otherwise heat to scalding 2-3 cups of milk. Hold at temperature.

Melt in a medium saucepan 1/4 lb (1 stick) of butter.

When the butter is bubbling, gradually stir in enough flour to form a bubbly paste in the bottom of the pan. It will take 1/4 and 1/2 cup of flour. You basically want a mixture that holds together on the bottom of the saucepan and makes you wonder if you added too much flour. Let the mixture cook for at least a minute or so (this is so the flour will cook and the sauce won't taste like that nasty milk gravy you had at your aunt's house last Thanksgiving). Then sloooowly add the hot milk, whisking it into the butter/flour (snooty cooks call it a "roux") mixture.

The sauce will dramatically thicken almost immediately. Add a very finely diced medium onion, or 2 tablespoons of dried onion to the sauce. Grate half a clove of nutmeg into the sauce. Correct the seasoning for salt--it will probably take at least a teaspoon.

Throw in 1 bay leaf and stir into the sauce. Let the sauce rest. Don't forget to fish the bayleaf out before you proceed with the recipe, or one of your guests will have a nasty surprise.

Final Prep


Sauté 3 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts in a butter/olive oil mixture. When done through but not dry, cut into small cubes. Add to sauce.

Microwave 2 cups of mixed frozen vegetables. Add them to the sauce. Don't worry about excess moisture.

Get the dough out of the fridge. Divide into two parts.

Roll out the 1st piece of dough to about 1/8 inch in thickness and line the bottom of the baking dish. Ignore the overhanging dough for now. (For an extra-crispy bottom crust, paint the bottom of the pie pan with melted butter before lining it with the crust.)

HINT: The easiest way to roll out pie crust is on a pastry cloth (think a linen or cotton dish towel that's been rubbed well with flour). After rolling the dough out to the proper thickness, position your rolling pin at the edge of the dough, then using the pastry cloth, drape the dough over the rolling pin. Then roll the dough (minus the pastry cloth) onto the pin. You can then unroll the dough into the pie pan with a minimal amount of grief.

Pour the sauce/chicken/veggie mixture into the dish.

Roll out and cover the pie with the top crust.

Trim and make look pretty. Pierce the top crust to allow steam to escape.

Cooking

Place the pie in the preheated 425-degree oven on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, decrease oven temperature to 325-degrees and bake for 50 minutes.

Let the pie rest for a few minutes before serving, but don't forget to salute Marie Callendar when you cut into it.

Commentary

The pie crust is really the secret here, and food processors are the secret weapon. If you don't have one, you can use the old "cut the butter into the flour using two knives in a scissor motion," or you can use a pastry masher. My mother used the latter, and you could have taken her pie dough out of the bowl, rolled it out, then sewn the pieces up into shoes that would hold together better than leather.  For all I know, that's what they did during the Depression to keep children shod. But the food processor keeps the butter/flour mixture filled with air, so that when the butter melts into the flour during cooking, the result is thin flakes of tender crusty goodness.

The sauce is a classic béchamel--basically gravy with an attitude.

Instead of frozen mixed veggies, you can add just about any fresh veggies you want: broccoli or broccolini both work well. If you use fresh vegetables, nuke 'em until they are are tender and then dice them coarsely before adding them to the sauce. If you don't have a microwave, then steam the veggies. Whatever you do, DO NOT BOIL THEM. That's just wrong, and it sucks all the goodness out of the veggies.

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suede comes to the High Mountain Lodge

Long before we were married, I knew that Julie loved horses. After we got married 28+ years ago, she had a horse for a while that she kept in stables and pastures close to our old house in Golden. However, the struggles to be a family and raise a son made it hard for her to follow her passion, and she eventually had to postpone that dream; there were many times when she wondered if it would ever be fulfilled.

Most of our marriage has been about me pursuing my goals, though over the years we did talk (sometimes very heatedly) about what the future would look like when it was "her turn." And I promised her many, many times that someday it would, indeed, be "her turn." So when I got laid off in 2008, and after a few months it became evident that the economy wasn't going to let me go out and "get another job" as I'd always been able to do in the past, we began exploring all those fantasies about what our future life might look like that we'd played with over the years.

It was a fluke that we hit upon the idea of running a Bed & Breakfast. Julie's aunt and uncle had run one for a few years in North Carolina, and we'd toyed with the idea of having one as a "stepdown" to retirement, but in the constellation of our retirement fantasies, it didn't really stand out among all the others. But on the way home from spending one of our unemployed weekends at the family cabin in the mountains, we drove past a motel overlooking the Continental Divide that we'd always joked about looking into buying if it ever came on the market.

Low and behold, there was a For Sale sign out front. We wrote down the number, called the listing agent, and a few days later, had a showing. We really liked the place, but as we were debriefing afterwards in a little roadhouse we were fond of, it became clear that, if we were going to follow the innkeeping path, we would have to acquire some skills and knowledge we didn't currently possess. Low and behold, in the lobby of the roadhouse was a Denver Free University catalog and one of the courses offered was, you guessed it, "So You Want To Own a B&B."

Long story short, we took the class, and the teachers, Becky and Roxanne, became our real estate brokers, and they ultimately negotiated the sale of the High Mountain Lodge for us.

But lordy, did we drag them through a few knotholes before we bought the place. As we began looking for an inn to buy, we began to clarify what we wanted. "Where will we put our books?" was one of our early mantras. "You have too many books," Roxanne told me. "Get rid of them. They clutter up the owner's quarters, and potential buyers have trouble imagining their own stuff there."

"We haven't even bought a place yet, and already you're working on helping us sell it?"

She narrowed her eyes. "It's never too early to plan."

Then after they started filtering our searches for books, we saw a place we really liked. "But where will we put the piano?" Julie asked.

"What piano?" asked Roxanne through gritted teeth.

"Oh, the 7-foot antique Steinway in the parlor," said Julie.

Roxanne muttered something, but I didn't catch what she said.

Then we saw the High Mountain Lodge. "Oh, Tom!" Julie exclaimed. "Look at those pastures! There's even a place for the horses!"



"What horses?" Roxanne demanded shrilly, the pitch of her voice inching upward. "You don't have horses! Do you?" Becky tried to shush her.

"Not yet," said Julie sweetly.

It was then that I realized that Julie's "turn," so long postponed, was about to take place.

The first year at the Lodge, we didn't have a moment to spare to think about acquiring a horse. We were too busy cleaning and decorating and cleaning some more, all the while figuring out how to be innkeepers and welcome the wonderful people who began to visit the lodge.

