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28 August 2008
I’m feeling kinda bummed today. Jim has been working evenings this week so my days have felt long and I can’t seem to find enough to keep myself busy. Of course, there are all the things I should be doing, but I’m usually curled up with a good book and some comfort food. Yeah, I know it sounds like something you would be doing on a cold winter day but I have my seasons backwards. I don’t like summer, never really have. I enjoy any summer day I can spend in the mountains where the temperatures are a little more moderate and I can hike in direct sun without too much heat. But here in the city I’d rather hole up in the cool house with a book and a tall glass of mint tea fresh from the garden. My high energy seasons are fall and spring and I love winter too in spite of my annual bout of grouchiness if we get too many cloudy days in a row.
My absolute favorite season is fall so I know these bummer days are really just because I am so over summer and ready for the autumn which isn’t coming fast enough. When the girls were at home we always took a couple weeks of vacation in September or October to take advantage of the peace that settles over our state when the tourists take their kids back to school. We loaded schoolbooks into the trailer and did our Colorado history lessons in museums and old cemeteries all over the state. These are still some of my fondest memories of those years. Studying history in the beauty of autumn days in the mountains while camping with the people I love most in the world was heaven for me, just heaven.
We didn’t change our habits when the girls left home so we still save some vacation time for the fall. We schedule a Habitat build or volunteer with Passport in Time or just take off for some fishing/writing/reading/soul filling time in the mountains. Last fall we were living in Leadville and even though Jim was making the commute into Vail each day we both felt like we were on vacation because we were making home in the fifth wheel and surrounded by wild beauty every day. We studied history and spent hours in the antique stores and old cemeteries just like when the girls were little. We sampled the fun at Rosie’s Brew Pub and had a good laugh about the annual St. Patrick’s Day “Practice” Parade. It was a great vacation tucked in around the work.
One more fall memory then I have to get back to my book. The Gilpin County Historical Society has sponsored a fun event every fall for the last 20 years. I was surprised to find it took place in August this year because years ago their “Cemetery Crawl” was always scheduled sometime in September or October. My guess is that they finally bowed to the weather gods who could cancel the event with an overnight cold snap or two feet of snow. Hard to “crawl” the cemetery in the bitter cold that shows up often at 9,000 feet above sea level once summer is gone.
Seems that our Cemetery Crawl days fell in October and we signed up for a two day package that included the main event in Russell Gulch as well as a walking tour of Central City and Black Hawk with stops in the museums and cemeteries in those towns. Our tour guides were notorious drinking buddies, one a historian and the other a city councilman. These guys were a real trip; they could throw a great party even if they were the only guests! Their combined knowledge and sense of humor kept the tour moving and howling with laughter for most of two days.
If you have read my stuff you might remember my description of the Russell Gulch cemetery. It is a hauntingly beautiful place where the forest is reclaiming the graves where 19th century miners buried other miners and the women who tried to make these mountains home. It’s hard to imagine the cold winters in drafty shacks, the cave ins, the insufficient diets and dreaded diseases that swept through these high mining towns but the headstones of so many young women and their children bear witness to the hard living and hard dying in this beautiful place. The burial ground had been cleared once but the aspen and pine are growing back and the cemetery dissolves around the edges where wooden markers sink deep and the trees have moved headstones in their race for the sun. Someday this hallowed place will disappear back into the forest where it began.
On this cold October day we approach the gates of the old cemetery and are greeted by a Welsh choir in Victorian costumes. They sing dirges and slow sad funeral songs from a time so long ago. The weather gods know their cues and while the last mournful notes die a cold mist settles in the trees. It is midday but there is no sun and the gray damp clouds hang all around us. Our jovial hosts aren’t laughing anymore and the somber procession is quiet as we file in among the trees. A beautiful young actress stands near a headstone and gives soft voice to a young mother who lies beneath the stone with her babe clutched to her breast. She tells of the heartbreak of other babies buried here under the trees and this final one who carried her life away on the day of his birth, on the day of his death. Farther down the path an old gentleman in a jaunty cap regales us with tales of his long years in the mines. He talks about cave ins and fires and the deadly cold under the earth. He tells of three wives buried here before him and children gone before they were grown. He talks of the lonely days and years while he waited for his own journey to this place and his surprise to feel that familiar deadly cold under the earth.
There must have been a dozen costumed actors who gave words to these long ago dead. And in the chill, damp air I’m sure there were many who felt a tremble. I was delighted that the monologues were written from historical records and we were hearing true stories of life and death in this valley. It wasn’t scary to me, it was fascinating and filled my head with questions and feelings about what those lives must have been like.
Enough for now, my book awaits, and in the long hours before my husband gets home I’ll get some reading done. Or maybe I’ll just have to set the book aside to write out more memories of my own. I’m just hanging around waiting for another Colorado autumn. I can hardly wait!