Monday, October 30, 2006

Trick-or-Treat Rocky Mountain Style

A big snow storm in the middle of the week dropped enough snow to cause school closings for the first time in five years. We had a four day weekend as a result. Today it was sunny and warm with highs near 50 degrees. While Allison was in Sunday School I took a walk around Frisco and saw people everywhere out enjoying the weather: A bike rider in shorts, people strolling Frisco's main street, people sunning on their porches. The oddest sight was a shirtless fellow in dred-locks videotaping himself petting his hairless cat on his front porch. (I tried not to stare.)

Good thing the weather was mild because tonight was the night Silverthorne celebrates Halloween by trick-or-treating the outlet stores. It's a tradition that evolved here and is nothing like the Halloween I remember growing up in the suburbs where we took a pillowcase, joined up with other neighborhood kids and disappeared into the night. Of course, here, they have the snow and cold and terrain to contend with and since less than 4000 people live in Silverthorne and something like 60% of the homes are frequently vacant vacation homes, the outlet stores make a safe setting.

I don't believe there is a retail development in a more beautiful setting than this. We meander on paths along the Blue River with mountains in every direction. We cross wooden bridges lit with white twinkle lights over the babbling river to collect candy from all the storekeepers. Then everyone meets up at the community Pavilion for hot chocolate and a performance from the community symphony dressed in ghoulie garb. All too charming.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The fox out-foxed

This red fox had a no luck digging out lunch, but we felt we'd hit the jackpot just being ringside to the show.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


A super sunny day melts the icicles away.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Now I know why we haven't seen a bear since we've been here: We aren't leaving our garage door open at night. I learned from the second graders during reading time today (I volunteer on Thursdays) that the best hope for seeing a bear is to leave your trash cans accessible because that's what brings the illusive bear to the open. You learn a lot from second graders, sometimes more than you need.

Once when we were living at my aunt's house because we didn't have anywhere to live because my parents were getting divorced, a bear got into the trash...

I told them we saw a fox this morning on our way to school. He was trying to snatch some little creature out of a hole in the snow.

I saw a fox once at my mom's boyfriend's house...

Let's just get back to the book, shall we?, I say.

School chums

I'm posting this photo of Allison with her school friends. They remind me of little Southpark kids with their winter woolies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Moose alert

It may be a challenge to hike Lily Pad Trail today as it's snowing and 22 degrees this morning. Yesterday we woke up to snow that melted completely away by 2:00 p.m. followed by bright sunshine for about two hours before another snowstorm came through this time dropping big wet flakes that melted on contact with the ground. So this morning the wet ground had turned to ice making travel down the mountain a little slippery. I think autumn has passed and we are into winter.

Wait...I just saw three moose outside my window in the meadow below. I tried to get a few snapshots before they wandered away. There is a watering hole down there and occasionally you will see moose, or is it meece? These big creatures were nibbling from the tops of whatever shrubs are in the meadow. Now they've lumbered off back into the woods.

I wish sometimes that instead of experiencing wilderness through the comfortable home base of our condo we could instead be living more intimately with the natural world. It is almost embarrassing to make statements like, "We saw a red fox in the parking lot of the outlet mall in Silverthorne." How I wish I could get closer, not only to observe these creatures, but to feel them, their presence. I think that is why I like hiking. It is the closest I come to being part of the natural world. But again, I feel mildly frustrated and disappointed for being on a touristy trail that animals have long since avoided. I guess I'm taking baby steps, getting familiar with my surroundings until I feel confident to cut a wider swath.

All of us can envy the individuals who opt out of the rat race to live authentic lives in nature. It's just difficult to be a Thoreau when you have others depending on you. And even the naturalist writer, David Peterson, who for over 25 years has lived an almost monastic life in an isolated cabin in Colorado, admits to worrying about finances as he grows older and less physically capable. Maybe he wishes he'd earned a little money before he thumbed his nose at society. He may need health care and expensive meds in the years to come.

