Shootin' the Breeze

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Archive for the tag “Fort Collins”

Close to Home

When I see something in the news about a tsunami in faraway lands, I have compassion for the victims, but the victims are strangers to me and I have never been to those places.

When there is a natural disaster, such as tornadoes in the Midwest or hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, or wildfires in the West, I can relate better.  The victims are Americans, like me.  Maybe I have been to the location of the disaster.  Maybe I have friends or family in the area.

But enough about people I don’t know.  Now let’s talk about me, me, me.

Now the news is showing the clean-up from the flooding in northern Colorado.  This is my neighborhood.  I have been on those roads now destroyed, like Highway 34 up the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park.  I can’t get to Estes now.  I love going to Estes Park.  It is a beautiful little tourist town in the mountains, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We camped there this summer.  My wife did an art show there in June.  We have been to the stores shown on the news as being flooded. We live in the very same county.

We have family members in Boulder and Longmont.  They were not harmed, yet we worried until we learned that.

I called a lawyer friend last week to see how he was doing because he lives in an area that is a mountain valley.  Last summer, his family was evacuated during the High Park fire.  This year his family was not evacuated, but his home was damaged by some of the flooding.  Still, they stayed.  The road to his house is not a priority in the rebuilding efforts.  He was told that it might not be repaired for a year.  In the meantime, he literally has to use a ladder to cross a washed out section of the road that is now an open crevice in order to get to a car he parks on the road.  He has to hike quite a ways to get to that car.  For a year?

We have been to his home.  It is in a lovely setting.  I understand why they moved there.  Now I have difficulty grasping how they can stay there, cut off from vehicle access.

There are many stories like that.  Worse stories.  True stories.

The people who lost everything in a tsunami can feel compassion for families like my friend’s, and probably do.  Even so, Colorado is a faraway place to them.

I guess you had to be there.

It helps to remember that God, who knows when a sparrow falls from a tree, is here and was there with the people in the tsunamis, the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the wildfires, and the floods.  For nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Church-Going

I have been to both ends of the spectrum of churches the past two Sundays.

Yesterday, Sugar and I attended a Cowboy Church service held at an indoor riding arena in a metal building north of Fort Collins, Colorado.  The congregation is called Riding for the Brand.  I am guessing that there were maybe 20 people in attendance.  Five of them were the preacher’s wife and four kids.  The preacher wore his cowboy hat except during prayer.  The sermon was pretty good — very folksy and down-to-earth.  One illustration was about something “as useless as teats on a boar hog.”  After church was a pot-luck dinner.  After the dinner, anyone who cared to could practice roping steers in the arena.  Obviously, church-goers needed to bring their horses, who did not participate in worship, being tied to trailers.  I’m pretty sure that Christ is fond of horses, being born in a barn Himself.

The Sunday before, we were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we worshiped at a cathedral built in 1869, Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis is another fella who likes animals.  The Roman Catholic Mass was, of course, very liturgical. The priest wore robes and a stole, but no cowboy hat.  He too gave a very good sermon — with a Spanish accent.  It was uplifting to worship the Lord in such a beautiful sanctuary.  I am guessing that there were 500 people in attendance.   See link at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_Basilica_of_St._Francis_of_Assisi

I reckon the Good Lord attends both services.  I felt His Presence.  He gets around, ya know.

Snow Day II

Today is a snow day too, i.e., Snow Day 2.

snowybirdbath

They measured 12″ in town, but we got more.  Estes Park got 24″.  We got somewhere in between those amounts.

Our place is a mile from the highway.  Highway 287 is closed for about a 50 mile stretch, from Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins, to Laramie, Wyoming.  We live in between.

Miss Sugar has a doctor appointment at 3:00 p.m.  With the highway closed and all, I advised her to get an early start.  I even let her use my snowshoes.

Since she had to bundle up anyway, she might as well feed the livestock on her way out.  And take some pictures for me to share with my readership.

