C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Mountain dreams recede amid a scorched reality

In past times, especially when our daughters were youngsters, Colorado was the place our family went for renewal – sometimes more than once a year – to escape the cauldron of summer or to savor the high-country autumn.

Those sweet interludes never seemed long enough. Too soon it would be time to load the car, take the winding road down and head eastward across the prairie toward home.

Always, as I drove, I would keep glancing in the rearview mirror, watching the front range of the mountains sink ever lower on the horizon until finally the blue outline disappeared entirely and only flatness lay ahead.

Surely, we would think, there must be some way to enjoy that area we loved in a more lasting way.

In my imaginings I could picture a log home, wrapped by forest, with peaks visible from every window and bright, quick streams tumbling down the steep meadow a short walk away.

‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado was the famous slogan printed daily in The Denver Post. And we envied that privilege, although friendships, my occupation and a half century of habit kept us from making the move.

I did go so far on one trip as to stop in briefly at the Estes Park Trail-Gazette, published in the small resort town at the portal of Rocky Mountain National Park, where we’ve often visited. Today the paper appears only twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, and has a circulation said to be 6,000.

I could not see my journalism future there, so decided to remain a contributor to The Star, this newspaper where I began as a novice reporter on a June morning 57 years ago.

And the idea of mountain living was abandoned.

That was a mercy, I realized as I’ve followed the recent horrific news accounts of the enormous wildfires raging across several areas of that state.

In only its first 12 days, the High Park fire – an inferno started by a June 9 lightning strike – consumed almost 100 square miles of forest and destroyed nearly 200 homes.

And that was just the beginning.

In all, by latest reports, eight major fires in the state have burned 173,000 acres – 270 square miles – incinerated some 600 homes, displaced tens of thousands of people and killed at least four people, possibly as many as six.

Had we acted on that old longing and actually relocated to Colorado, it’s quite possible that our dream, like the properties of those unlucky victims, would have gone up in smoke.

And our view, on the chance we still had one, would have been sadly transformed. For where glorious stands of pine and spruce and aspen had cloaked the highlands, only a gray ruin would remain.

It’s true, of course, that new forest will ultimately regenerate from the ashes and the beauty of those mountain landscapes will be restored.

But nature’s time proceeds on a different cadence than human years. And I’m grateful, now, that those wonderful imaginings were tempered by a degree of caution.