The key is balance. Maybe this temporary mountain vacation retreat away from my "real life" is as close as someone like me can get to living what Thoreau called a "border life," living as an intelligent balance as possible between the material and spiritual, nature and culture. From the comfort of my condo window I watch wildlife and imagine the world in the pines. Only on my hikes do I feel less a spectator and more a participant. Every time I walk my trail I grow more familiar with the landmarks. I meander through the boulder field, cross over two log bridges, pass the first beaver pond, ascend the flat ridge before the second lake, pass the resting spot where the Steller Jays have learned to scout for picnickers' crumbs, and when I see the crooked pine that Allison says looks like a chair in the middle of the path I grin because I feel we know each other now that I've named it.

I can only snatch little dreamlike insights into that world. What would it feel like to build your own home with your own hands with materials you scrounged from the woods? What would it feel like to retreat from the world and make a life among what in some ways is the true world? Like David Peterson, I inherently believe that the natural world is the only valid place for spirituality. But creature of the modern world that I am, I don't know if I could give up enough of the comforts of my world to be true to my true self.

I'll always romanticize the idea of living on the edge of civilization. Why some of us are drawn to the idea I could hypothesize endlessly. Why for some children do books like, My Side of the Mountain, and Gary Paulson's, Hachet make deep lasting impressions? For years after reading My Side of the Mountain, I dreamed about finding a hollowed out tree for which to hide out. Of course I would collect and make things to adorn my hideaway because I am a nester and decorator at heart. I'd have calico curtains, and a feather bed and carved pine table and soon I'd be venturing back to society to collect little improvements for my den and eventually I'd ruin the whole purpose of my retreat. Such is the allure of material things to a modern woman like me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Getting to know you

America today reached the 300 mark. The 300 million mark in population, that is. Okay, that's plenty. Let's now try to concentrate on keeping what resources we have plentiful for the lucky ones that are here. That bias revealed, I return to my observations on the subject of what being an American means.

Having lived in the homogeneous white American suburbs all my life it's no surprise I am fascinated when I encounter people speaking other languages. Truthfully, I am often uneasy. Most commonly it is Spanish, but here in the ski resort community of Summit County you are likely to hear languages you can't recognize. At the supermarket there are many employees of North Africa who speak Pulaar. They are very dark-skinned and I guessed, in my ignorance, that they were Nigerian. I have since learned they are North Africans who fled their country of Mauritania due to political unrest. There are probably 100 or so here. Although they are Muslim, they are in conflict with the Arabs who for centuries have been pushing the indigenous black Africans out of their homeland--just like every other conflict in the history of man. They have found refuge in Silverthorne working in the service industry alongside the Hispanics.

A couple of years ago, in post 9/11 heightened attention to foreign-born Muslims, authorities raided the Africans' newly-formed mosque looking for two specific illegals. Three individuals were detained. The others were here legally, having been granted political asylum. Some complained to the press of being treated harshly and suspected that their humble mosque (in a rented apartment) provoked the investigation. One one hand, America is trying to take proactive measures against security threats; one the other, innocent individuals get harassed. And although I am sorry for anyone's "harassment," I do believe we have a right to be proactive about security. Foreigners need not get outraged at this. Too bad. Consider any inconvenience or misunderstanding as a right of initiation and be happy to help us root out the bad guys.

I believe the Mauritanian refugees of the City Market are decent people. The gentle Africans who scan and bag my groceries are working hard to make lives of security and peace in America. Seeing them every other day as I pick up milk or bread, I grow more familiar with them. They smile at me and Allison, speak English to us wishing us a good day. At the laundromat where I go to wash an oversized comforter I say hello to two friendly gentlemen busy sorting their laundry. One comments on the snow and I think, Oh, Russian. But I could be wrong. He could be Ukrainian, or Lithuanian, or from Belarus. A mother watching her two small children while folding flannel pajamas and blankets must be Mexican as well as the dark-haired guy washing his work clothes. We are all just people attending to common tasks. Whether we are eating a sandwich next door at the Blue Moon Bakery, or pumping gas, or picking our kids up from school--we're just people. It is really about becoming more familiar. The more we see and understand of each other the less apprehension we have towards one another.

