I’m cozy with Chessie, in Marilyn’s mansion, high in the Rockies. Chessie is Marilyn’s sweet cat, who lives with her two blond dogs, who are wrestling their toys on the carpet.
How high? I forgot to ask Marilyn, but when we lived in Vallecito, our house was near 8,000 feet and this house is on top of a hill; way, way, way on top of a hill from where we lived.
This is the first time I’ve seen her house, as we left the area in 1998 for a new life in Den Haag, Holland, and she hadn’t begin the building process yet. I remember seeing the road and the for sale sign many times, but it took brave Marilyn and her love, Don, to recognize that life would be beautiful with mountain, pine and aspen trees and lake Vallecito views.
The house is more than I expected. From her description, I knew it would be grand, but it’s more. It’s grandiose!
I got into the house on Thursday after a late night flight from Denver and couldn’t see much on the way to Vallecito, but this morning around 5:45 a.m., we left for the Durango airport for Marilyn’s flight out for a visit with her brother in Indianapolis.
Driving on the way back from the airport, I went about recapturing the memories: the Durango airport, where both of us earned our pilots wings, Bayfield, and the wide open spaces of green, cattle, sheep grazing, happy horses and, ah, those shimmering aspen trees and pine, as I got closer to Vallecito.
I drove through Bayfield to see the familiar and the new businesses, the new high school where I substituted occasionally, new churches, a magnificent new library and the post office, which was new, as well. Changes have been made, but it hasn’t lost its small town charm, with small mountain houses, large old stone homesteads, and several old stores, still in operation.
On the road up to Vallecito, I looked for several memory spots; one of those, the house that had several lilac bushes in the front of the property. I stopped one time, when I lived in Vallecito, to ask the woman of the house if it would be okay to pick some of the blooms.
“Yes, please, go right ahead. Take all you want.” Then she added that just the week before a gentleman came to her door, saying that he forgot his wedding anniversary, and could he pick some lilacs to give to his wife. She obliged him, of course.
I couldn’t find the lilac bushes on this trip. And I also wanted to find the remnants of a coach stop where a bit of cement still marks the spot. A long time Bayfield resident, near the end of his life, pointed it out to me once. I couldn’t find that either, but there was the old barn, the chimney that once belonged to a long-gone house, the ranch where cowboys lived and took hunters up to the hills for deer and antelope season-hunting. When I was in flight school, one of my friends and another flight instructor flew two cowboys up to the hills, flew too low in the shadow side of the mountain, crashed and burned.
We tend to remember the good and the bad, and I have many photos of the pilots visiting us in our back yard. One of those is the pilot who perished.
Before I left Bayfield, I found a new bakery/restaurant in a small shopping area of about four businesses, and since it was only 8 a.m. by then, I stopped and had a breakfast roll and coffee. The two owners begin baking and cooking around 4 a.m., one of them told me. “We cook everything fresh right here, including turkeys we use for sandwiches.”
Then, up towards Vallecito, I drove over two familiar bridges and remembered one of them was the spot where my flight instructor and another pilot-friend lost control of the car and it landed in the river. They were shook up but not injured.
Up, up, up, around winding roads – that are now paved, but were bumpy and full of potholes when we lived there – I met the devastation of the fire that took much of the forest around ten or twelve years ago. Tall sticks that were once trees now stand naked leaving more open space. But it’s all still beautiful even after it was touched by fire. Then Lake Vallecito appeared, full and reflecting the sky. Boats sat in the water waiting for fun loving folks and fishermen. Many memories of that lake and the fun we had, in the water, or cross country skiing right smack dab on that very lake during the winter. I want to add here that the winters are harsh: no need to add more yet to this, it’s just a preview that I’ll write about in the future.
You must be aware of deer that jump out in front of you while driving up the road. Marilyn advised me that honking at them helps to orientate them in the dark so they know which way to run. I saw many fawns and their parents crossing the road and jumping like ballerinas over fences and rocks.
Marilyn gave me a bit of instruction on how to drive a 4 wheel drive and then I was on my own. I drove up a steep grade, over a rocky and gravely road to her home.
Now I am blessed with unbelievable views: bird feeders that attract many types of colorful birds, all vying for a morsel of goodness, squirrels, chipmunks and I’m sure some deer or even a bear may pass by.