Then earlier this summer, it became clear that we weren't going to have time to do the prep work to get a horse; we didn't have time to get the fences in order, and it was clear that horses would have to wait another year.

That was before our neighbor approached us a few weeks ago and offered to give us a 3-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare named Suede. I almost fell out of my chair, I was so surprised. Suede has a club foot and so, though she is from champion bloodlines that helped establish the breed, she can't be shown and shouldn't be bred. But she's a sweet little girl, and she now belongs to Julie.

Julie is overjoyed and is busy plotting how we can get our son and his 20-something friends up to help us with a fence-building party sometime before the snow flies. "I knew God was going to give me a horse," she noted. "I just didn't know when or what kind of horse it was going to be.

So now, we know.




Friday, September 24, 2010

The Best Things To Do While Staying at the High Mountain Lodge



  • Take a deep breath, listen to the silence, and let yourself slow down;
  • Get some carrots from Julie and walk down and feed them to the horses;
  • Drive into town and breathe in the view of the Indian Peaks and the Continental Divide as you round the curve;
  • Weather permitting, drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park. If Trail Ridge Road is open, start early in the morning and plan to stop frequently to take in the views and see the varied wildlife. Be sure to stop at the Visitor's Center at the top (11,796 ft/3595m elevation). Good luck with breathing up there. Then drive down into Estes Park for lunch. Turn around and repeat the process. Stop in Grand Lake and have dinner overlooking the water.
  • Sit on the deck of the High Mountain Lodge with a refreshing drink and watch the sun set in a blaze of color over Sheep Mountain;
  • After a day of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or a round of golf, relax in the jetted hot tub, sauna, or swimming pool in our enclosed Atrium;
  • Drive into town for a day of shopping, dining, and people- and dog-watching;
  • Sample the award-winning vintages at the Winter Park Winery;
  • In the summer bike the ski runs at Winter Park or the over 300 miles of area trails, from gentle rolling paths with jaw-dropping views of the high peaks to demanding double-diamond trails that will have the most daredevil adrenaline junkie squealing like a little girl;
  • Stroll, cross-country ski, or snowshoe around our pasture at the High Mountain Lodge. Venture through the willows to find the secret picnic tables along Crooked Creek and have a quiet meal with your best friend with only the high mountain peaks watching;
  • Let your inner foodie run wild over breakfast; savor a perfectly made espresso, cappucino, latte, or macchiato so good it would have an Italian barista weeping in envious rage; 
  • Share the High Mountain Lodge with those you love: your friends, your lover, your children or grandchildren; even your four-footed friend;
  • Ski or Ride Winter Park and Mary Jane--one of the nation's premier snow resorts--then come back to the High Mountain Lodge and tell us about your adventures. We'll even tell you our favorite secret runs and how to get there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Attack of the Killer Ceiling Fans

The High Mountain Lodge does not have air-conditioning. At 8,700 feet in elevation, even at the height of summer, it is not unusual for the temperatures to drop into the 40s at night, and by August, we are warning guests at the Lodge to watch their step in the morning going across the multi-tiered deck to the dining lodge so they won't slip on the frost coating the boards.

It's a different world up here--even from Denver. When the city is baking in 90+ or triple digit temperatures, we consider it a heat wave if the mercury hits 80. And on the two days this summer it hit 90 on our thermometer in July (courtesy of reflected heat from the deck; the air wasn't nearly that warm), we were willing to believe that there was something to global warming after all.

Instead of air conditioning the High Mountain Lodge has ceiling fans in every room. On warm summer nights, guests can open their windows and doors, and the fans will circulate the air and mix it with the outside breezes. Lodge guests, particularly those from lower elevations and hot climes, tend to underestimate the chill in the air. 

(Someone remind me to blog about the frigid June wedding Julie and I attended on the shores of the (frozen) lake just below the summit of Mt. Evans when it was 98 in Denver. We weren't married then, but our memory of the misery we went through sort of put the kabosh on any fantasy about getting married outside in a Colorado mountain meadow.) 

No matter how many times we point out the extra blanket in every room (and show guests how to turn up the heat in their room), invariably, they will show up for breakfast (in shorts and t-shirts with blue lips) to comment on how COLD it is. 

So when we get the occasional phone inquiry from people in Houston asking if we have air conditioning, because they won't book with us if we don't have air conditioning, we refer them to a couple who are our competitors (who are also our friends) who have put in refrigerated air conditioning in their inn just to assuage the heat-fears of people from Houston.

"How's that working for you?" I ask.

"They complained about how cold it was. I got up after midnight and gave them two extra blankets and suggested they turn off the air conditioning and open the french doors onto their patio. But they were afraid of bugs."

"You didn't tell them that there are no bugs in Grand County?"

"They're from Houston. They figure you're lying to them."

But all of this is a prelude to telling you the story of how we (actually I) suffer from our ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans have metal chains hanging down from them: one to turn on the light, and one to adjust the speed of the rotation of the fan.

At the High Mountain Lodge, some of the fixtures can be controlled from a switch on the wall, and some from the pull chains from the fixtures.

But they all have chains depending from them.

And, God help me, they all attack me.

If the High Mountain Lodge has cooler temperatures, it also has lower humidity and vicious static electricity. When I was a little boy growing up in Oklahoma, it was fun in the wintertime to play the game of "static electricity." You'd shuffle your feet across the wool carpet and sneak up on your mom or dad (usually your mom, because she wasn't as liable to smack you when you touched the metal frame of her glasses and sent huge amounts of volts of electricty coursing through her body). She'd just scream.

But the High Mountain Lodge has low humidity and high static electricity all year long. So maybe the fact that Julie and I own an Inn is a way for me to work off the karmic burden of torturing my parents with static electricity in my childhood.

You see, there are several rooms in the lodge where the chains from the ceiling fans hang down low enough to attack me when I'm making a bed.

You would think that I would have enough sense to avoid them when cleaning a room or making a bed, but I tend to get focused on projects, even if it is only making a bed. 

For the past year, I have had the misfortune to be making a bed and in the course of doing so, back up into the pull-chains from the fixture and experience a "static-electric discharge."

We have one room in particular (it's one of our most popular rooms), where the pull-chains for the lamp/fan fixture hand down just about at a perfect distance to attack me when I'm making the bed. And, I swear, every time I make the bed in that room, the damn fan attacks me. 

Here's the scenario: I get the bottom sheet tight, then I balance the top sheet on the bed so that it's hanging equidistant from the floor on either side of the mattress.

Then I shake out the blanket (which crackles from static electricity) and back up to make sure that it's symmetrical to the bed, and get close enough to the ceiling fixture that the static electricity causes the metal chain to wrap itself around my face and discharge on my cheek just below my eye. 