I am sure the refugees from Mauritania are not plotting to overthrow Silverthorne. I'm fairly certain the Mexicans making the beds at the resort hotels aren't trying to bilk the government, and I think the Ukrainian clerks at the gift stores in Breckenridge are here only for the skiing. We all know we have a good thing here in America. Granted, in some places there are pockets of ill-meaning folks like the La Raza groups who want to "reconquer" America for Mexico and we do have a serious illegal immigration issue, but for the most part the immigrants I see are working hard at their jobs adapting well to the American way. They give themselves away by their native languages, but in most other ways they fit in. Nobody here is out waving the flags of their homeland. The only flag-waving I see is that of the Stars and Stripes. New town banners just went up on the major roads through Dillon sporting the single image of the American flag. And the ever faithful Brother Nathaniel, a Jew for Jesus who daily from the intersection of Highway 9 and Wildernest Road blesses the traffic with a crucifix in one hand, occasionally includes a giant American flag in the other. So from my perspective, at least from this little county, it appears that everyone is busy being or becoming an American.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's the answer?

Once a week, on Thursdays, I volunteer to help with Allison's second grade class. The teacher sends them out in groups for with their chapter books and I listen to them read. What's interesting is to hear the Hispanic children navigate the English. It is obvious from their pronunciation that some learned to read in Spanish first. How difficult it must be to have to think in two languages. But I don't feel sorry for them, I recognize the advantage they have--to be bilingual and to have it be encouraged. There is no longer the stigma to being a second language learner, at least not at Silverthorne Elementary where half the students are Hispanic.

Every notice from the school that comes home is printed in English and Spanish. There is also a Spanish translator at the school to deal with the Hispanic parents. All this is especially interesting to me after spending our time in Mexico with a first grader in Mexican school. We were so lost. There was absolutely no help for her, but we didn't expect any either. Allison really had to integrate break-speed. What I came away with was the experience of being an outsider, a foreigner.

I haven't formed an opinion about any of this. I'm just studying it and wondering which way is best to promote assimilation into American culture. On one hand I think it is kind to make things easier for the Hispanic schoolchildren. Their self esteem and comfort is put foremost. One the other, it takes a lot of money and resources to accommodate them. What I am wondering is if this consideration best serves the nation as a whole, because it doesn't stop with elementary school, it seems to be continuing into common culture. Everywhere there are signs of Spanish taking a front seat next to English. I'm not the first to pay attention to this development, but just a witness to the process of early accommodation in primary grades. But how could we do otherwise? When you have half the student body whose first language is Spanish, how do you ignore their needs?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


The grizzly bear has all but disappeared from Colorado, but there are plenty of black bears, although we've yet to spot one yet--alive. Allison and I spent some time in Frisco today going through historical cabins and the original one-room schoolhouse that serves as a museum for artifacts from the mid 1800's when the town was founded. There is a cute exhibit of the town in miniature along with stuffed specimens of animals indigenous to the region like bears, beavers, eagles, elk, etc.

There is also some nice bronze art like this giant bear with an indian girl.
I think Frisco is my favorite of the towns in Summit County. It seems the most authentic. Plus it has my favorite spot to eat (The Butterhorn) and one of the quaintest main streets of anywhere I've been.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lessons from the forest

"And the fox said, Do not shoot me for I will give you good counsel...."

By far, the most sighted wildlife here has been the red fox. At least every other day we see one in the "neighborhood." They trot around like domestic dogs, quite familiar with man. I imagine they are accustomed to scavenging through our trash. They are beautiful creatures. I can see why they were so hunted at one time. I don't know if it's legal to hunt them now, but I did recently see a red fox pelt in an antique store in Frisco that was priced at $110 dollars.

Mostly what we see are black crows big as cats and very menacing-looking. Stellar Jays are common, but the hummingbirds have migrated south I suppose.I hear there are bears that get into the trash (thus the locks on the community bin) but I've yet to see one.