I’ve got my work cut out for me already.  I need to put another log on the fire.

pronghornsinsnow

Miss Sugar actually took the photo of these pronghorns from a window in our house today.  Click on the picture to enlarge it.  For many more images, check out her website http://www.coloradoranchphotos.com.

Car Status (and lack thereof)

Advertisements for luxury cars appeal to a desire to be “cool” by appearing wealthy.  You have seen them — Cadillac, Lexus, Lincoln, Acura, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Porsche.  If you get one of those, your status with neighbors, friends and strangers who see you drive it, will undoubtedly increase.  I have succumbed to that myself, so I am not writing this to be self-righteous; rather, I am writing to tell you about the opposite of status.  I am writing about my personal degradation.

Miss Sugar, my trophy wife, and I have a vehicle which has humiliated me, but not her.  Apparently, her self esteem is more secure than my own.  There are many reasons for her to have good self esteem, including being a former beauty queen and professional model.  I, on the other hand, am a fragile creature.

As a fragile creature, I am self-conscious about being seen in a vehicle with reindeer antlers sticking out on either side and a red “nose” on the grill at Christmas time.  I am self-conscious about having a window sign saying “Sugar ‘N Spice Clowns” with the telephone number.  As a fragile creature, I cringe at a bumper sticker that says, “I’m not going SLOW, it’s the CLOWN in front of me that is.”

The vehicle so decorated is a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder.  Nissan Pathfinders are cool, normally, but our Pathfinder has cheerfully tolerated much abuse in fifteen years, as it traveled 270,000 miles.  It runs great.  It reliably starts in cold weather.  It did not choose its decorations.  I empathize with its loss of dignity. 

It is integral to your understanding of the loss of dignity to be told that Miss Sugar and daughter Michelle have performed as children’s entertainers in their roles as Sugar ‘N Spice Clowns.   Thus the Pathfinder became The Clown Car.  (The history of Sugar ‘N Spice Clowns includes a television show and local fame,  street performances in Boulder and Fort Collins, county fairs, countless company picnics, and birthday parties, a period of her life that Michelle said she “does not wish to re-visit.”) 

I, on the other hand, am not part of the act.  My contributions are limited to carrying the cotton candy machine and directing traffic for the lines of children waiting for face-painting and balloon animals.  The IBM picnic had at least 150 children.  (He also serves who only stands and waits.)   As a non-clown, I have nevertheless been transported in and even been seen driving The Clown Car.

As Miss Sugar has phased out of the clown business, The Clown Car has transitioned into becoming The Dog Car.  Not wanting to ruin our (other) prestigious luxury SUV purchased in order to gain acceptance in the parking lot at work, we use the Pathfinder to take the dogs with us to their frequent trips to the veterinarian, as well as doggy day care and boarding at “camp” when we go on trips.  (See archives for Deadly Dangers at Cross Creek Ranch and Water Dogs).

Consequently, the Pathfinder has acquired an abundance of dog hair, so much so that at one of its infrequent trips to the car wash for a “detailing,” the employee who returned the keys to us remarked, “We vacuumed up half a dog from from your car.” 

Even as The Dog Car, the Pathfinder is still equipped with a special horn that offers a selection of sounds, including a siren, machine gun, and five animal sounds.  The sound of a cow mooing is the most popular.  When our fifteen-year-old nephew visited recently, he delighted in causing the Pathfinder to “moo” at people crossing the street.   Last year, while driving “off road” in open range, Miss Sugar thought it funny to have the Pathfinder moo at a herd of cattle near us.  Maybe its moo is a recording of a bull or something rude to the ears of cows because we started a stampede. 

There is an additional bumper sticker on the Pathfinder.  It says, “You have to be real secure to be seen in a car like this.” 

I’m not.

Fine Art and the Pig

Those of us who know Miss Sugar, my trophy wife, know that she is what she calls an “art advocate.”  That means she plans events where local artists can get exposure and even sell their art.  Those of us who know me know that I am not an artist, exactly, but I showed great potential in junior high, before middle schools were invented.  Since then, I have cut back on my creative endeavors into the visual arts, unless you count building our courtyard, which is a thing of beauty, including a wall made of empty wine bottles.  The wall is not portable, so I did not display my works at the art show and silent auction yesterday.

