Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Murphy & the Bear

The Navajo have a name for wintertime when they perform their ceremonials: “The Season When the Thunder Sleeps.”

With that in mind, I’ve decided to name summertime “The Season When Tom and Julie Don’t Sleep.”

For the past few weeks, we have been plagued by a bear trying to get into our dumpster in the middle of the night. Ever vigilant, Murphy the Lodgedog nightly has been pitching six fits at about three in the morning when the critter starts to rattle the dumpster. 

This is a smaller and younger bear than the one the size of an Escalade that got into our neighboring lodge a couple of summers ago, broke into their walk-in freezer, and ate all their ice cream.

But though young, he’s already gotten in trouble before. About a week ago, Murphy started barking, roused us out of sleep, and I shambled down to the storeroom to turn on the outside light to see what the matter was. Julie shouted down from the balcony, “Tom! Don’t open the door! There’s a bear out there!” So naturally, I opened to door, and sure enough there was a bear on the other side of the road from the dumpster. He boasted a white ear-tag: a sure sign that the Division of Wildlife had already had at least one run-in with him.

I was so mad at being awakened in the middle of the night that I stood there in bare feet and boxer shorts, waved my arms and shouted, “Get outta here! Go on! Git!”

The bear looked surprised, said, “Whoaaa?” and ran up the mountain.

Murphy was beside herself. She literally could not stop barking, and for the rest of the night, the slightest noise would set her off. 

It has been like that every night since. We haven’t been this sleep-deprived since our son was a collicky infant and I briefly considered drowning him in the bathtub.

Just last night, Murphy went off again. We didn’t see the bear this time, and I briefly wondered if it might be our neighborhood evil raccoon, but this morning the dumpster had been moved, so it was clear that the bear had been back. 

Since we seem unable to convince Murphy to be a less-ambitious watchdog, it’s time to start filling balloons with a dilute ammonia solution and putting them on the lid of the dumpster. Bears, whose sense of smell is tremendous--even better than that of dogs--do not like the smell of ammonia, so perhaps if our bear gets a whiff of the stuff, he’ll leave us alone.

If not, just about the time it becomes The Season When the Thunder Sleeps and the bear goes into hibernation, it will also be The Season When Tom and Julie Sleep, as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Some of my earliest childhood memories are of smelling the moisture in the air after a rainstorm.

I grew up in the Oklahoma panhandle, where rainstorms were few and far between. However, most years around about the 4th of July, we would be treated to spectacular downpours, the product of cumulus clouds that would build and roil and form and churn about in the air above the high plains, then release torrents of water from the bottom of anvil-shaped monster-clouds, as well as not a little bit of hail, and occasionally a tornado or two.

But I always welcomed the rain--since I didn't have to worry about the hail denting the car or the tornado sucking the house away to Oz and perhaps, if you were lucky, dropping it on a politician: that's why God made fathers: to work to earn money to pay for the insurance.

The July storms were usually the first rain we'd had since spring, when after a dry winter we'd have maybe a week or two of gentle rains, and everybody would hurry out to Elmhurst Cemetery to harvest the asparagus that was frantically erupting from around every tombstone. My wife has similar stories of harvesting spring asparagus from the irrigation ditches on the farm in Boulder County, Colorado, where she kept her horse. Town boy that I was, I had no clue that you could find asparagus growing on the sides of irrigation ditches, but I learned early on that you could always find a healthy crop of it at the Beasley mausoleum after the first rain.

A few times, I was lucky enough to be on the edge of town after a rainstorm and find myself buffeted by the wind blowing the moist pollen from the fields of wheat that stretched away to the horizon. I'd go home later and find myself covered with the stuff; my t-shirt would never be the same again. But while standing at the edge of the dampened fields, I only cared for the smell of the wheat, driven by the still-moist breeze.

The smell of wet wheat is almost indescribable. For a boy growing up in the proverbial center of the Dust Bowl, I can only say that it smelled like "life."

Of course, I was born long after the Dust Bowl, but I remember my mother cursing and crying when the wind blew, telling the stories of her mother making her and her sisters lie on a bed with a wet sheet over them so they wouldn't breathe in the powder-fine dust and develop pneumonia from it.

Some of her anxiety undoubtedly rubbed off on me, but even in the early 60s when I was a child, it didn't take much for me to develop an appreciation for the blessings of rain.

You would think, given my childhood, that I would have fled to a humid climate and never looked back. In college in a damp climate, however, I discovered some of the unsavory things that moisture can do to skin, so it didn't take much to convince me that rain, like so many other blessings, is best enjoyed in moderation.

My godmother, a panhandle girl, followed her husband to a job outside of Charleston, South Carolina. True to her upbringing, she made him string a clothesline between a gum tree and a live oak growing in their back yard, then proceeded to set up housekeeping, hanging the sheets out to dry. Well, they didn't dry; instead, they developed grayish-green stains that spread exactly like mold on a petri dish.

So she made her husband go into Sears and buy her a dryer. Years later when she told me that story, I  could tell that she was ashamed of the fact that she couldn't dry her laundry outside. She never made her peace with the South. It irked her that the alternative to drying her towels in a machine was having mold turn them into gelatinous goo and that, if you were going to dry your sheets outside, you had to put so much Clorox in the water to kill the mold that if you perspired on the sheets during the night, you would wake up in the morning with little white bleached lines on your skin corresponding to the wrinkles in the cloth.

