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