Some really good artists did participate, as well as some non-artists, including a pig named Sausage.  Sausage was there with some friends, each in the role of  marketing assistant.

Miss Sugar, you see, had organized the event yesterday as a fundraiser for the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.  Remember the bad wildfire called the High Park Fire here in Larimer County, Colorado?  Well, the Rist Canyon fire department even lost one of its fire stations in that bad fire.  So Miss Sugar, who is nicer than me, thought of the fundraiser and spent many hours recruiting artists to donate to the silent auction as well as artists and artisans to pay booth fees to sell stuff.  And she recruited me to set up tables and carry pictures and pottery and the like.  Which is very important.  I don’t know what she would do without me.

Although I suspect many women in the community attended in hopes of taking a gander at me, none actually stated that out loud, probably because Miss Sugar was there.  Besides me and the art, another draw was Sausage.  Here is how it was explained to me by his owner — when he walks a pig or llama or goat, all of which were there taking turns, people notice and ask, “Why are you walking that pig (or llama or goat) down the street?”  Then he can say, “Since you asked, I am getting attention for folks here in Old Town Fort Collins to ask that question so I can tell you about the Rist Canyon Art Show and Silent Auction.”  That is an effective marketing technique.

So, in addition to the power of my personal presence as an advertising method, Sausage, the llama and two goats attracted some attention as well.  It was a fun art show.

Another fun thing Miss Sugar did was offer face-painting and cotton candy.  I, personally, am not allowed to paint faces, preferring to leave that up to my trophy wife.  However, with respect to cotton candy, who do you think carries the cotton candy machine?

Now, let us turn our attention to yet another interesting aspect of the afternoon.  I have hauled livestock in horse trailers and stock trailers pulled by a pickup truck.  You have seen me and people like me doing that.  What you may not have seen, nor had I until yesterday, is a Jeep Cherokee containing a llama, pig, and two goats.  It is an amazing sight.  I can show you a photo below.  You will have to use your imagination concerning the odors within that particular SUV.  I remain unconvinced about the advantages of hauling livestock without a trailer.

The Visitor

Our nephew Max is visiting from Texas.  Lucky for him, and us, we have a Texas Lone Star flag to help him feel at home.

Max is fifteen.  He flew up here to Colorado all by himself and took the shuttle from Denver to Fort Collins to save us having to go to the airport, which I appreciated.

Max is a very polite young man.  He says, “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’m.”  He is so polite that he wanted to attend my Senior Olympics swim meet today.   Swim meets take a long time because there are many events.  He sat with me until my events and even took videos of me swimming, which was an extra incentive to win, so I did.

Our guest house is an old bunk house.  Max is staying there, but not alone, as our dog Rover is his room mate.  They have really hit it off.

He also has been hanging out with the horses.  Unfortunately, he is banned from riding horses this trip due to a sports-related back injury that happened earlier this summer, causing him to wear a body cast for a fractured vertebra.  I doubt his folks would appreciate it if we allowed an activity that might aggravate his condition.

This weekend is New West Fest in Fort Collins, so that will be another activity we can share with him.  And, as I have mentioned many times in other posts, Miss Sugar is a pretty good cook, which is a good attribute for an aunt to have.

It is a joy for us to host Max and we will miss him when he returns to Texas.  Maybe he will miss us, or at least the hot tub, and certainly Rover.

Outlaw Hideout

 

THE SETTING

We live adjacent to a 16,000 acre ranch.  (You can guess whether it is bigger or smaller than ours.  But don’t ask me.  My father taught me that it is impolite to ask someone how much they earn or what something cost.  The same applies to asking a rancher how many acres he owns or how many cows he has.  That is like asking how much money you have in the bank.)  Anyway, the ranch I am writing about has a rich history.  Just ask James Michener.  He wrote Centennial about this very area and part of the TV mini-series of long ago was filmed on this very ranch.  Oh, I know how many acres without having asked the owners, who have had it in the family for over 135 years.

