Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains
I went out this afternoon to look for abandoned nests, something I occasionally find this time of year. I felt like a walk to wake up after lunch on this partly cloudy, partly sunny day. Not too bright for photographs, a day when white clouds provide the sky some interest behind the winter mountains. Just a little snow powdered Mount Meeker and Long’s Peak in the distance, with the red of Steamboat Mountain in the foreground.
As I walk along our middle ditch, the Rough and Ready, all the way down to our north property line,
I find the frowsy heads of wild clematis,
and a few bees buzzing in a hive,
but no nest, so I head back along the east ditch, the Highland, which is a little wilder than the R&R. I walk past the herb garden, middle orchard, iris bed, raspberries, and flower gardens, back into the older orchard, the one with trees we can’t name but that give good apples some years when their budding misses the last frost.
I like this part of the farm. It’s not tidy, the grasses are long, and the trees can’t be called anything but gnarled. Deer sometimes make a path here where the two ditches draw close together and the wild land narrows. But today, I find the path overtaken by cottonwood saplings and tiny grey firs.
Here I spot the yellow-green berries of poison ivy
and the wine-red branches of new dogwoods.
I’m glad to see the dogwoods spreading along that bank, but I’m not so happy about the poison ivy. As we tell the kids on the farm (and some adults too), “leaves of three, let them be.” The dogwoods and the poison ivy like the moisture between the ditches; I think we’ll let them both be.
I end my walk by the old apple tree that someone girdled with barb wire years ago as a boundary, I suppose. I don’t really know where our property ends up on this bank and I don’t think it matters much. I admire this old tree; half its limbs are lifeless but it still produces new growth. I only know it’s an apple because I found a few dried cores on it years ago, though I haven’t come across another apple there yet.
I’m warm now in my heavy sweater and long underwear so I head back to the house past the chickens. Maybe there’s an egg today. We’ve been getting a few blue ones from our Araucanas since last week. Today, I find the first dark brown egg of the year; one of the cuckoo marans must be laying. We have Welsummers too but their brown eggs are spotted. We lost our cheerful little Red Sussex hen this winter and another chicken to a weasel that tunneled under the chicken house in the fall. I’m hoping our animal-loving young friend will start a few chickens for us this spring, if we promise her mother to take the chicks back when they start to fly around the house.
January is almost half gone and I’m a little sad this year to see it going. Without the busy-ness of a new semester, I’m enjoying these long days, especially as the light lengthens each evening. Yesterday we started leeks and onions with friends in the greenhouse. The seeding’s underway, but I’m glad to see the land resting, taking in what moisture we have to revitalize the soil for the coming spring. I’m hoping to find the owl’s nest this year too so my strolls along the edge of the farm will continue as the season comes around again. These cycles provide a new kind of schedule, one offered by nature and accepted with pleasure.
The chickens started laying again this week after a couple months off. We got our first egg on Jan 2 and our second egg on Jan 5, quite possibly from the same chicken, but the others should follow before too long.
We don’t light our chicken house because we think it’s good for the hens to follow their natural cycles and take a break when the days get short. I once asked a group of students what natural phenomenon determines when chickens lay eggs during the year and one thoughtful student (whom I imagine was a woman) wrote, “They start their cycles in the spring and go through menopause every fall”! Imagine menopause on a yearly basis! The answer is the amount of daylight but maybe mini-menopause is accurate in its own way.
Another first this week was spotting a bald eagle over the meadow yesterday. I noticed a very large, dark bird flying overhead with a flash of yellow and pointed it out to Peter and John, who were taking stock of our materials pile for an upcoming building project. John said he thought he saw its white head and Peter, a birder, said it flew like an eagle rather than a turkey vulture and that it would have to be a mature bald eagle to have a white head. I’m not sure whether the yellow flash I saw was its beak or the sun on its head but it was a thrill to know an eagle is circling Stonebridge in this new year.
This week has been warm, in the 60s, which is a high temperature for Colorado’s Front Range in January but not terribly unusual. I’ve been wanting to take a little drive in the mountains; with such nice weather, yesterday was the day for my trip. The sky was clear and the afternoon sun on the peaks magnificent. I couldn’t quite capture it because I couldn’t quite reach it—the highway just didn’t take me close enough yesterday. Here’s a pic from the pull-off where tourists stop to take their photos with the Estes Park sign. I thought about erasing the yellow curve markers but that’s the reality of a mountain highway—lots of signs to tell you what to do and how to act in the natural world.
