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Letter from America

Lifestyle Section - Editors Letter

  Our visit here has coincided with one of the most celebrated holidays of the year – July 4, or Independence Day. Everywhere families were congregating for the festivities in the Fraser Valley, but we were invited to a neighbouring county by our dear friends Joanne and Dick Cole, to share the occasion with them.

We headed over the summit of the mountain, and wound our way down the many switchbacks (hairpin bends), passing countless cascading streams, a product of the snowmelt still occurring on the peaks, which remain white mid-summer. The water is indescribably sweet and refreshing, and we filled up our bottles for the remainder of the journey.

Our destination was Gold Hill, another mountain hamlet with a fascinating, rambling history of the discovery of gold in Colorado. The appearance of the town has remained largely unchanged over time, and it represents a lifestyle that is a juxtaposition of rustic and modern, a way of being that is so many degrees slower than the pace we are accustomed to in our modern lives.

It felt like I was entering a portal, into another era, where people and dogs and horses moved about on dusty streets, stopping to chat, about the splendid warm weather, the wildflowers in abundance in the grassy meadows, the good fortune of a quick afternoon shower to dampen the ground.

Every drop of water is accounted for here – there is such a sense of awareness of the use of resources, and the respectful relationship that engenders. Rain tanks capturing run-off from roofs, portable basins to catch overflow in sinks and showers (to be carried out and poured over garden plants).

Combustibles are saved, everything from an empty sugar packet to a toilet roll, as kindling for an early morning wood-stove to be lit, to ward off the chill before the warmth of the day penetrates the high altitude cabins.

Before we came for a visit two years ago, there had been an utterly devastating fire up Four-Mile Canyon, and this town came perilously close to being annihilated. After 169 homes were razed, and thousands of hectares of forest burned, Gold Hill was saved by the slurry dumped by Air Force bombers. There are still tell-tale red streaks on Joanne and Dick’s house, and the trees not 20 metres from their front door were consumed. They showed me a documentary over the weekend, based on conversations with the folk who lived in the canyon and the little mountain hamlets populating it – some had lost everything; others had returned, in numbed shock, to intact dwellings. The footage was wrenching to witness, and the tales of bravery uplifting and inspiring.

They talk about the decisions they were faced with, in those crucial minutes after receiving the calls to evacuate (at which point only one dirt road remained open, of the four leading into and out of Gold Hill) – what to take, how to access in the shock and disbelief, what is most precious, after family and animals (think horses, as well as cats and dogs), and photographs and documents?

And then last September, flash floods took out a substantial part of neighbouring Sunshine Canyon, when an enormous five-day rain above Boulder came down on landscapes that had been denuded, in great sections, of foliage during fires – and there was nothing to hold the soil in place, and creeks and debris-filled rivers tore down through communities, leaving utter devastation in their wake.

Joanne said the floods were actually worse than the fires, in her estimation. I cannot imagine facing either, and these hardy and resilient people have had more than their share of natural disasters and challenges. But they love living here, and embrace every opportunity to get out into nature.

Fly-fishing in pristine alpine streams; cycling along tracks at tree-line (about 9 500ft above sea level and higher); hiking in the woods and seeing elk and moose, and occasionally black bears, and mountain lion scat (droppings); getting together to make music (blues and blue-grass and country), and celebrating the art of living. If someone is in trouble, they rally around to help, and share resources.

After both fire and flood, people like Joanne were part of massive fundraising events (like at the community radio station she worked at, KGNU Boulder, which I’d encourage you to stream if you get a chance) – and substantial amounts of money were raised, and directed towards the victims in rebuilding their homes and lives.

So, on July 4 we watched the parade, of horses and fire-trucks (the firemen are revered here, for their bravery and fortitude during the dry, fire season – they volunteer their time, alongside their other jobs); and of town-folk gaily dressed for the event, children in cowboy boots and Stetsons; young and old gathered for the festivities.

There were even some goats, from a local organisation providing sustainable means for cutting (mowing) fire-breaks, how’s that for a good idea.

My heart shall linger in these special places when I wing my way back to South Africa – being here reinforces so much of what I hold dear, with the universal values of friendship, respect, tolerance, and warm hospitality I have encountered.

Sublime weather was also a blessing – and I believe the Cape of Storms has been living up to its reputation, so I shall brace myself accordingly for my imminent return.

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Written by Carolyn Frost You are reading Letter from America articles

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