In Fort Collins there is a small botanic garden, the Gardens of Spring Creek, that turns on the holiday cheer and becomes the “Gardens of Light” for a few weeks. This Christmas Eve I joined dozens of other people who were walking through the display, where of course plants are the main theme. Here you’ll find giant coneflowers and daffodils and hollyhocks, vegetable plots with pumpkins and chilies and carrots, grapevines, a lily pond, and even Christmas cactuses (though not Christmas cactus). Little kids were running and giggling and adults were snapping photos. It was a bit nippy—exactly 32 degrees—and I was glad to warm up my hands afterward with the car heater. Happy holidays!
On October 13 in Loveland, Colo., the day before a hard freeze and a six-inch snowfall, the flowers I’d planted on the west side of my house were still going pretty strong. That was no thanks to me, since I’m a novice gardener and not strong enough or educated enough to do the proper things, like amending the soil and fertilizing. (All I know how to do is buy the plants at Lowe’s and plop them into the dirt.) But these flowers have been very forgiving of me for the past few months. I was especially surprised to see foxglove blooming in October. And even now, on October 24, after the snow and the cold, the verbena still has blossoms. Even if the perennials among these don’t overwinter, I’ve gotten my money’s worth of enjoyment out of them.
This nasturtium graced my breakfast plate at the Regis Café in Red Lodge, Montana. I don’t recall ever having been served a flower before. A fellow diner told me that nasturtiums are delicious, but I just photographed mine with my iPhone and then took it in the car with me.
For this year’s aspen photos I drove the 24-mile Guanella Pass Scenic Byway from Highway 285 north to Georgetown. The road starts out gently on the south side of the pass and gradually ascends. The aspens were at their peak, and flowers were still blooming here and there.
It was a beautiful Friday. These photographs show no hint of the sizable crowds at the Summit Overlook (elev. 11,669 feet); this is definitely “curated” reality. Something I’m learning about Colorado in 2018: There are now so many people driving the drives and hiking the trails that you must be a very fit person to find solitude in the mountains. Every trailhead I passed in eight hours of driving, from Highway 285 up through Clear Creek Canyon, had a pretty full complement of cars. A number of people were hiking the Square Top Mountain trail (below), which originates at Summit Overlook on Guanella Pass. It was an unusually warm day, probably at least 70 degrees at the pass and breezy.
This afternoon I drove up to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, located about 15 miles north of Fort Collins and about 10 miles south of the Wyoming border. The last several miles are on a very well graded dirt-and-pea-gravel road. I went to the north parking lot, where there was only one other car, and walked a short trail to a site that overlooks a former archaeological dig, now restored to prairie. This is some of what I saw. I’m still working on an identification for a couple of the plants. I’m also a bit puzzled by the rocks atop the fenceposts—are they decorative, or do they have some sort of significance I can’t read?
The sense of remoteness and the solitude were gratifying, very different from the isolation of being at home. It was a beautiful, unusually cool day for August and it was windy; my ears actually got cold. I was fine in a T-shirt but began thinking longingly of earmuffs; what a strange sight that combination would make! A hat or scarf would have done the trick. I want to return to this area soon with my Olympus and my binoculars.
I’m keenly missing many things from Southern Illinois—besides my friends, I mean, whom I miss constantly. Maybe it’s time to tally up a few things I like about Colorado and Loveland, to allay a sort of disoriented feeling I’ve been getting lately when I ponder that I really live out here now:
- Cool nights even on hot days.
- Lilacs. The lilacs out here grow much larger and bloom much longer than they do in Southern Illinois. (I guess the cold nights agree with them.) The large lilac in my yard bloomed for a full month this May. And in Loveland there are enough lilac bushes to perfume the air for several weeks.
- Rocky Mountain National Park. Now that U.S. 34 is once again open through Big Thompson Canyon, it’s less than an hour away. Also: The Peak-to-Peak Highway, which runs from Black Hawk to Estes Park, and the drive from Fairplay over the mountains to Breckinridge. I’m itching to do some mountain drives that are new to me.
- The sky. Although I don’t see as much of it as I’d like to, I see enough to appreciate that the clouds are very interesting out here. If it weren’t for the fact that winters and summers are both more extreme out on the open plains, and everything so remote, I’d like to live out there. Since my house has no mountain view, I wish it at least had a good view of the sky. Fortunately, things open out just a block or two from home.
- Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, which has more than 100 works of art, mostly bronzes, in a very pretty pond setting.
- Aspens, of course, and columbines, with their lovely molded five-cupped centers.
- Tokyo Joe’s, a “fast-casual” chain where I can get a big bowl of udon noodles, veggies, and wild salmon for $11.65. Oh, and New York–style pizza bought by the slice. Yeah, they have that here! I wouldn’t be my mother’s daughter if I didn’t mention food in some fashion.
- No chiggers! As Calvin Trillin knows, this is never the least consideration in any list of positive attributes.
That’s a start. More later, I hope.