I moved to the Cuchara Valley in southwest Colorado recently. I will be here year round so, I now call myself a “Rounder.”
In the book, Educated, by Tara Westover, she describes the characteristics of living on a mountain. ” There is a sense of sovereignty that comes from living on a mountain, a perception of privacy and isolation, even dominion. In that vast space you can sail, unaccompanied for hours, adrift on pine and brush and rock. It’s a tranquility born on sheer immensity, it calms with it’s very magnitude, which renders the merely human of no consequence.”
This is a photograph of my personal happy place. It is a view of West Peak in the Cuchara Valley. I have my hammock in the summertime, hung between two massive Aspens and this is my view. While I gaze quietly at this amazing landscape, I am also engulfed in what we call the Fern Forest. It is hundreds of wood ferns that thrive among the Aspen trees. It’s path is led by Daisy lane which leads to the fern forest. The daisies thrive here in the summer dancing between the houses and the abandoned ski lift. Their fruitfulness resides in abundance here and it is mine to enjoy quietly as I swing happily in my private cocoon nestled between the trees.
When my son, now age 35, was about to begin kindergarten, we took a road trip to Colorado the summer prior. You make lots of stops with a 5 year old. I remember we wanted to get off the highway and take the scenic route. That’s when we discovered the Scenic Byway of Highway 12 through Huerfano County. When we happened upon Cuchara, and drove past Dakota Dukes, we immediately backed up, pulled into the Dog Bar, got a room at the Inn and stayed for 3 days. My son caught his first fish at Yellow Pine with the abandoned ski mountain as a backdrop.
It wasn’t until my youngest child left for graduate school in Denver that we began to look for a second home in Cuchara so we could be nearer to her.
In 2016 we bought a small condo near the Mountain Park and I began to visit as much as work would allow. For 4 years I would spend summer and fall in Cuchara. It was the most beautiful place I had ever visited. I would hike with friends and 4 wheel through the mountains. I met amazing people who shared the same fondness for this magical place. I discovered forests and streams, birds and prey, chipmunks, hummingbirds, Grosbeaks, bears, fox, mule deer and Elk. I have photographed Mule Deer feasting on vegetation and wildflowers of all descriptions. I have scampered with bunnies. I have foraged Morels and Boleto mushrooms. I have picked and cooked dandelions. I have hiked and climbed and wandered. I have been so close to the clouds I felt I could touch the Hand of God. I have dreamed of the mountain when I am away, and I have found near perfection in what I call paradise. I am content and satiated by nature and soothed by her beauty.
In the shadow of the Sangre de Christo mountain range, I become one with the landscape, insignificant to all that surrounds me. Even my thoughts pale in the presence of grandeur. My prayers surround me and I become lost in the vastness. I soar where birds fly and vegetation grows in abundance, planted near streams that feed my existence. In the midst of the beauty I forget the sharp chords that plaque my waking moments and I am at one with my surroundings. Here, I am free to roam and explore, and the only problems I face are the ones I leave behind.
The bounty of the earth fills my belly as well as my spirit. Hawk Wing and Orange Cap mushrooms. Morels and Boletos sustain my hunger and feed my soul.
I have foraged wild strawberries the size of a peanut, that were so sweet, they tasted like pure cane sugar and sunshine.
In the fall, when the leaves turn and the light from the brightly colored aspens go gold, there is a feeling in my soul that uplifts my spirit and makes me believe all is well with the world. The dying off of the previous season, ends its run with a display of splender like nothing you can imagine. The colors are otherworldly and so intense they sometimes make me weep.
My drive from the grocery store, is nothing short of glorious, and I can feel a sense of my spirit being magnetized by these magnificiant crests of rugged terrain.
It is impossible to escape the grandeur of God’s handiwork in such a place where, moon and mountain, snow and peak rise to meet me each morning. I feel as though I am spying the intimate musing of a Creator, so lost in His creation that His modesty is fully exposed.
In the winter time, the range becomes a landscape so wondrous, its freshness fills the air with a quietness that cannot be duplicated. It creates in me an innate sense that the seasons were aligned to aid us all in our lifelong quest to conquer life and death. Good and evil, joy and sadness are swallowed up in a single span of just 12 months. A year which repeats its splendor, endlessly, until the earth may no longer dwell in the cosmosas we now know it.
I moved here because I wanted authenticity. I yearned to explore the details only seen in nature that must be appreciated for their simplicity and uniqueness. Here, nature is clothed with dignity, purity and a raw innocence that is magnetic, peaceful and calm.
In this place, I have risen to mountaintops that make the valley appear to be nothing more than a child’s playpen. Sometimes the air is so clear and crisp the cacophony of silence subdues my heartbeat and instantly, the quiet stillness is nearly deafening.
In these moments, I feel an emboding sense of power and trust, strength and depth. “I found a light at the end of the road, and it was mine”. Kristin Knight Pace, This Much Country.