That midnight scramble up the mesa might have seemed like a dream, save for those dusty boots and a white skirt with a filthy hem to tell the tale.
After a bit of clean up, we resolutely set off for our next concert, in Carbondale, but almost immediately veered over to take in a thrift store, next to which was the Wild Carrot.
We admired the inventive options and had some breakfast before heading up Highway 550, which traverses even more spectacular scenery.
Whenever I drive these steep and amazing roads I am stunned by the ingenuity, the ambition, and above all the greed that drove men to push so deeply into these inaccessible wildernesses. Ghost towns and abandoned mines abound, to be sure. But many of the towns named after what was being extracted from the ground around and beneath thme still remain: Leadville, Silverton, Carbondale.
Down, down down, we curved, into Silverton. I sat in the car to make a call to our next host and Maggie ducked into a few stores. “Sands!” I heard, and looked up. There she was, standing in the doorway of a shop, holding up a beautiful long, brown skirt—with sparkles. We prowled the store for a while, hoping to add to our stash of skirts, but nothing quite worked. Just as well!
So out we set again, over what’s known as The Million Dollar Highway, into Ouray (this must translate to billions of dollars today). Carved deep into the side of mountains, the road is at times only barely two lanes wide. A mountain rises steeply above you as you drive, and just as steeply plunges away, hundreds of feet down. I am always grateful on this drive, spectacular though it is, when I am heading north, as that direction, the car hugs the mountain. Going south, that precipice is directly below your car’s right bumper.
Dana managed to not only host a concert in Durango but clean up and somehow – it was that pause for skirt-hunting in Silverton – get ahead of us to Ridgeway, on the other side of Ouray. We met her there, and in her camper she roared up the road ahead of us, leading us to the cabin she is building. It’s a simple, efficient, lovely design: 32’ square, with spectacular views.
Before leaving Ridgeway
we ducked into another thrift store (ostensibly, Maggie’s on the prowl for instruments for Luke, but somehow we keep finding cool additions to our wardrobes). We also stopped in the charming store Animas, where Maggie purchased a little metal dragon for me.
We set her on the dashboard, facing forward. Her head waggles. When we take a curve she might fall over, and sometimes even slide off on to the floor, but she is quickly set back again, leading us on our way.
Our next concert would be in the home of Lee Ann Eustis. Lee Ann’s husband, George, was my high school biology teacher when – years and years and years ago — I attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Ever since, Lee Ann (George too, but he died years ago, and far too young) has been a beloved personage in my life, not seen nearly often enough. When I do see her, it’s usually in the company of Sarah Swinerton,
who was my first roommate at CRMS; we’ve known each other since we were both 14, which means that she, too, is a water dragon. Swin, as she is known, lives in Woodside, California. She had hoped to attend one of our concerts—she and Maggie have met a few times—but her schedule just wouldn’t allow the time. Excited as I was to see Lee Ann and the other friends from my years at CRMS who would attend the Carbondale concert, I had to overcome a vague disappointment that Swin would not be there too.
Visible from every angle of the acres that comprise the campus of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School are the beautiful flanks and summit of Mt Sopris.
It’s not only a cherished silhouette; it’s an iconic one, and a hundred memories of my early teenage years swirled around me as we approached its magnificent profile, and as we drove through the town of Carbondale, passing, at a distance, CRMS’s Barn,
another iconic silhouette. The Barn holds the classrooms in which I first fell in love with Shakespeare, thanks to Wells Kerr, and grabbed a first tentative understanding of the powers of point of view from Susan Cheever.
We turned into the hills above Carbondale, passing acres of pasture, fat cattle and sleek horses, and pulled into Lee Ann’s familiar dusty driveway—not long after my brother fell from a bridge in Upstate New York and experienced an horrific head injury I’d come here to lick wounds (my purpose seemingly to help with a production of Fiddler on the Roofthat CRMS was mounting that year). LeeAnn’s husband, George, had just died, and the two of us did our best to help each other through a crisis of the deepest grief.
We’d been out of cell phone range for over an hour – first time that’s happened this whole journey, where we’ve been able to Google information about, say, saguaros or the settlement of Tucson or the whereabouts of a wildfire or the best restaurants according to Yelp – and I felt terrible that I’d not been able to tell Lee Ann that we were running late. When we did get cell reception I gave a call, but her machine picked up. I knew she had a dinner to attend and that the door would be open and that she’d leave a note about where we’d sleep, and when she’d be back.
We pulled up in front of the lovely home and carried a few things to the front door. I knocked, then pushed it open. “Hello?” I called, in case she might be there. I walked in, and looked in vain for a piece of paper on which a few loving words might have been written. “There’s no note,” I said, troubled.
“I am the note.” The voice behind me was full of laughter.
I turned, and there was Swin, arms held out, standing on the stairs that come to the living room. She laughed at the look on my face. “Happy birthday!” she said.
She’d flown to Denver from San Francisco, where she’d rented a car, and driven all the way to Carbondale to join us.
After a lot of laughter and exclamation we took a look at the beautiful room in which we’d have the concert — Sopris would be visible to our audience, behind us. And then we went for dinner.
“Swin,” I said, as we sipped our glasses of wine. “We’re in Carbondale! First time since we were 14!”
That concert—held over brunch—was intimate and delightful.
Afterwards those who attended sat and talked for hours, spinning a thousand stories and memories of our time at CRMS. Late the afternoon, after bidding them adieu, we all napped a bit.
Later, carrying a basket of cheese and wine, we hiked up to a log cabin built high on the property, where we sat and laughed and spoke of the curving roads and places that life keeps taking us, while reveling in the lofty loveliness of Mt. Sopris.