With the warm weather, the ground has thawed a bit so this afternoon John and I dug some leftover carrots for winter meals. They look fresh and will taste good tonight with our lentil walnut burgers.
Walking back to the house, we heard the shriek of red-tailed hawks and then some sounds we hadn’t heard before, like squealing more than cries. We saw a pair of snowy winged red-tails circling each other in what might be a mating dance and then they both dove to the earth, perhaps to “have a moment,” as John said. I don’t know the mating habits of red-tails but I loved hearing their banter on this clear January day.
Snow comes tomorrow, ending our lovely warm first week. As Front Range farmers always say, we need the moisture, so snow is not unwelcome. John’s laying in wood and I’m taking stock of the New Year, loving the slower pace of a January retired and revitalized for what comes next.
John and I celebrated his birthday with a hike to Bierstadt and Bear Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. We hadn’t been all the way to the Park for a couple years and were shocked at the advance of pine beetle kill into the Park itself. In some places, the damage looked about 50%, with some whole patches standing dead across the slopes.
The Park now runs shuttles to popular areas in an attempt to cut down on traffic, a terrific idea, so we left our car at the park-n-ride near Moraine Park to catch the shuttle and got off again at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead to stay out of the crowds heading toward Bear Lake. A sign inside the shuttle warned us to watch for falling trees, presumably so we could stay out of their way. With so much pine beetle damage, falling trees must be a more common danger than it used to be, but we wondered how much time we’d have to clear a path once a tree started to fall.
Bierstadt’s a wonderful trail, only 1.3 miles of moderate slope, mainly switchbacks across the side of the mountain. The view of the peaks is tremendous, a panorama of sights from sagebrush to aspen to wildflowers like Indian paintbrush, fireweed, harebells, arnica, sunflowers, and mountain asters.
Once at the lake, we watched a duck diving for food and bobbing on the gentle waves that come with the mountain breezes. Like many small mountain lakes, Bierstadt feels enclosed, like a small bowl of water set down in the middle of jutting peaks. Walking partway around the lake, we found deer tracks on the sandy part of the shore near a sculpture of branches tipied together.
Bierstadt gets overlooked because of its proximity to Bear Lake, but we were glad for the solitude. How infrequently we make moments to sit and rest amidst the mad pace of our comings and goings. But in nature we remember how the earth surrounds us, even when it’s covered in asphalt and concrete.
From Bierstadt, we had to decide whether to hike back down the switchback trail that we’d ascended or hike over to Bear Lake through the trees, a bit uphill and then down to the lake itself. We knew that the closer we got to Bear Lake, the more people we would see, but we decided to go that way for a change of scenery.
Next time, I think we’ll hike back down the Bierstadt Trail, opting for more quiet and mountain vistas than tourists and trees. I hadn’t been on that section of trail for twenty years and I was disturbed at the graffiti alley of names carved into aspens as we neared Bear Lake. Perhaps the loss of so many trees inspires some people to carve their name into one, but to me the signatures seem too proprietary, a shattering of the tree’s inherent beauty in the ecosystem.
Back at our lodge that night, we asked the innkeeper if they sprayed their trees for pine beetle kill. Yes, for the twenty years she’s been there, they’ve always sprayed. She shrugged her shoulders at our lamenting the loss of trees in the Park. “It’s just nature, “ she said, and we let it go at that. We are certain that human fossil fuel consumption is warming the planet more quickly than mere natural causes could affect but we didn’t want to enter that conversation with our host. Not after such a beautiful day, a wonderful dinner at the Rock Inn, and the gift of cool mountain air.
But as we drove home, we noted the dead pines along the highway and said to each other, “It’s just nature.” That will be our new mantra, our shorthand way of noting the human refusal to admit our trespasses and the knowledge that nature will react in kind.
Growing up east of the Front Range in Colorado, I was struggling one evening with my science homework: the four directions on a compass. I knew north was at the top, but I didn’t understand how an arrow pointing that way could help me determine where I was. I took my compass to my dad, who was a surveyor and knew about finding one’s bearings.
“I can see the big N on the compass, “ I said, “but where’s north really?”
“Come on,” my dad replied. “I’ll show you.”
We went out to the backyard where the Rocky Mountains were still visible in the twilight.
“See the mountains? That’s west. North is clockwise from there, then east, then south. If you can find the mountains, you’ll know where you are.”
I nodded. Now it made sense. The mountains were our north, our way to orient ourselves when we didn’t know which direction we were facing. All these years later, if I can imagine those mountains, I can find my way home.