Part of the Overland Trail ran from Fort Collins to Laramie, including through the ranch.  A canyon is not far off the trail.  There is a waterfall.  A part of the trail goes down a steep grade called Devil’s Slide.  At the bottom was an enterprising blacksmith whose shop was in a prime location to fix or replace broken wagon wheels.  Location.  Location.  Location.  The remains of the shop are still visible, as are hundred year old ruts left on the trail.  Not only did covered wagons bring pioneers, but the Overland Trail was a stage coach route as well. 

THE DISCOVERY

As a neighbor and friend, I have been permitted to ride on this adjacent ranch, so don’t think I was tresspassing.  I so appreciate being able to open one gate and ride “as far as the eye can see.” 

Well, a few years ago, I was riding in a rough area on the other side of the canyon.  There are some rock outcroppings that create overhangs under which a man on a horse could get out of the rain.  Or out of sight. 

As my horse and I traveled in this area by way of a washout, exploring what was previously unknown to me, I noticed what appeared to be a wall of sticks under a rock overhang which served as a roof.  It struck me that I had discovered a well-hidden “hideout,”  perhaps used by stage robbers or rustlers.  It had definitely been constructed by humans and was definitely intended to be out of sight and difficult to find.  It was like a cabin with a rock roof and a back wall of rock, with two sides of sticks.

THE MYSTERY

It was so out of sight and so difficult to find that, although I tried to note some landmarks, and thought I could remember how I got there, I have never been able to find it again.  I have gone back on horseback, attempting to recall my route and I have gone back to hike around where I thought the hideout was.  It ain’t there.

We are left to choose between two explanations.  Either I don’t deserve the title “King of the Wild Frontier,” or the place disappeared.  Under the second theory, which is much more believable than doubting my considerable abilities, I went through a time warp and was back in time when I examined the hideout.  How can you expect me to find a time warp again?

Legend of Rawhide

Me and Miss Sugar made a quick trip to Nebraska and Wyoming this weekend.  It was fun.

On Friday, after work, we drove to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, where I lived before coming to Colorado thirty years ago.  We ate at Applebee’s and stayed at the Hampton Inn.  Everything was fine.  I like western Nebraska.  Scottsbluff is so far west that it is only about twenty-five miles to the Wyoming border.

Saturday morning, we headed to Lusk, Wyoming for the performance of The Legend of Rawhide, which we had never seen but heard about from a gal who used to live there before coming to Fort Collins.  She told us to stay with her Aunt Dottie at her bed and breakfast, which we did.

While waiting for the evening performance, we poked around town.  We visited the local museum and the local pub.  At the pub, a bunch of young men in cowboy hats was drinking and playing pool.  They had an odd custom of sharing a jar of pickle juice.  When offered to Miss Sugar and myself, after we remarked about it, we declined.  No regrets about that decision.  The cheeseburger I got with tater tots was pretty good, but I doubt we will be back.  The patrons were too loud for my taste.

Aunt Dottie’s bed and breakfast was lovely.  She has a mansion-like house with a balcony off the second floor rooms.  In the stairway is a stained glass window imported from Italy.  It looks like it belongs in a cathedral. 

The performance was very well done, all by local folks.  Some played mountain men, some Sioux Indians, and some were folks on a wagon train passing through Wyoming on the way to Oregon.  They had fast galloping horses when the Indian warriors circled the wagon train for a battle after one of the pilgrims shot the chief’s daughter, which is a sure way to incur the wrath of them Sioux.  I was impressed by how the Lusk community comes together to put this on.  Well done.  If you visit Lusk next year, you will probably like it too. 

This morning, Aunt Dottie put out a good breakfast, which we shared with a family from California.  Mr. and Mrs. California knew about this weekend because they grew up in the area before migrating on to California.