I've been videotaping the fall scenery and putting together a short video to music. That, and working on Carol's genealogy video project. I spend a lot of time alone which can be very helpful to creativity. That's my strong suit, which is good since I don't have any friends here. Actually, I've always preferred to be alone. I think I'm a much more interesting and nicer person when it's just me! Today was quiet but very satisfying. I walked Lily Pad trail and collected a back pack full of pine cones thinking Allie and I could make something with them. It was kind of eerie with the overcast skies and the wind making the pines moan. I became so obsessed with finding the perfect unweathered pine cones that I became a little disoriented and when the sky suddenly grew dark I got a little spooked. I felt like a Little Red Riding Hood oblivious to what lurked beyond. So that's where the stories began. Now I had an intuitive understanding of the origins of old German fairy tales with the witches, goblins, and wolves. I could see how the world of the forest could draw a mind to frightful imaginations: The tall pines creaking, the wind whistling, the burnt tree stubs looking like black bears, the sky darkening, the sun disappearing, the mist suddenly filling the voids. Eeeeeeeooooh.

All the way home I recalled the tales I read from the Brothers Grimm and wondered how environment truly inspires folklore. My parents weren't German, never read dark bedtime tales to me, but I realize now that the gift of the Brothers Grimm from my aunt when I was 10 made more of an impression than I realized. I read it front to back and remember it being full of scary stories, not like the usual ghost stories around the campfire, but tales based in deeper, psychological themes like abandonment and abuse. These were stories told and read to children through the ages, but even then, as a kid reading then to myself, I thought they were terrifying. What were those Germans trying to impress on their kids? Look out for evil, I suppose. In the peace-loving 70's I couldn't imagine what evil lurked riding my bicycle through our suburban neighborhood till dusk called me home for dinner. Still, those fairy tales worked their way into my subconscious.

I've learned since that modern psychologists have theorized that those stories are myths that represent our emotional angst and Freudian hang-ups. They believe the tales speak to us about our struggles to become fully human. So when I was ten reading about Hansel and Gretel almost becoming a witch's dinner, I believed it was their due for their greed and gullibility. How was I supposed to know it was a study in object relations and maternal cannibalism? I just thought those stories were warnings to children about the dangers of wandering away from home and talking to strangers. That much is easy to understand--especially if you've been in the deep dark forest.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Call me a worrier, but....

I am in a anxious state of mind, tempted to say, "What is happening to America?" Is it in a true demise? Am I a witness to the decline of our culture once thought to be so noble, so endowed, so promising; now so hated by the world? Yes, we are hated and it takes my breath away and rocks my core belief system. Bad enough that outsiders hate us, but when we are producing such an epidemic of self-haters that turn the gun on others before annihilating themselves--well you have to wonder.

This week: More school shootings, massacres even, as in the case of an Amish town in Pennsylvania. Along with the usual pervert scandals in government (Congressman sends lurid e-mails to young male pages) the world seems like it's going to hell in a hand-basket.

Is there any place left untouched by human perversity? The Amish in Nickel Mines, Virginia probably thought they were safe in their isolated world--their backs turned away from modernity. A one room schoolhouse, girls dressed in smocks and bonnets; boys in suspenders and straw hats. A people suspended in time, living simply, peaceably, on record as the happiest, most contented people in America. I feel deeply sorry for them as if corruption and evil stumbled into their haven in the form of a crazed milkman, a copy-cat criminal looking for his posthumous 15 minutes of fame. The vampires from cable news, the Nancy Graces and the Greta Van Susterans haven't uncovered and broadcasted his true motive yet, but I know flat-out what drove his heinous act was the promise of notoriety. We all know his name now--first, middle, and last, and we will soon know what he liked to eat for breakfast and what videos he checked out at Blockbuster.

Somehow I feel vaguely responsible as a member of the secular world that some crazed individual influenced and poisoned from my camp stole into theirs and shattered it. I feel like we've let them down. I think we all looked at the Amish as quaint, innocent people, and in our affection for their innocence let them live in peace. How sweet. And secretly, how interesting--to watch them flourish under the glass, a benign social experiment, a laboratory of alternate culture, the docile kind, not the kind that protests and complains and aggressively demands center stage, attention, rights.

From video broadcast from insatiable news crews in helicopters I watched as the Amish village became filled with strangers polluting their pastoral Winslow Homer landscape. Cars and cameras, and reams of yellow police tape strung in the waving grasses around barn-raised community buildings and painted white fences. What shock these people are feeling. And what profound disappointment the rest of us feel, that no one, no where in America is safe from the new breed of criminal--the one incubated and cultivated in the cesspool of popular culture where the biggest achievement one can wish for is fame.