Then I scream and begin to curse and roar and stagger about like Boris Karloff imitating Frankenstein's monster in the movies and fall over one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. 

Nobody told me that innkeeping involved doing battle with static electricity. 

I wonder if there would be anyway we could get our electrical co-op to suck up the excess static electricity I generate when making beds?

Prolly not. Julie doesn't believe I work all that hard; an electrical utility would demand more evidence than an electrical discharge scar across my face.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September

On the first day of September, it was as if God announced that it was fall. The morning temperature on our thermometer was 35 degrees instead of the 40-50 it had been all summer, there was frost on the decks, and we actually had to turn up the thermostat in the dining room. I was actually proud of the fact that our famous chilled orange juice was staying chilled, but Julie pointed out that if people's lips were too numb to feel the glass when they tried to drink it, they probably wouldn't appreciate it that much. So I capitulated.

During the day, the sun is still warm, but time is hastening toward the equinox this month, and earth's northern hemisphere is turning her face away from the sun. The aspen leaves are beginning to turn, and everything is just about perfect right now.


Winter and all its fun is just around the corner, but we're not there yet. We still have September to enjoy, the most perfect month in the high country. In the evening, guests at the High Mountain Lodge are spending more time in the public areas, then retiring to their rooms to enjoy a fire in their fireplace. Woodsmoke incense is starting to bless the valley.

The weather is quiet in September. The Pacific monsoons have blown themselves out and, barring an ill-behaved hurricane that blows up from the Gulf of Mexico, it will be calm here: warm in the daytime, and crisp at night. Of course even a hurricane does blow up the Gulf and across the southwest, it may make Denver miserable, but probably won't get over the Continental Divide.

A local weather forecaster, who has made something of a name for himself accurately predicting to the inch how much snow will fall on the ski areas in any given day, thinks this is going to be a good year for skiing in northern Colorado, courtesy of the La Niña currently chilling the waters off Chile.

We say, bring it on! Yee-haw! and all that. But not until we've enjoyed our gentle and glorious September.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fire Weed

Fire weed is a dramatically beautiful plant with striking purple blossoms. Consisting of a long stalk, it flowers sequentially through the summer, with the blossoms climbing higher on the plant as summer progresses. Children in Grand County are said to get sad when the blossoms at the apex of the plant begin to flower, because it is an indication that the beginning of school is imminent.

Fireweed is so-named because it is one of the opportunistic plants that sprout in the forest after a fire. With their tenacious roots, they secure the soil and make it possible for less-vigorous plants subsequently to take root.

After the blossoms reach the top of the plant, you think it's pretty much done for. All that's left are these long narrow tubes. But just when you think the thing is done for and about to die, the tubes split open and begin to release so much fluff that you're sure they could give a cottonwood a run for its money.


Fireweed fluff is a harbinger of fall and a promise of more substantial (and significantly colder) white stuff that pretty soon is going to start falling from the sky and not from ruptured plant stamens.

I wish that the amount of fireweed fluff were a predictor of a good snow season. If that were true, then the High Mountain Lodge (and the Fraser Valley and Winter Park Ski Area) promise to be buried in the skiable and snowshoe-able white stuff this winter.

The other day, Julie said to me, "I am so looking forward to winter! Aren't you?" Well, yeah. After I replace the weather stripping on most of the doors in the lodge. And I really need to take apart our Buick-sized snowblower that has been summering down in the green shed. I'm pretty sure that bad boy is gonna earn his keep starting in just a few months.

We'll be ready. We're looking forward to having winter sports enthusiasts in the lodge. We can hardly wait to get out our own skis and snowshoes.

In the meantime, we'll sit out in the sunshine under the umbrellas on the Lodge decks, watch the wheeling sky that is always different, with the beauty of any one day trying to out-do the day before.

Mind you, we're not it a hurry for it to snow, but the promise of winter has us filled with anticipation.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fitted Sheets

When I went off to college many many years ago, my first roommate was a guy whose dad owned a dry cleaning plant and laundry somewhere in the wilds of Kansas.

Bill came to school armed with flat sheets for his bed--but no fitted bottom sheets. Instead, he was expected to wrap his mattress in one of the flat sheets. It seems that his father was consumed with hate-filled rage whenever he encountered a fitted bottom sheet, courtesy of the folding machines at his laundry being unable to do anything but tie the cloth in knots. Bill told me that he'd seen his dad purple with rage trying to unwind a fitted bottom sheet from one of the laundry's state-of-the-art sheet folders.

At the time, it seemed a rather excessive reaction to the convenience of a fitted bottom sheet, especially since Bill's dad, despite his rage, hadn't bothered to teach his son how to make a bed using a flat sheet for a bottom sheet.

After a few days of waking up when Bill fell on the floor when his alarm went off wrapped up in his sheets like an Egyptian corpse somebody had done a bad job of embalming, I finally took pity on him and showed him how to do military corners that you could bounce a dime off of after sleeping on the sheet all night long.

I wasn't a particularly militaristic person, and this was during the Vietnam War, when every eighteen-year-old male was trying to find some ethical reason to avoid the draft. I didn't learn my bed-making skills from the military or militaristic parents, but from a terrifying nurse in an osteopathic hospital who could make the most arrogant doctor tremble and sweat--and sometimes weep. My first high-school job was as a hospital orderly, and this nurse taught me how to unfold a sheet, put it on the bed, pull the fabric so tight you could have sent semaphore messages by tapping on it, then tuck the corners in so tightly that nothing could have escaped that mattress. She actually taught me how to tuck a sheet in so tight that an alcoholic suffering from delirium tremens couldn't escape. "It's kinder than puttenem in a straightjacket," she told me.

"Yes, ma'am," I replied.

That nurse taught me how to make a bed so tight it would make a marine drill sergeant weep, it was that beautiful. I could make a bed with a person still in it with the sheets so perfect that it wouldn't be wrinkled the next day. When it came to bed-making, I was a god.

Fast forward a couple (ok, three) decades. My wife and I buy a 13-room Bed & Breakfast. We have a lot of sheets to wash. And suddenly, I am transported back to my undergraduate years and my first roommate's stories about his dad's rage against fitted sheets.

I suddenly love this man.

After a year of inn-keeping, I'm finally pretty good at folding a fitted bottom sheet. Sort of. It depends on how exhausted the elastic is. The more un-elastic the elastic is, the nicer the fold is going to be, and the better the sheet will look when it's wrestled onto the bed.

