Rugged Like the Colorado Rockies

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. 

September snowfall atop the range west of Como, Colorado, near Boreas Pass.

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. 

Sometimes I can’t believe we live in this beautiful state.

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. 

Ron Sr. and Ron Jr. working on firewood for the long, cold Como winter.

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. 

The aspens glowing gold and orange this fall in the Colorado Rockies near Como.

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. 

Work and Apple Pie

Views from Como, Colorado make the world seem even bigger.

When we got home from Nashville, we jumped nearly straight out of vacation gear and into manual labor mode. This had been the plan, but the work we ended up having in front of us was a bit more than we had bargained for. Before we left for Florida, we had been living in the apartment in the basement of our house for a year, but we decided that when we came back, we would move upstairs again into the main house. We can make more money renting the big house, but we wanted room for our own house guests, friends, and family, and we enjoy having the big kitchen up there so we can have people for meals. Also, Ron really missed being able to sit outside on the back patio and look at the garden. (Me, too.)

The apartment downstairs was the job in front of us. We planned to turn it into our next AirBnB project. The extra work came because over the summer, a torrential rain had flooded the entryway of the basement apartment, the laundry room, and the front of the living room where floor to ceiling bookshelves line the wall. My middle daughter was living down there at the time, and she did her best with towels, fans, and a carpet shampooer, but the water got soaked up into the bottom shelves of the bookshelf and warped all the wood and sopped the drywall. So, Ron had to cut the bottom stuff out and replace it. And, we didn’t really have a chance to get started on this until a few days after we were back in the state. The guests renting the house asked to stay longer, and then, Ron’s older sister got married again and wanted him to perform the ceremony. We headed up to the mountains for a beautiful backyard wedding in Como with family we don’t see very often. So, that was a sweet time.

Ron and I painted the downstairs apartment.

The next day, we finally got to work moving things upstairs, cleaning the apartment, and demolishing shelves and drywall. Then, Ron installed new shelves, drywalled and replaced trim, taped, mudded and textured. I was busy rearranging all the things we moved upstairs and all the rest that we kept downstairs, then organizing, shampooing carpets, painting, laundering, more cleaning, and then stocking this new AirBnB with blankets, dishes, towels, and everything else guests might think they need. I felt so grateful that I was able to shop at my own house (having been an AirBnB for a year) for most everything we needed in terms of furnishings. 

All this work meant we had to take a few loads of construction scrap to the dump. But we also had to take several loads of yard waste. This was part of the extra work as well. The summer lawnmowing company was supposed to weed the yard, but they did not. So, waiting for drywall mud and paint to dry, Ron set in to uncover the front landscaping from bindweed. He hacked down giant stalks of sunflowers that had faded. And he filled the truck several times with volunteer saplings from all over the yard. Our house is on a double lot, so the landscaping is twice as much work as the housekeeping. When we’re home and can keep up with things it doesn’t feel so overwhelming, but we had returned to something of a jungle.

Now the apartment feels clean, warm, and welcoming for AirBnB guests.

Finally, we finished everything, and welcomed new guests to the refreshed space downstairs.

I’m always nervous about the first few guests and what ratings and comments they will leave. But I need not have worried. Everyone who stayed those first few weeks loved the place. So that was a relief. And now we are off and running with two small AirBnB spaces and living back up in the house. We haven’t yet been lingering on the patio in the evenings like we used to because the mosquitoes have been bad—we think because of all the overgrown weeds in the gardens. 

But it is good to sit out there in the mornings and to be able to have space for guests. I like having my writing space back as well, in the office upstairs. Though the last few weeks I’ve found myself sitting in cabins in forests, typing out these blogs and working on some fiction projects. (Stay tuned for adventure stories from these places!)

We will likely finish reclaiming the rest of the back gardens later this month and into October. And the good news about all the early summer rains was that we will have a bumper crop of apples to pick in the next couple weeks. I don’t know what variety they are, but they have a nice blend of tartness and sweet and make great pies. 

After picking, I peel them with my mechanical crank peeler. I slice them with a slicer, then sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar and freeze them in plastic baggies that hold just the right amount for a pie. We’ll have enough for pies all fall and winter. Yum!