Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fires in Colorado Springs

Twenty-one years ago today, I married the love of my life.  
Jim on our 21st Anniversary
Colorado Fine Arts Center
We've both changed a lot since our wedding day.
Wedding Day
June 12, 1992
We've been together
in sickness
in health, 
for richer,
for poorer,
we hope we have many more years 
"death do us part."
21st Anniversary
Fine Arts Center
On Mother's Day, Jim had arranged a special brunch for the two of us at the Fine Arts Center.  Since I was in the hospital, I took a rain check.  Today, he made good on his word and took me to the Fine Arts Center for lunch.  We dined on  wonderfully prepared salmon,  risotto croquettes, and asparagus. For dessert, Jim had turtle dessert pie and I had a lemon raspberry gelato.  I wore the necklace he gave me for Mother's Day.  After lunch, we went through the Arts Center to see some of the wonderful displays.  I always love going to this treasure of a place in Colorado Springs.  There are several Chihuly  works here, a portrait of William Palmer's daughter by William Singer Sargent and some wonderful pieces of Van Briggle pottery that I never tire of seeing.  While at the cafe in FAC, I stepped out on the veranda to take a photo of my beloved Pikes Peak and the grounds surround the Art Center and part of Monument Valley Park.  This part of Colorado Springs, is one of my favorite spots.  I love the junipers and Colorado blue spruce and the ponderosa pines that dot the area.

Despite the happy occasion, the situation just north of us was heavy on our minds.  Fire was burning in the Black Forest just fifteen to twenty miles from where we celebrating our anniversary.  Family members had been evacuated from their homes, and other family members were on alert and ready to leave their homes if necessary.

After lunch, I had Jim drive us to the top of Palmer Park which was a favorite picnic spot from my youth.  I wanted to get to the top of this bluff to see the scope of the fire to the north of us.

This photo does not give one the best view of the fire, but nevertheless, as a native to this region, I was shocked at how wide the range of the fire appeared to be.  This area where I went to take these photographs used to be the northern edge of the populated area of Colorado Springs when I was a child.  This bluff, now in the more center part of the city, was where we would go to watch the fire works on the 4th of July when I was a child.  The landscape, dotted with wonderful sandstone bluffs, pine trees, scrub oak, and yucca is dry.  It served as a reminder that this region is a dry tinderbox; truly it is as Wikipedia's definition states: tinderbox refers to something that is so dry that it could catch on fire with the slightest provocation, perhaps even spontaneously like a forest fire.  

Yucca growing in Palmer Park,
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Yucca pods
A few buds are on the plant to the left
Yucca should bloom in June.  I remember so many rides to this area in the spring to see this hillside in bloom.  It was one of my favorite sights.  We are experiencing a late spring here because of cold weather, and rain.  Despite this late spring with some moisture, we are still in a drought.  You can see how dry this ground is.  Any moisture that it received did not do a lot of good.

A few yucca plants were in bloom.

 I hope to come back next week to see if the yucca are in bloom.  If so, the photo below will look different.  I remember many more yucca plants in this area when I was a child.  Now this area has limited access so that the wild flowers can be more protected.  

As many of you know, the Colorado Springs area suffered another wild fire last year in June.  You can read my blog post about that event here: Fire, Smoke and Rain.  This year's fire is north of where we live by about ten miles.  As my husband and I drove home from our lunch date, I had him stop at a church parking lot that is just two miles from our home so I could take a photo of the fire.  It is hard to imagine the scope of the size of this inferno that now seems to fill the horizon of the northward view from our part of town.   As I sit here and type, I know the air is filled with smoke because in the protection of my air conditioned house, I am beginning to have difficulty breathing.  I fear for those who suffer from asthma much worse than I do.  

As I reflect on the events of this day in my beloved Colorado Springs, Helen Hunt Jackson comes to mind.  I recalled reading her essay Bits of Travel at Home.  When I first read this essay, I tried to envision what this town must have been like when she first came here. I tried to imagine what my hometown was like when my grandfather's grandmother (or my great-great grandmother) came here in about 1894.  Thankfully, Helen Hunt Jackson recorded through her writing much of what this pristine beautiful area looked like over a hundred years ago when it was first settled.  

She described the the "Divide" north of town.  At first I had a hard time determining what she was writing about when she wrote: Looking northward over this sea-plain, one sees at the horizon a dark blue line.  Then, as I read on: This is the “Divide,” —another broad-spreading belt of table-land. lifting suddenly from the plains, running from east to west, and separating them. Its highest point is eight thousand feet above the sea, and is crossed by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. On its very summit lies a lake, whose shores in June are like garden-beds of flowers, and in October are blazing with the colors of rubies and carnelians.*  I realized that she was writing about The Black Forest and Monument Hill.  

This beautiful forest, the one I always loved is burning.  I can barely continue to write.  I am overcome with emotion.  Tears are falling down my face.  I always wanted to live there, but my mother, who lost her home to fire as child in Woodland Park would never even entertain the idea of living in what she called a "tinderbox."  I weep for those who will never again live in its beauty because the trees and their homes are gone.  I weep and pray.  I pray these fire stop.  I pray for rain. 

Thankfully, Jim and I just drove up into this area on Sunday and I had a chance to drink in the beauty of the Forest.  I am overcome with grief for those who have lost their homes.  I am overcome with grief for the loss of this once pristine area.  As I remember and grieve, I thank Helen Hunt Jackson for preserving the majesty and beauty of this area for us with her words:

It is a gracious and beautiful country the Divide, eight or ten miles in width and seventy long, well wooded and watered, and with countless glens and valleys full of castellated rocks and pine groves. All this one learns journeying across it; but, looking up at it from Colorado Springs, it is simply a majestic wall against the northern sky,—blue, deep. dark, unfathomable blue, as an ocean wave might be if suddenly arrested at its highest and crystallized into a changeless and eternal boundary. It is thirty or forty miles away from us; but in every view we find our eyes fastening upon it, tracing it, wondering how, not being built of lapis lazuli or clouded sapphire, it can be so blue. It is the only spot in our glorious outlook which is uniform of color. Sunsets may turn the whole north sky golden yellow, and the afterglow may stretch rosy red the entire circle round, while the plains below fade from . brilliant sunlight to soft, undistinguishable gray; but the wall of the Divide remains always of its own unchanging blue. Storms sweep over it, black and fierce, but the blue shows through. Snow covers it and the winter sky arches white above it, but still its forest ranks of pines and firs stand solid, constant blue in the horizon.*

*Bits of Travel at Home ~  Helen Hunt Jackson