On the other hand, if it's one of our newer sheets with elastic all around, then no matter how carefully it's folded, the wrinkles on the sheet when we get it on the bed are inevitably going to resemble a Dan Brown map on how to find gold in the cave of the Knights Templar.

At the High Mountain Lodge, we iron the top sheets and we iron the pillow cases, but those damn bottom sheets have defeated us. Please don't think the less of us for our failure!

And Bill, God bless your dad. The things you told me about him scared the, uh, they really scared me. I sure hope he was reconciled to the deficiencies of his ironing machines before he retired.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Summer of the Hummingbird

In keeping with Native American and Asian ways of remembering events, the summer of 2010 at the High Mountain Lodge promises to go down in the Beckwith Family Annals as the Summer of the Hummingbird.


Looking West from the Deck of the High Mountain Lodge

As I write this out on the deck of the High Mountain Lodge, a swarm of 12 to 18 hummingbirds (surely the collective noun for hummingbirds must be a "swarm" and not a "charm" as one website reports) are fighting a pitched battle over the feeder we installed on the balcony outside our bedroom. We have another, similar feeder hanging outside our sitting room balcony, and an even larger one hanging outside the windows of the dining room.

We are filling the feeders at least twice a day. We have almost gone through the 50-pound bag of sugar we bought at Costco in Denver in late spring to feed the two hives of bees we are keeping down in the hayloft of the ruined barn on the property. We've only filled the feeders for the bees twice; the hummers have sucked down all the rest.

It has gotten to the point where, when the feeders are empty, the hummingbirds will fly up in our face as if to remind us to feed them. This afternoon when I filled the big feeder off the dining room, the moment I cranked open the window to get to the feeder, I had three hummers buzzing around impatiently; they turned angry when I took the feeder away, and when I brought it back a full ten minutes later two of them landed on the perches before I even had a chance to hang it on the hook outside the window.

One flew into the office this afternoon when Julie was figuring out the sales taxes, and later I found another one trapped in the dining room trying to get to the feeder outside the window. I had to catch it and gently shoo it out the window. It immediately flew to the feeder, not a bit the worse for wear.

These creatures are fearless and violently territorial. Years ago, Julie and I visited a couple who, in their retirement, had bought an alfalfa farm down by Cortez, Colorado. At the time, we thought they were insane to work that hard in their retirement; that was before we bought the High Mountain Lodge.

Anyway, we were having breakfast one morning, and I commented on how scrappy the birds were (I'd never seen that many in one place before, being an Oklahoma boy). "Yeah," said our friend, "if they were any bigger, we'd have to shoot 'em."

At the time, I thought she was exaggerating, but a few mornings ago, when it had been warm enough overnight to leave the sliding glass door open to our balcony, the hummers started fighting over the feeder at 4:30 a.m. The noise woke both Julie and me up. Perhaps a better collective noun might be "an annoyance of hummingbirds."

We have created a monster--a collective monster. The peace and quiet of the High Mountain Lodge is now punctuated by the various and varied noises hummingbirds make. Earlier today, I was in our sitting room and began to wonder if Denver air traffic control had, for some reason, begun to divert airplanes over Grand County. But no, it was just the hummingbirds at the feeder--two, and sometimes three trying to feed from the same station.

video


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Birds & The Bees at the High Mountain Lodge

Went to feed the bees the other day and got stung. We have two hives in the hay loft of our ruined barn down below the High Mountain Lodge.


We're keeping them courtesy of our friend, Hugh, who is a biology professor at the University of Denver and an amateur bee keeper. Last summer, Hugh brought one hive up to the lodge; this year, we're hosting two. We'll keep them until it becomes too cold, after which he'll take the hives down to his house and hide them in his garage where they'll overwinter, much to the chagrin of his less-natural-history-sensitive neighbors.

It was the first time I'd been stung by an insect since I was a child and my father burned out a hornet's nests under the eaves of our house using a kerosene-soaked rag attached to the end of our 20-foot-long tree-twig trimmer.

By the time the wasps, annoyed at the immolation of their home, began to sting me, dad was too busy to pay much attention to my predicament. The paint around the nest had begun to blister and the wood of the soffits to char. He was whacking at the burning paper hornet's nest with the burning rag and splattering drops of inflamed kerosene-soaked rag ash all over the place. It wasn't the best way to try to put out the fire.

Nor was my mother any help. When I ran screaming into the house because of the stings, she, hearing my shrieks and knowing my dad, had rushed out of the house fearing he'd set it on fire and wanting to give him advice on how to put out the blaze at the top of her lungs.

I was left in the house alone, moaning and rubbing the stings, which only made them hurt worse. By the time Mom and Dad came back inside extrovertedly triumphant, having cooled off the wood and dispatched the rest of the hornet's nest with the garden hose, I was pretty welted up. They were proud of themselves, having staved off a catastrophe of Dad's own making. It wasn't my finest hour getting attention from my parents, but I'm pretty sure mom subsequently put some sort of lotion on me which made the stings hurt less.

I was sort of surprised when I got stung up in the loft. I've been up there dozens of times, pouring sugar water in the feeders to supplement the bees's nectar-gathering. I hadn't even begun to pour the mixture into the feeder when this one crazed bee came at me and stung me on the wrist. It was quite a shock (and it hurt like the dickens). I don't know why she took such a dislike to me, but I suppose even bees have bad days every now and then.


A honeycomb from our bee hive.


Our experiences with birds have been equally challenging so far this summer. In June of 2009 when we moved in, barn swallows had colonized most of the eaves of the High Mountain Lodge. For a while, we thought it was a charming sight, watching the birdies building their fascinating mud nests. Then they started to drop chunks of mud when the flew up, and it would hit the windows of the dining lodge. Other things they were emitting also hit the windows. Soon, it became apparent that the swallow colonies were less than a success.

Before long, we had so many swallows under the eaves, and their synchronized swooping would have given Alfred Hitchcock the heebie-jeebies.

We power-washed the eaves and eliminated the swallows.

Then, this year, we have been fighting a pitched battle to discourage them from re-establishing their nesting sites. It began earlier in the year when the swallows began to get frisky. In the air, on the roof, and even on our decks:


We have managed to discourage swallow nesting around most of the High Mountain Lodge, though there is one colony that got past us and set up housekeeping behind the exterior paneling outside our owner's quarters. I plan to plug some holes this fall after the chicks have fledged, and with any luck, they won't be able to start a new generation next year.

If the swallows have been a nuisance, the hummingbirds have been a source of delight and amusement.

