My in-laws live at 10,000 feet. By comparison, the highest peaks in Colorado are 14,000 feet. People feel sleepy in their cozy mountain house, because of the high altitude. Water boils 18 degrees cooler on their stove, and it is the best water I’ve ever tasted. Also, It’s also usually 20 degrees cooler up there in Como, Colorado than down here on the front range.
In summertime this feels like a lovely reprieve from the 95-degree heat of the plains to the 75 degrees in the shade of the aspens and conifers that dot the hills up there. And looking out across the expanse of South Park is breathtaking. But then, the wind kicks up, which it does most days, and blows until most people head indoors and the cattle plant their hooves firmly at a slant, the way the grass grows. In the winter the wind and cold are enough to drive most people to warmer climes. I think my in-laws are among only a handful of folks who call Como home year-round.
They’ve had snow on the 4th of July up there. We’ve been nearly frostbitten and hypothermic sledding with my mother-in-law in the winter. The highway through the valley is closed many days when the road becomes indistinguishable from the ditch and the fields that lay beyond barbed wire fence lines that are buried in snowdrifts. We once drove home in a ground blizzard that obscured our passage except for the three feet just in front of the headlights that lit up the raging snowstorm like a swarm of moths at a porchlight.
But in high summer and a few days in the early fall Como is idyllic. This fall we went up to help cut wood with the in-laws. We headed across a cow pasture to a stand of aspen that had died. Most had already fallen, and my father-in-law worked the chainsaw deftly on them until the bed of the old pickup truck was full.
We drove back and my father-in-law stepped to work at the gas-powered log splitter, and we made the mountain of firewood on the other side of his driveway a ½ ton higher. Tossing logs was good cardiovascular work in the altitude. I drank through my water bottle a couple of times. I kept taking off my jacket and putting it back on depending on whether the sun was behind a cloud or not.
And although for much of the year Como is a less-than-attractive place to hang your hat, since it will actually blow away, my in-laws have been there long enough now that I know they’re just the type to stick places, no matter what. And while that has made them a bit more anxious than most about weather, it’s also instructive about who they are and about who my husband is.
For one thing: he’s steadfast and constant—like the Como wind and his parents. He’s also a hard worker, since most things—firewood for example, but also vegetable gardens, satellite antennas, water, etc., require harder work to exist up there than in other easier places. And, perhaps due to all the hard work in a difficult place, his idea of adversity is a few clicks more intense than most people.
He’s a mountain man, quiet like the long afternoons on a deserted hill with only the breeze in the pines and the chittering of birds to hear. He’s calm like the sun coming up over the peaks. And he has a depth like the clouds gathering in the west over the Rockies.
I used to spend my summers in Como when I was a kid, going to the camp there. I remember sitting on the wooden veranda of the mess hall, resting my legs on the log railing, and soaking in the sun. I remember the cool of the shade through the trees to the cabins, and hikes high up little Mt. Baldy. I was in the slow group, pretending to stop for pictures quite often. In contrast with my husband, my experience of Como says a lot about me. I get bored with the same place all the time. I spent my summers goofing off, so I got pretty good at that. And most adversity to me is a fun adventure, like lighting candles if the power goes out for 15 minutes, not something to overcome for fear of literally freezing to death. So, although we have some shared memories of Como, most of our times there were as different as we are from one another.
My husband went back up to Como several days in September while I was in Minnesota, and in October to wander the beautiful mountainsides in search of deer and elk. His photos show a picturesque but rugged bit of country where already the temperatures are turning to freezing. The first snow has long since landed, with plenty more to come if you adhere to the common saying about mountain weather:
“Nine months of winter, three months of fall, a breath of spring and no summer at all.”
Still, my husband will likely want to be there. As John Muir said, he’s not so much in the mountains as the mountains are in him.