Thursday, January 28, 2010


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 (, 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


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.