Years ago, Julie and I visited some friends in southwestern Colorado. Thor and Twyla had retired from their corporate jobs and proceeded to buy an alfalfa farm in the uplands above Cortez, Colorado. They built a barn (first) and then a house--with their own hands. Then they spent summer moving the irrigation sprinklers every twelve hours in their alfalfa fields until their allotment of water ran out and the ditch master told them to turn off their sprinklers and shut off their ditch; then they were forced to make their last mowing. When friends tease us about the work involved in running a 12-room, 13,000 sq. ft. Bed & Breakfast in our semi-retirement, we only have to think of our friends growing alfalfa in Cortez.

We were sitting in their kitchen one morning having breakfast and being entertained by the legion of hummingbirds fighting over the long row of feeders outside the windows. I'd never seen so many hummingbirds before, and I was entranced. "This is wonderful!" I exclaimed. "I didn't realize that hummingbirds were so agressive!"

"Yeah," said Twyla, pouring me another cup of coffee. "If they were any bigger, we'd have to shoot 'em."

Well, this summer at the High Mountain Lodge, we've had a perfect crop of hummingbirds. The broadtails (the ruby-throated ones, cousins of eastern Ruby Throated Hummingbirds) showed up in June. Broadtails kept us and our guests entertained outside the windows of the dining lodge. Around the fourth of July, the hummingbird action quieted down, and we wondered what had happened.

Then the rufus hummingbirds showed up. Rufuses are a bit larger than broadtails and infinitely more aggressive. They get their name from their colors: tawny yellows and oranges with even flashes of pink. There's one spectacular male who seems to be trying to channel Lady Gaga. The rufuses took over the hanging feeder outside the windows of the dining lodge. And, to our surprise, they scared up the last broadtails in the neighborhood who hadn't migrated to higher elevations (as if there were many elevations higher than the High Mountain Lodge), and proceeded to have a pitched battle with them over the feeder outside the sitting room of our owner's quarters.

The result has been amazing. When we get up in the morning before we start to cook breakfast for guests, we like to have a cup of espresso while watching the news on TV. It's been mild enough lately (nighttime temperatures in the high 40s or low 50s) that we open the sliding glass door out onto our balcony where one of the hummingbird feeders is.

You know that your bird feeding has gotten out of hand when the pitched battles over sugar water outside your door are so loud that you can only hear every third word the CNN announcer is saying (mem. to self: this may not be a Bad Thing). 

It's a cacophony out there! It's like avian D-Day. You can hear them dopplering in from the dead pine trees on the other side of the valley, determined to get their sip of sugar water from our feeder. And when they arrive there's this swarm of squabbling and darting and buzzing and zooming birds the size of thimbles, and suddenly the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't seem so significant. 

Thank God hummingbirds don't have nukes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spellbound horses walking warm on to the fields of praise

I have always loved the poet Dylan Thomas. Many years ago, I confessed as much to a friend at Oxford where I was taking some graduate courses. "That bloody Welshman," he sneered, "with his verses."

Now that summer is  here at the High Mountain Lodge, I am looking out over Sheep Mountain and remembering Thomas's poem, "Fern Hill." Bloody Welshman, indeed.

Given how arid it is in the Colorado high country, it's hard to imagine just how green everything is around here right now. The dandelions down in the pasture have gone to seed, so it no longer looks as if God threw gold dust onto a bowl of emeralds. But He left the emeralds.


Since the 4th of July, the weather has become more unsettled as monsoon moisture starts to head north from the Gulf of California. This is good news. We had a dry late spring and early summer, but now it's becoming moist as we get our mid-summer reprieve from dry conditions. With rain just about every afternoon at the High Mountain Lodge, wise guests are getting their fun in early, after breakfast, then heading to town for food before returning to the Lodge for a rest, a swim, and a soak in the hot tub before hors d'oeuvres on the patio after the weather has cleared. Then it's time for quiet conversation and watching the sun set over Sheep Mountain.

It's pretty good up here right now.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer is just around the corner

It's still "mud season" at the High Mountain Lodge. Winter Park and Fraser are close to being deserted. We left town, too, and spent a week visiting relatives in the south east, but now we're back at the Lodge getting ready for summer guests.

After a very successful ski season, it has been nice to catch our breath and take care of chores we put off when we were busy. We're painting and deep cleaning rooms as well as weeding areas in the gardens that are finally free of snow.

Julie took a class in high-altitude gardening and is full of plans and ideas to grow herbs and more hardy vegetables. Expect spinach on the menu quite a bit this summer at the High Mountain Lodge.

She was sort of shocked when she found out that you can't grow summer squash at our elevation. Zucchini and yellow squash need more heat than we're liable to get any given summer. It feels sort of unnatural to be living in a place where you can't grow squash. I'm reminded of the old joke about why, in small towns, August and September are the only months when people lock their cars while going to church: it's to prevent their neighbors from leaving bags of zucchini in the back seat. That being said, here is a very easy squash recipe for those lucky enough to be able to grow them:
Finely slice roughly equal amounts of zucchini and onion. A mandolin works best, but in a pinch you can use a knife. Each slice should be between 1/8 and 1/4 an inch.
Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with olive oil; add a pat of butter. Sauté until vegetables are tender. Correct seasoning. Plate over pasta or as a side dish and top with generous amounts of grated parmigiano reggiano or Peccorino Romano cheese. The parmesan is more elegant, but the peccorino is more authentic. 
This is a traditional paisano recipe from Rome and the Lazio region of Italy. It's simplicity itself, but is a surprisingly savory dish. Serve it al fresco over pasta as a stand-alone light dish in the evening with a glass of well-chilled prosecco. It doesn't get much better than this.
 The meadows below the lodge are finally starting to green up, but Sheep Mountain to the west still has some snow on its higher slopes. That will be gone soon, and before long, the fields will be eye-poppingly beautiful. There are buds on the aspen trees; when they leaf out, light sifting down through them will be filtered green-gold. That's when we'll know summer is really here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jarndyce v. Jarndyce

Charles Dickens's novel, Bleak House, contains a delightful satire on the legal profession regarding a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery in London. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce had been under litigation for over a hundred years and showed no signs of being settled. That suit in Chancery had provided generations of solicitors with a very good living, and seemed destined to provide their issue unto the seventh generation with equally comfortable incomes. I'm fuzzy on the details, being more interested in the novel's description of an alcoholic woman who spontaneously combusted due to too much GIN in her system (I read it in graduate school and was pretty starved for entertainment), but I'm pretty sure the suit was a metaphor for the complexities of life in Victorian England and the disconnect between human community and the institutions we create to facilitate that community.

Lordy, lordy, if Dickens were only alive today and living in Colorado, the novel that man could write about Colorado water law!