After breakfast, Miss Sugar and I traveled about eighty miles east again to Fort Robinson, a former cavalry outpost in the Pine Ridge area of Nebraska.  It has a rich history, including the infamous distinction of being where Crazy Horse surrendered.  Sad for him, after surrendering, he was assasinated by a half-breed.  It was not a fair fight.  Now the fort is a state park.  This is another place I recommend that people interested in the West visit.  Not far away is the Pine Ridge Reservation, which has a history of its own, including the site of the Wounded Knee incident that Dee Brown wrote about years ago in his book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

We just got home and were glad that it rained a lot while we were gone.  That surely helped put out the fires.  Thank you, Lord!

Water Dogs

Max, about whom you read in Deadly Dangers at Cross Creek Ranch, is a Yellow Labrador Retriever.  He has been an enthusiastic swimmer his entire life … until we enrolled him in a class. 

Max enters fast flowing rivers without hesitation, especially to fetch a ball or stick.  But when asked to jump into a pool to fetch a toy, well, that’s where he draws the line. 

Advanced Animal Care in Fort Collins has the nicest doggy daycare that I have ever seen.  Miss Sugar discovered their new building and brought home a brochure with photos of the aquatic venue.  Owners can enroll their dogs in classes after first passing an orientation.

So we signed up both of our dogs.  Sadie is also a Yellow Lab; however, she has not shown a natural affinity for the sport of swimming.  Rather, one of her tricks is to let Max jump into the water, get the stick, and swim back to shore, where Sadie awaits to take the stick and claim credit for retrieving it, all without getting wet.

The swimming instructor at the Advanced Animal Care pool requires the dogs to wear life jackets.  I informed her that for Max it would not be necessary.  She insisted.

So I put the life jacket on Max.  I put one on Sadie as well, of course, because she can’t swim.

I had to get into the pool too.  The instructor had hip waders for me to wear.  I got in.  To show off, I threw a toy and commanded Max to fetch.  He didn’t.  That was a surprise because Max always fetches.  He fetches even without a command.  He fetches as a creature with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

So Miss Goody Goody Sadie jumps in.  Max never did.

The life jackets have handles on the back of the dog so they can be held up if they panic.  Sadie used her front legs but not her back legs.  I had fun playing with her.

We forced Max into the pool.  He swam to the steps and got out on his own. 

I shouldn’t have bragged about him.

Life’s Challenges

Presently, there is a wildfire in our county, Larimer County, Colorado, near Fort Collins.  It has been named The High Park Fire.  This wildfire has burned over 43,000 acres, an area that could contain both the cities of Fort Collins and Boulder.  The fire is not in the cities, that is just a size reference.  The fire is burning in the mountains where there are many trees dead from beetle kill and the underbrush is dry from lack of snow and rain this spring.  So there is plenty of fuel.  And wind has fanned the fire out of control.

Over 100 structures have been destroyed, including homes, of course, but not all are homes as the count does not distinguish between residences and outbuildings such as barns, sheds and garages.  Regardless, that is a lot of property loss.

One life has been lost.  A 63 year old woman, who had twice been called by phone to evacuate, either chose to stay or did not receive the messages.  It is sad that she died in the mountain cabin that she loved. 

Many others, hundreds, have evacuated.  They are dealing with the fear of the unknown about whether their homes will burn.  Others already know their homes have burned.  Others have been allowed back in.  Others on are pre-evacuation alert.

There is an evacuation center at the county fairgrounds.  It used to be at a middle school but had to be moved farther from the fire due to smoke.  At the fairgrounds, large animals of evacuees may be kept as well.  Small pets were taken to the Humane Society until filled to capacity.  Now a vet clinic is taking overflow.  Many of the evacuated folks are staying with friends and relatives.  There are kind people helping those in need in addition to Red Cross and Salvation Army.

The real heroes are the firefighters, of course, ranging from local volunteer fire departments to professionals from other states.   The number keeps growing as the fire has grown.  Today there were more than 500 firefighters, including “boots on the ground” and pilots of planes and helicopters that drop retardant and water on the flames.

There are many to praise and no one to blame.  The fire was started by lightning, not even negligent humans, and especially not evil terrorists like those responsible for 9/11/01.

The Bible says that “It rains on the just and the unjust.”  I pray it will rain on this fire.

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