Hiking with Dad

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Toward the end of our first hike together in a long while, my dad asked if I ever regret not getting married.

We were back on the asphalt after four hours in the wilderness, walking the final stretch to our parking space, way down in the Day Use Lot, which Dad said would have seemed unbearably far from the trailhead back when he and his brothers first started coming up here 25 years ago, when barely anyone knew about this place yet.

I said no, I don’t regret it, mostly because of what I have learned about relationships since calling off my wedding five years ago. I have dated rich guys, poor guys, train-hoppers, musicians, writers, a painter, a chef, the VP of an ad agency, an evangelical Christian, a Muslim, an amputee, and lots of other dudes with lots of other things that made each of them unique. What I learned was that none of that stuff matters. Not money, or physical perfection, or even religion. What matters is that soul connection—humor, laughter, communication, trust.

Dad: “I guess we’ll just find you a one-armed, homeless Muslim and you’ll be all set then.”

This is the kind of wisdom you get on a Friday hike with Dad.

We left the house around 9:30 a.m., cutting across the Diagonal, past Coot Lake, where the roads are called Niwot and Neva and Nebo. We went up James Canyon, through Ward, the kind of funky little mountain town where things are just a little too rusted out and broke down to be quaint. The charm in a place like Ward lies in the freedom to live however you want to, I suppose.

The sun was already blazing and there wasn’t a significant cloud on the horizon when we arrived at Brainard Lake and bought a $10 day pass from the salty old ranger woman, who nonetheless told us to keep our “eyes on the skies.”

Dad had packed us a lunch of turkey sandwiches, chips, Sweet Cajun Fire trailmix, and yogurt-covered pretzels. We sat on the hillside just above Lake Isabelle, and Dad told me about a time long ago when he and his brothers tried to take the trail further beyond the tree line, up to the ice field on Isabelle Glacier. None of them had done much serious hiking then; they were eager and enthusiastic, until they found themselves stuck on the rocky slope as the sun started to set, and their excitement turned to fear. They eventually made it down, but they still talk about it to this day.

Dad’s older brother, Dave, has become a kind of shaman, an evangelical from the church of the mountain. For Dad and Dave, these hikes are like spiritual pilgrimages. They don’t rack up 14’ers or trudge road bikes up the twisty roads just to prove they can. It’s not about speed, endurance, or fancy gear. It’s about tapping into the deeper wisdom of the natural world.

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On the way back, as we crossed over a sparkling creek, Dad bent down and submerged his bandana in the water. “This is what we call BDT,” he said. “Bandana Dipping Time.” IMG_3435

A little while later, we met a family on the trail. The wife asked Dad if he spoke Japanese, and if he knew what the writing on his bandana meant.

Dad said no, but he heard that the same kind are worn by street vendors in Japan who sell ice cream and cold treats. “So, every once in a while,” Dad told the woman, “someone will look at me like, ‘Hey, you got a Sno Cone for me, or what?’”

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The bluebird skies started to turn to gray, and thunder followed us down the mountain. Dad joked around like he was afraid, but he wasn’t. When you’ve been coming up here as long as he has, you know how to watch the skies.

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These wooden paths remind him of the moving walkways at the airport.

We took the scenic route back, around Long Lake, where every vista was more beautiful than the last. The bark on the trees looked silver under the muted light of the rainclouds and their insides burned orange and gold.

We talked about the husband I haven’t met yet.

Dad said, “You know, he’s not just going to materialize out of thin air. He is out there somewhere right now, walking around, not knowing that he is looking for you and that you are looking for him.”

“I know, I know,” I said, but I must have still seemed skeptical.

“Don’t worry,” Dad joked. “This will all make a lot more sense when the ‘shrooms kick in.”

Making pickles with Mom

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So, I am still unemployed, which isn’t so bad, really. Except that looking for jobs on Craigslist feels like buying something off an infomercial. Too bad I’m too old to sell my eggs. Just kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, my mom has a huge garden that is overflowing with food, so she asked if I would help her do some canning. At first, I was like, do I have to? Star Trek: The Next Generation is on BBC America. But then I gave in.

Her garden really is beautiful:

I also love all the little trinkets and tableaus around her house:

She has a lot of portraits:

I'm the one on the right who looks like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.

I’m the one on the right who looks like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.

Grandma and Grandpa Maxwell

Grandma and Grandpa Maxwell

Norman, our dog when we were in high school

Norman, our dog when we were in high school

Zachary, from our closest family friends

Zachary, from our closest family friends

My baby picture and high school graduation pic, with Mom and the girls in the background

My baby picture and high school graduation pic, with Mom and the girls in the background

My sister was always a clown and I was always a princess

My sister was always a clown and I was always a princess

And yes, we DID actually make pickles:

Next week we are going to do something with the basil. Unless I get a job by then. Too bad I’m too old to rent out my uterus. Just kidding. Sort of.

Louisville, Colo., USA

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When I was growing up in Boulder, the town of Louisville—just six miles east on Hwy 36— was hardly a destination. It was tiny and mostly residential, with a fading downtown occupied by elderly folks, blue-collar families, and the occasional hard partiers at Senor T’s Mexican Restaurant.

Everybody knew that Karen’s Country Kitchen made the best pies. You got your Italian food from the Blue Parrot and your Chinese from the Double Happy. But no one was living in Louisville on purpose. It seemed like a place you ended up, not a place you went to.

A resident once told me, “Happiness is Loserville in the rearview mirror.” There was only one high school, shared with the town of Lafayette, the rougher neighbor to the east. The further you got from the mountains, the poorer and more ethnically diverse the neighborhoods got. Those who could afford it bussed their kids to Boulder for school.

But then something started to shift. Several of our newlywed friends, unable to afford the astronomical property values just down the road, bought houses in Louisville. We saw the transformation happening before our eyes: Louisville was becoming “New Boulder.”

Not that you can tell from my pictures, but today, Louisville is BUMPIN’. It was named the best town in America to live in by CNN/Money and Money magazine not once, but TWICE in the last five years. The downtown has received a total makeover, bringing in new bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. During the summer, they close off a portion of Main Street to make room for umbrella-dotted patios for al fresco dining. Every Friday, the Louisville Downtown Street Faire attracts a huge crowd of residents and visitors to eat street food, drink beer, and listen to music.

But how did it all get this way?

Louisville got its name from a local landowner named Louis Nawatny in the 1870s who was basically like, “Hey dudes, I’m naming this town after myself. Deal with it.” It began as a mining town, which attracted European settlers, including a large number of Italian immigrants.

IMG_3246Coal mining is a rough life by any stretch of the imagination, but turned out to be especially difficult in these parts due to low-quality coal, labor disputes with the big mining companies, and a depressed economy during the off-season. The Louisville Historical Museum has some great artifacts illustrating this history:

The museum currently has an exhibit about the Rex Movie Theater, which stood on Main Street from 1920 to 1978. Just this year, a new restaurant opened on the spot and adopted a replica of the theater’s original facade.

Next door to the museum is the historic Tomeo House, built by a coal miner and saloon keeper named Felix Tomeo in the early 20th century. The home was rented by the Rossi family, a widow and her children, through the 1930s. The Tomeo House is staged with period household items, showing what life was like for families of that time.

These days, Louisville is just downright quaint as hell. And, of course, the rest of us can’t afford to live there.