A few months ago, out of the blue, we were contacted by an attorney regarding the need for a "due diligence" filing in Water Court to make our "conditional" water rights "absolute." OK. Seems the former owner's petition got lost in the Water Court and never was acted on. Initially, I dismissed her as an ambulance chaser (or, in this case, a "drip" chaser), but the longer we talked, the more alarmed I became. We retained our own attorney and got the filing done with one day to spare!

"Whew," I thought. "Now guests at the High Mountain Lodge won't have to worry about their showers running dry before they rinse the soap off.

Then, just yesterday, this young, beaded guy with a pony tail (far too cool-looking to be a bureaucrat) shows up at the lodge and introduces himself as the Water Commissioner who has been working his way through a 3-year backlog of cases, and our Water Court filing brought us to his attention. Lucky us. He tried to explain that the water rights on our well were "junior" to water rights of people down the valley from us. It seems that, 9 months out of the year, demand for water in our drainage exceeds the capacity of the existing water rights, so those holding "junior" water rights are expected to sequester water in case of demand from senior holders.

And it seems that the ponds down below the lodge are there to sequester water for just such occasions.

"We don't own them," sez I, going into my best "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies" mode.

No matter. The fact that water necessary to guarantee my water rights is on another person's property makes no nevermind to the State of Colorado. That person is obligated to release water when the state tells him to to preserve my water rights.

And they wonder why that GIN-soaked person exploded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Catching Our Breath

You gotta love irony. The High Mountain Lodge closed on Sunday, April 18th--the same day as Winter Park ski area. By the end of the week, we had had some of the best snow of the season. Alas! The snow was so good that CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) closed Berthoud Pass because of avalanche danger. The only way you could get to any of the ski areas still open was driving halfway to Salt Lake City before going south (I'm exaggerating, but not by much).

When confronted with the choice of doing laundry or driving through Kremmling to go skiing, you start washing sheets.

Then we had friends come in to spend a night. They had to wait half a day to get over the pass before CDOT opened it, but when they arrived, we had a good time. We made a lot of music, drank a lot of beer and wine, ate good food, and generally enjoyed each other's company.

Even with the ski area closed, it's pretty awesome around here. There's still snow on the high peaks on both sides of the Fraser valley. True, the mud does get pretty deep, and you can tell locals from visitors by the amount of splash-back on their vehicles. But in the Fraser valley right now, the views of the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide or to the west of Byers Peak and the further peaks of the Gore Range are so jaw-dropping beautiful that if, while wandering about in thigh-deep mud, you fall into a ditch and die, at least your last images of life will be comparable with any museum experience.

Later this week, we're embarking on the first of two mini-vacations: one to Oklahoma to visit relatives, watch rodeo, and get reacquainted with high-school buddies; later in May, we're heading to North Carolina to see Julie's relatives. After a visit with them, we're heading down to the South Carolina low country. Of course, we're staying in Bed & Breakfasts. One of the places we're staying is outside of Charleston, and their B&B website boasts two Famous Recipes, both based on grits.

"Honey," asks my wife, "What are grits?"

"They're good stuff. They're awesome stuff."

"Then why have I never had any?"

"You never had any because your mother was a Yankee from Pennsylvania who, when she decided to learn how to cook, subscribed to Bon Appetit instead of Southern Living."

"But you never cook them either. Why not?"

"My mama was a Republican from Cincinnati. About the closest we ever came to grits was boiled canned hominy. I don't know how to cook them."

Julie gave me one of those disappointed looks; I'm not sure if she was disappointed because I didn't know how to cook grits or because I felt ashamed from my lack of knowledge.

"This will be an interesting vacation," she said.

Oh, yea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mud Season

Yesterday, my son, Mark, and I skied the last day at Winter Park for the season. We were some of the last people up the Panoramic lift at Mary Jane before they closed it until next November, but coming down the face of Parsen Bowl was a little bit less than wonderful. A couple of inches of powder didn't hide the fact that we were skiing on crud. "Well," said Mark, "that wasn't the best run of the day."

At the end of the day, Mark took me down Hughes, a famous run leading to the base of Winter Park. It was my first time ever to ski it. Truth be told, I couldn't have found it without his help. Winter Park is not the most intuitive ski mountain, and it has skiing secrets.

The snow was nasty, but it wasn't that nasty. Coming down from Mary Jane, we saw ski patrollers taking down fences around hazards. "That's dangerous," I thought, "skiers could hurt themselves," but then I reflected that we were just about the last legal skiers on that run for the season.

The family had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Winter Park that evening. In the face of a bad economy, we'd had a huge number of wonderful people stay at the High Mountain Lodge, and we needed to enjoy each other's company. It was a disappointing meal for me, but Julie and Mark liked their selections.

After the wildness in the restaurant on the last day of ski season, it was eerie going into the Safeway this evening to buy food. Gone were the exhausted skiers buying anything they could cook quickly in their rented condos. Everybody was gone. There was no reason for anybody to stick around.

Driving out to the store this afternoon to get groceries, I came around the corner of the road and saw the Continental Divide stretched out from north to south as far as the eye could see. It was stunning, the contrast of the white of the snow on the high peaks with the fading colors of the forests down below. Murphy, the Lodge Dog, thought she saw the neighborhood fox about then, and she barked her way into the Safeway parking lot in Fraser. After we got to the Safeway, she forgot about the fox and turned her attention to the dogs tied up outside the grocery store. Lordy, the racket she raised. Hanging out the window of our Subaru, she let out a chorus of barks at the dogs tied to pillars around the front of the store, and they responded with some deep-throated "woofs."

The funny thing was, outside of two dogs tied to posts and Murphy barking from the car window, there weren't that may living things in the parking lot.

Mud season had arrived. The Safeway had noted that fact by halving the price of most of its groceries. There was nobody in the store, when a week before, you couldn't have found your way down any aisle without tangling with visitors from elsewhere in the country half your age who prefaced every comment with "Dude!" As in: "Dude! I know your girlfriend's a vegetarian, but that sausage looks awesome!"

There's nobody here right now, except us. Locals sort of recognize each other in a sort of shell-shocked way. We have a month or so before the summer crowds show up.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The IRS Is Coming To Get Me

Since the first of the year, many of the 300+ channels of satellite TV that the High Mountain Lodge subscribes to and advertises as a desirable amenity to potential guests have been infested with advertisements for tax preparation programs. Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) and H&R Block have been buying huge blocks of ad time showing happy people answering simple questions on their computer screens then hitting a button, and presto! the gummint sends them a check for two thousand dollars. 

I swear, if either of those companies buys Super Bowl time, I will turn.the.game.off and the Saints can fall into the Gulf of Mexico with the rest of the city.