But I digress.

This post is really about the smell of nature after rain. Up here at the High Mountain Lodge, we don't have wheat, but we have acres and acres of pine trees. After a few clear days, the sun has toasted the pine pollen so that, when it rains, the air smells like tincture of Colorado. Of course, the rain will also precipitate the pine pollen out of the air and make yellow streaks all over your car.

You should feel privileged. For a few days, at least, your car will look like a local's.

Come visit us soon, and smell the air.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Isn't it "interesting" how seemingly simple projects can balloon into titanic time-sucks? When we bought the Lodge two years ago, high on our list of "deferred maintenance" issues, we realized we were going to have to address the problem of deteriorating planks in the multi-tiered deck that is the focus of so much of our outdoor hospitality in the summertime.

Alas! A more than 200% of normal snowfall last winter and the persistent snow we had during "mud season" in May caused us to postpone the project a little longer: according to a neighbor who tracks such things, we got over 400 inches of snow at the High Mountain Lodge this past winter, so we were weeks late in beginning the deck repairs.

In addition, when we began pulling up rotting planks, we discovered that the seemingly sound planks next to them were also deteriorating rapidly. Long story short: we are completely replacing the middle tier of the deck with a "composite" material (think recycled plastic soda bottles mixed with sawdust then dyed brown).

A simple weekend project has expanded into a major construction effort, all done while we've been welcoming guests who arrive with a mixed look of indulgence, concern, and alarm. We've been apologetic, and so far I'm managing to suppress the eye-tic that develops every time I have to go into explanation mode.

The good news: the deck will be finished before the holiday weekend (or else I will be hospitalized somewhere and receiving powerful anti-psychotic medication).

Also good news: the weather up here has been spectacular. Our daytime highs are in the mid-70s, with lows dipping into the 40s. Guests from Denver (where it has been in the 90s) can only rave about our perfect weather.

So come on up and enjoy the gentle Colorado breezes while sipping a drink on our brand-new deck. You won't regret the visit!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


There is a green that is greener than green, and that green is yellow.

About three weeks ago, around the first of June, in one day we watched the pasture turn green. There were still patches of snow, but the sun was (finally!) warm, and over the course of just a few hours, green stuff sprang to life amid the brown and gray straw of the dead grasses and weeds. In the days that followed, the pasture just got greener, until you didn't think the color could possibly become more saturated.

Then the dandelions started to bloom. Just when you didn't think it could get any more green, the bright yellow deepened the color. Right now, the pasture looks like God threw a staggering quantity of gold dust onto a carpet of emeralds.

The aspens also have leafed out. They bring their own quality of green to the mix. They start out almost yellow when the leaf buds burst open, but as they drink in the sunshine, their color darkens. Years ago, I went on a backpacking trip down in the San Juans in late June, and we walked through a spectacular aspen forest that reminded me of JRR Tolkein's description of elven woods in The Lord of the Rings.

Even the willows have given up their early-spring orange hope. And as the sun goes down, the manes and tails of the horses grazing down there are back-lit and seem to be made of silver.

Lordy! Living up here is turning me into a romantic. Wordsworth would have loved it up here; so would his wife, Dorothy. We don't have the drop-dead views of the Continental Divide and the Indian Peaks (you have to walk to the other side of the pasture to enjoy that spectacular view), but Sheep Mountain to the west, while less dramatic, is no less beautiful. We are learning to love the shadows and highlights the sun makes in its various declivities.

To the end of my days, I will always associate the color green with quiet. Not necessarily silence, mind you. Right now, between the wind (more that a Wordsworthian "gentle breeze", the ceaseless buzz of the hummingbirds, and the swallows quarreling and copulating under the eves, the place is hardly silent. But it's still quiet with the best sort of quiet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


My last blog post was on the first of December, and it was about snow.

Surprise, here it is the middle of April, and this blog post is about.... snow.

There are two additional blog posts in draft that I never finished or published: a December post entitled, "Skiing in the Silence of Powder" and a January post, "The January Blizzard of 2011."

Lest you suspect that by now I'm in the terminal stages of Cabin Fever and about about to turn into an ax murderer, I'll let you in on a little secret: I love snow.

Even this late in the season, there's nothing about snow up here that will cause me to run screaming from the building screaming, "No! No! Dammit!" the way I did one time after coming out of a late-afternoon graduate seminar at CU-Boulder when it started to snow in May. Up here, we know what to do with snow: we play in it.

We are not officially in mud season up here at the High Mountain Lodge. That doesn't happen until Easter Monday, the day after Winter Park closes. But that doesn't mean we haven't had a lot of mud already. And the lovely snow we're having right now just means that it will cover the mud with an even layer of white. For a day or two. Of course, this snow means that the mud will just be that much deeper when all that melting moisture mixes with the dirt, but up here, we're into immediate gratification, so like Scarlett O'Hara, we'll "think about that tomorrah."

This has been a spectacular winter for snow up here. While Denver was basking in a drought-stricken perpetual autumn, we have been blessed with wave after wave of moisture from the west that has smacked into the continental divide and given up the ghost in the form of snow in our valleys.

The other day, we went over to check on the horses. It was a bright, sunny day, and it didn't even occur to us to wear snowshoes until I sank into the snow to above my knees. And for me, that's saying something.

I'm Facebooking, e-mailing, and texting all my friends: come on up! Winter ain't over yet.