Colorado is one of the places where God kissed Mother Earth. Susanne and I spent the past few days there, in and around the Conejos River valley.
When we arrived at our lodge, the first thing management wanted us to know was that a bear had been through the compound the night before, thoroughly inspecting the trash cans. The District Wildlife Manager had been by later that morning and had left a supply of circulars to be circulated, “Be Bear Aware.” We have bears near where we live, so we already generally were. One of the things the circular instructed one to do “if bears are present” is to “remove all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders.” Lodge management had taken down the hummingbird feeders not long before we arrived. The hummingbirds were pissed off. They were diving down on the chains from which the newly-removed feeders had been hanging, and were flying about with the angry buzz they put in their wingbeats when they are upset. They’re fiercely territorial animals, as anyone who’s ever been buzz-bombed by one can attest.
We didn’t get to see the bear, it didn’t come back around while we were there. We saw deer, which is not hard to do in Colorado. They were mule deer, so common they might be considered the four-legged finch of the Rockies. There were also plenty of GEICO squirrels, playing Truth-or-Dare with passing vehicles. And free range cattle, there were those, at one point a herd of them being driven down the road by two mounted drovers (“cowboys,” yes) and an Australian sheepdog.
There was a train, the Cumbres & Toltec, which pulls carloads of tourists through the mountains along a narrow-gauge track that a century and more ago was the way to get around up there. The train is pulled by one of the little engines that could, chugging along, slightly sulfurous black smoke pouring from its funnel. Susanne and I rode it, taking the parlour car, which is the last car on the train, far removed from the smokestack. We were served Danishes, fruits, and rum cake, while the car attendant was quick to evict anyone from the car who hadn’t secured parlour-car passage. No, the attendant did not throw the miscreants under the railcars, simply shooed them back to the cattle-car where they belonged. Several of the Republican guests in the parlour car complained, having preferred to see the interlopers tossed from the train and made to walk back down the mountain to the station, but the Democrats, who always outnumber the Republicans though at times are slothful and inattentive, would have none of it and proposed that everyone on the train be allowed into the parlour car. “Let them eat rum cake,” the Democrats said, “a crumb apiece for everyone,” to which the Republicans struck up a chant of, “Nanny-staters! Nanny-staters!”, until the car attendant got everyone settled down and back in their proper and duly-purchased places.
Susanne and I spent the next day along the banks of the Conejos, sitting under the trees while the waters rushed by. Downstream a little ways, a fly-fisherman cast and cast again. Susanne had her pencils and her sketchbook, and she sketched. I had a copy of the manuscript I’ve been working on, and on it I did work. Robins and crows and other birds were about. Mosquitoes sought meals, and many died for their efforts. Hummingbirds remained angry and went elsewhere.
“Conejos” means “rabbits,” but we didn’t see any of those.