I have been using tax software programs for years to do my taxes, pausing periodically to pay a CPA to "check my work" as we used to say in 7th-grade algebra class. The programs have gotten incredibly better since I paid over a hundred dollars for the first iteration of "Mac-in-Tax" back in the 1980s when the Apple Computer Company decided that color computing might be the Wave of the Future.

That first program was a joke. It was basically all the forms where you could fill in amounts, which got added and subtracted automatically so you wouldn't get audited for a math error. If you clicked the "help" button, it took you to the verbatim IRS instructions. I'm pretty sure there is not enough GIN in the world to make me read that verbiage. When you begin reading a sentence, you're pretty sure that it's in English, but by the time you get to the end of it, you're not so sure.

The programs got better over the years, and by the time I got laid off from my job in 2008, I was doing my taxes on my computer with flair and élan. Gone were the days when the computer would ask me, at two in the morning, for documentation for some obscure deduction and I would let out a primal scream and begin digging through the file cabinet for a statement that I was pretty sure we'd burned in the fireplace last October when the weather turned chilly. The scream would make the dog start barking, and that would wake my wife, and she'd come down to see if I was all right, then speculate about how much money we were going to get back on our taxes.

I wonder if law enforcement tracks an uptick in suicides and axe murders in the weeks leading up to April 15?

This year, we're having an accountant do our taxes. With two corporate structures as well as our personal taxes, I can't imagine what disdainful questions Turbo Tax would ask me in the "interview" process.

But getting your taxes done by a person is equally an experience of exquisite misery--similar to those early years of Mac-In-Tax. The accountants ask all the same questions that the programs do, but in a different order. They have their own forms. "So, wait," I ask, "You want us to fill out these forms so that you can put that information in the IRS forms. Why don't you give me the IRS forms?"

You can see where I'm going with this.

"We do this to make it easier for our clients."

Yeah, right, and I got a tan from that Blue Moon last December on New Year's Eve.

As we work to improve the High Mountain Lodge and make it a more welcoming place for guests, we plan to continue to focus on our hospitality, our food, and the comfort of our rooms. We have no intention of burdening our guests with our tax struggles (God knows, they have enough of their own). But if you book with us in the last days of Winter Park's season (they close on April 18), don't be surprised if we feed you champagne, brie, and caviar. There are adversities in life that cannot be avoided, and tax season is one of them. Just getting through it is a monumental feat, and it demands a celebration.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Silence

Something set Murphy the Lodgedog off this evening. I'd been having fun playing variations on hymns on the piano, and at first I figured it was the missed notes she was complaining about.

She spun around a couple of times in the sitting room, barking her head off, so I finally let her out, and followed her, just in case she was going to have a set-to with the neighborhood fox that she couldn't win.

She ran up and down the road barking and carrying on, but it was clear that her heart wasn't really in it. There was nothing there to bark at, and even she realized it, but like a politician, she kept up the sturm und drang for longer than necessary.

When she finally quit barking, I found myself standing on the deck of the lodge in absolute silence. The almost-full moon was shining through high clouds, and a fine ice-mist was in the air. The thermometer showed that it was just below thirty degrees, which in January in the high country is just short of the banana belt.

It was a perfect temperature, and a perfect silence. There really wasn't anything to see. Sheep Mountain to the west was enveloped in mist, though you could see its outline because of the moon glow. There were too many clouds to see stars.

I was shocked by the silence. The silence was the loudest thing in the valley.

The thing about silence is, you can't capture it with a camera and post a video of it on YouTube or a still  picture on your Facebook page. There's no laptop in existence that has a scratch-n-sniff screen to communicate how your other senses become heightened as the silence takes over: You can't describe the smell of the cold air or communicate the feel of the frozen mist falling on your skin or even begin to communicate the scent of silence. There's no way to describe the expansion of your soul as the cold settles in around you and replaces noise with a blanket of ice crystals and muted moonlight and a crisp cold.

Make no mistake, though. The silence of the high country doesn't equate to peace. Stay too long outside, and you become uncomfortably aware that the ice crystals falling on your arms are no longer pleasant; they're just cold. You can only equate silence with peace for a short time before you begin to miss the voices of loved ones and the laughter and the joy of human companionship.

Silence is always a corrective to noise, but it can never replace voices.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Rhythms of Winter

In one of his early songs, Dan Fogleberg crooned:
The end of October, the sleepy brown woods
seem to bow down their heads to the winter.

This hasn't been our experience with winter at the High Mountain Lodge. Perhaps the woods are, indeed, asleep for the winter, but the light, the interplay of clouds with the landscape, and the patterns of the days and nights certainly are dynamic enough when they aren't downright dramatic. And the weather; lordy, the weather sure doesn't go to sleep for the winter.


There is a rhythm and a pattern to a day, just as our bodies have  rhythms. As we have been learning the patterns of innkeeping, we have also found our rhythms adjusting to those of the outside--what the English Romantic poets called "nature."

There are certain things that have to be done: there is breakfast to be prepared; rooms to be cleaned and tidied; laundry to be washed. If it snows, walks must be shoveled.


 The mornings never cease to surprise us. Years ago when our son, Mark, was a very little guy, he noticed a particularly dramatic sunset and called it a "pinkset." That usage has become currency in the family lexicon. We now have "pinkrises" in addition to pinksets.

On particularly cold mornings, moisture condenses into mist in the Spring Branch valley. It looks as if God had poured milk into the lowlands. But as the sun warms the landscape, the mist thins and rises and is not infrequently tinged pink by the early-morning alpenglow.

Even on the coldest of days--which around here get mighty cold, indeed--the sun will warm the deck between the guest lodge and the dining lodge that houses our office as well as our owners' quarters. By noon, when the low southern sun has warmed our unheated office enough that we can turn off the space heater, we are tempted to imagine that it's warm enough to get a tan out on the deck--until we step outside and the chill puts the lie to that fantasy.


Late afternoons and early winter evenings are perhaps the best time at the High Mountain Lodge. The sunsets can be dramatic, but usually they're not. God seems to save the visual evening sturm und drang for the summertime. This time of the year, the cold comes on quickly. It's a time for lighting fires, getting acquainted with guests, making new friends. Over a glass of wine, a beer, or a cup of hot chocolate, the next days exploits can be plotted before soaking the ski soreness out in the hot tub.

Night comes early at the High Mountain Lodge, but even though the days are short, they are filled with joy and light and adventure. Cold though it is, it's too soon to start yearning for spring. There's still too much fun to be had in the snow.




Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Murphy and the Fox

We adopted Murphy when she was a year-and-a-half old. We were her fourth family. She had been bought at pet city as a Christmas present when she was six weeks old and a little ball of fur. The woman sold her when she was two months old to another woman, and that person turned Murphy into Keeshond rescue less than six months later.




The rescue folks wondered if she was adoptable. She was, according to their records, "stubborn" and had exhibited a "failure to bond" with her previous families. I have previously written in detail about Murphy (http://tjbeckhouse.wordpress.com/category/animals/), but now that we are up at the High Mountain Lodge, the vermin have gotten larger and smarter.

Keeshonden were originally bred as companion dogs in the European low country. Their alternate name is the "Dutch Barge Dog" because they were ideal dogs for the barges that were the pre-industrial revolution transportation precursors to trains. Murphy certainly is true to her breed. A consumate watch dog, she barks when anybody approaches our "barge"--the High Mountain Lodge--including guests coming over from the guest lodge for breakfast.

But nothing compares to her excitement/rage when she sees our neighborhood fox.

Forget the mice and squirrels that made her crazy at our house in Golden. Now she has bigger fish to fry (so to speak). There is a fox in the area that is absolutely unafraid of people. He's gorgeous, with a red body and a striking, bushy, gray tail.

Murphy has seen and chased him all over the mountain. He's pretty blasé about the whole thing. Evidently, this isn't the first time he's encountered an un-cool, agro dog. Just the other day, I was driving away from the lodge, and the fox was crossing the road ahead of us. I slowed down almost to a stop, mostly to get a better look at the creature.

He was gorgeous. I stopped the car while he was in the middle of the road, about ten feet in front of us. He slowly ambled over to the side of the road, and I began to edge forward. "Murphy!" I whispered. "There's the fox!"

Murphy finally saw him, concussed her head against the window glass, and set up a ruckus. The window on the fox's side of the road was down a few inches, and Murphy stuck her muzzle out and barked and roared and snarled and carried on like one of those monsters in the horror movie, The Day of the Triffids.

As I drove away, the fox began, evilly, to trot alongside the car while Murphy proceeded to lose her mind. There is encrusted dog slobber on the driver's side of our Subaru all the way the the back window that I don't know if Bon Ami and acid will ever get off. Even after we'd pulled away from the fox, Murphy continued to be beside herself. She was actually incapable of stopping barking. I pulled up in front of the Alco Department Store (Fraser, Colorado's, answer to Wall Mart), and she continued to bark at everything that moved in the parking lot.

I went into the store, and when I came out a while later, she had subsided into moans in the back seat. We drove back to the High Mountain Lodge and, as we were turning down the road, I whispered, "Murphy! Be on the lookout! Maybe you'll see the fox again."

Sometimes I surprise myself with my stupidity. That little whisper set Murphy off again. There wasn't a fox in sight, but now we have indelible dog slobber on the passenger-side of the car to balance the previous mucking of the driver's side.

Murphy was a basket case after that. She came into the lodge and fell asleep behind the couch. When our guests came to supper that evening, she pretended they weren't there.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Recycling the Christmas Tree Lights

There is a Bed & Breakfast in the area (one of our competitors) whose owners have lined every architectural feature of their (faux) Victorian place with the most eye-bleeding and mind-numbing colored lighting that you can possibly imagine.

Like the Great Wall of China, we suspect that the result can be seen from space, and if Aliens From Another Planet do exist, they can use the building as a great excuse to take over the world--if only to instruct Earthlings in the tasteful and proper use of electrons before eating out our brains.

That being said, we finally got around to taking down the Christmas trees in the Atrium and in the lounge off the dining lodge this week. And I was left with all these huge long strings of white lights that we had lit the Atrium tree with. "What if," sez I to myself, "I use them to delineate the walkways. I think the place would look nice and welcoming." Which just goes to show that I'm not above channeling my inner hypocrisy if it suits me. My only defense is that the lights aren't colored.

It was either that, or coil the light strings carefully before putting them away. And the only thing I dislike more than decorating for Christmas is taking down the decorations afterward. As we are running a business now, we can't use the excuse that we're going to leave the tree up until Valentine's Day, then hang the (very dead) branches with red hearts. That doesn't fly with guests.

Anyway, so in the next few days, I will be recycling the Christmas tree lights into an "architectural feature" at the High Mountain Lodge. I'll post pictures when we get done.

In the meantime, we have awesome guests at the Lodge this weekend, and it will be a pleasure to feed them tomorrow before they go off to hit the slopes at Winter Park. And when they get back tomorrow afternoon, there will be recycled Christmas tree lights to welcome them back and light their way to the Lodge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Books

Today, I began a chore that I've been avoiding since we first moved up to the High Mountain Lodge: organizing the library.

I started out easy: shelving the science fiction and mystery novels I've accumulated over the years. It is a daunting task, and a humbling one, as well. While I suspected it before, just today I realized beyond a shadow of a doubt what execrable taste in reading I have.

A year ago when we were just beginning to get serious about innkeeping, the real estate brokers who shepherded us through the process told us that we couldn't surround ourselves with all our books. "It intimidates people," they said.

So we decided to sequester the books. There is a room on the lower level of the lodge that has a fireplace, but no bathroom. We decided to turn it into a library, a quiet room where people could come to sit by the fire, play a quiet game of cards, and browse our frighteningly eclectic collection of books.

The plan has been hanging fire for months now; we've been too busy cleaning, doing maintenance, and generally learning how to run an inn.

At a time in our lives when it is possible to continue working until late at night or rising before the chickens to start (or continue) a project, it was refreshing to tackle a long-put-off project. And it was a surprisingly spiritually necessary chore. I hadn't realized how much I missed my books. I've been surrounded by books since I was a small child, and it seemed natural to have them around me.

The recent months at the High Mountain Lodge have been filled with necessary work: cleaning, organizing, planning, cooking. They have been months filled with delight as we welcomed people to the lodge and made new friends and realized that the gamble we took is really going to pay off.

So meeting the books was a luxury. They will all be up for our guests to read (except for my first edition of John Nichols' The Milagro Beanfield War, which I bought in a Tulsa book store on the remainder table for 99¢ and is now worth a fortune). Whenever Julie gets a cold, I read her the section about Stella Armijo slaughtering chickens and bunnies while Herbie Goldfarb, the VISTA volunteer, looks on from his shack with the skunks under the floorboards. It never fails to make her laugh and cough. She gets well a lot sooner. It would kill me if someone carried it off. So it stays safe.

Other than that, the library will soon be another reason to come to the High Mountain Lodge: literature (and trashy novels) by the yard.