"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Memories Aflame

I’m not a Colorado native, but my mom is a third generation native, so love and feelings of connection to Colorado runs deep in my veins.  Which is why watching the destruction caused by the now 14,000+ acre wildfire raging in Colorado Springs breaks my heart.
Colorado is my second home, and Colorado Springs especially looms large in my life and in memories I cherish.  I am familiar with its history, legends, landmarks and lore as I am with those of my own hometown.   

My mom was born and spent her early childhood years in Colorado Springs.  Her grandparents and many of her cousins lived nearby.  I have early, vague memories of visiting my great-grandmother’s house in downtown Colorado Springs.  Through the years, I’ve walked the same sidewalks that my mom did when she was young, looking at the house where she grew up, visiting the church my grandparents were married in, where my grandma sang in the choir, and where my mom, uncle and aunts attended Sunday School when they were young.  Old black and white pictures of family members show them standing in front of homes and buildings in Colorado Springs, or on picnics and camping outings in the mountains outside the city.  “Springs” as locals call it, is part of my family.   My mom said it best in this blog post about the fire with these words, "Truly, the backdrop of my earliest days, the beloved skyline of my life,  is on fire.  I am heartbroken."

From as far back as I can remember visits to Colorado have been a regular part of my life’s rhythm.  Summer vacations and many Thanksgivings, Christmases and other holidays were spent there.  I associate Colorado with celebration and family.  Colorado Springs especially holds a kind of magical charm for me, and the days and weeks before a trip there made me giddy with anticipation. There was so much to do and see, not to mention my favorite cousin, Michelle, was there!  Colorado was where I chose to celebrate my milestone 40th birthday, surrounded by many I love, marked by visits to places I cherish. 

Summertime meant extended stays in Colorado, with weeks on end spent at my Aunt Suzy’s house or Michelle’s, or some combination of both.  When I was in Junior High, my mom moved from Utah to Colorado Springs, and the Springs really did become my second home.  

Summer visits to Springs were never complete without at least a few outings to Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods. These are two of the areas most affected by the fires.  Residents of Manitou Springs were some of the first to be evacuated.  Drinking Manitou water, which is really nasty, but supposedly has healing properties, is a rite of passage for children in our family.  The arcade at Manitou was a favorite hangout of my cousins and me when we were teenagers. Getting our pictures taken in the photo booth was a must on every visit there.  Last summer, a 4th generation of children in our family was introduced to Manitou Springs and its traditions, as I spent a fun afternoon there with many of my family.  

Manitou Photo Booth fun with my cousin Michelle
Gillian's first taste of Manitou Water
Garden of the Gods is another Colorado Springs landmark that is deeply ingrained in my memories.  Growing up I remember reading Packy Climbs Pike's Peak, a book about a packrat that lived in Garden of the Gods in the winter and on Pikes Peak in the summer.  Many summer picnics with my cousins took place in Garden of the Gods.  Driving through the park we’d all compete to see who could catch the first glimpse of the Kissing Camels.  Then as we’d drive by Balancing Rock we’d all hold our breath, because if we didn’t the precariously balanced rock might come crashing down on our car!  As soon as the cars were parked we’d all burst outside and immediately scamper onto the red rock formations.  While we climbed, our mom’s would go buy candy rocks from the gift shop and then try to fool us into thinking they were eating rocks.  Lame!  We were never fooled, but we enjoyed watching them act like fools in an effort to entertain us.  On double dates with my cousin Michelle, we again returned to Garden of the Gods with our boyfriends to climb and play. There might even have been some making out in the car parked under the stars and soaring red cliffs, but I won’t confirm or deny that.  

Balancing Rock in Garden of the Gods
Kissing Camels in Garden of the Gods

Glen Eyrie Castle

Glen Eyrie, the castle/home built by the founder of Colorado Springs, General William J. Palmer, is another favorite place.  Bighorn Sheep can often be seen on the grounds or in the cliffs near the castle. Who would expect a castle to be up in the mountains outside a city in Colorado?  I was completely enthralled by the romanticism and beauty of the place when I was younger.  I loved walking through the halls; exploring and imaging the history that had taken place there.  As a teenager, I even got to attend a wedding in the chapel of Glen Eyrie, which was almost too much for my romantic young heart to stand.  Located in Queen’s Canyon, Glen Eyrie is potentially right in the fire’s path.  If the unthinkable happens and the winds blow the fire into Queen’s Canyon, the canyon will act like a chimney and force the flames directly down the canyon with devastating consequences.
Mom, Amy, Jon, Me and Julie with Glen Eyrie Castle in the background
Flying W Ranch, a landmark tourist attraction where tourists and locals could go for an authentic Western Bar-B-Q dinner and cowboy music experience was destroyed yesterday by the fire.  I went there once with my mom and the man she was dating at the time, along with my boyfriend. I was a teenager and remember thinking the experience was cliché and completely uncool.  Still, it was a landmark, and hearing that it was destroyed broke my heart.

Watching and hearing about the devastation from afar is difficult.  I know I’m not the only one experiencing feelings of sadness, helplessness and mournfulness.  It’s all really hard to take in.  The pictures being posted on Facebook by friends and family look like those from a war zone.  I can’t imagine being there and literally watching parts of my home, my city, burn before my eyes.  I’m struck by how closely our emotions and memories are intertwined with places.  Seeing those places literally going up in smoke before your eyes is like having parts of your personal history destroyed.  It’s a very helpless, hopeless feeling.  Places that have been touchstones in my life, and the lives of my family, are up in flames.    

Hopefully, soon the forces of nature will let up and the firefighters and many others working to save lives and homes will have some success in containing the fire.  Until then, all I can do is watch, dumbfounded, and wait, and hope for the best.  


  1. I chose Colorado as my home for almost forty years, not having one of my own (my father was in the military). I loved all the places you mention here, but especially the Boulder area where I lived. I too feel the immense sadness of seeing what is happening in my adopted state. it is indeed a helpless feeling.

  2. This is just beautifully written, Keicha. Thanks for saying so much of what is in my heart.

    I didn't remember that you went to the Flying "W" Ranch with me. I think it is neat that you kept the ticket. Also, I forgot you had the book about Packy. I'm glad you have it. Mr. White, our neighbor, gave that to me when I was a child.

  3. This is so touching on a number of levels. I'm glad your mom sent her readers over here for another perspective on the fires. It was a dream of my father's to move to Boulder. He never did, but he never stipped talking about it either.

  4. I came over from your mom’s blog. I have never been to Colorado but always dreamed of its beautiful mountains. I feel so terrible watching all this destruction. I remember my mother telling me how she felt after returning from visiting a small town where she used to go in Normandy, France, after WWII, and seeing it almost completely destroyed by bombs. It leaves you numb. Your post is so poignant. I just hope that the weather will change soon.

  5. Hi Keicha,
    I also came over from your mom's blog. I am so sad to hear about this awful fire. I am praying for help in whatever is needed for those in flight and those who are fighting to control the situation.

  6. Oh, Keicha, I'm so sorry. I've visited beautiful Colorado and the fires break my heart as well -- grateful that the people I care about there are safe and devastated to see this beautiful place burning. At NPR.org, if you search "Flying W," they had a marvelous feature on it. I had never been there, but it nearly made me cry.


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