Postcard from Colorado

Greetings from Colorado! We’re here to help celebrate a marriage and to get a glimpse of two grandkids we haven’t seen in four long years, thanks to Covid. 

I won’t lie: travel is stressful these days. Better believe it: America is on the move again. Airports and planes are jam-packed and flight schedules can change on a whim. We had a shaky start: our departing flight was delayed and we almost missed our connection in Chicago, but miraculously we—and even our bags— arrived in Denver on time. We rented a car and headed off to Colorado Springs.

It’s different out here. The days are sunny and warm but there’s almost no humidity. The nights are cool and fresh. The land is open, vast, almost endless. The mountains stand sentinel over everything and the air is pine-scented. The people are different, too: they seem happy, relaxed, informal, and outdoorsy. They wear cowboy boots and hats, or sport mountain casual: Patagonia shorts or cargo pants, SPF shirts with lots of pockets, and Birkenstocks with socks. They’re drawn here by the weather, opportunities, even the lifestyle. But it’s a devil’s bargain: on our way south, we pass through acres of new tract housing. We drive at 75 mph along miles of new highways. We see countless new office complexes, industrial parks, shopping malls, and enormous box stores. The taint of urban sprawl.  John Denver saw this coming as long ago as 1972 when he wrote Rocky Mountain High: “more people, more scars upon the land.” And now, climate accelerates the changes: the plains and forests grow more sere each season, many reservoirs are at record low levels, and a smokey haze from wild fires hangs like a shroud in the air. Our planetary clock ticks loudly here.

On our first full day, we (my wife and I along with two good friends) were happy tourists: a morning visit to the Garden of the Gods, an afternoon round of golf at the Air Force Academy, evening drinks and dinner at the Broadmoor. The following day, we climbed Pike’s Peak—by car of course—but that didn’t make it any less nerve wracking: twenty uphill miles winding through hairpin turns with few guardrails, eventually soaring eagle-like high above the tree line. At the summit (14,115 feet), we were dizzy and lightheaded, our lungs were working overtime. But the view was worth it. It was the same view that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” in 1893. From up here, America, despite her many faults and flaws, is beautiful indeed: her skies are still spacious, her purple mountains still majestic, and yes, from atop this peak, it seems as though you really can see from sea to shining sea.

We carefully made our way back down the mountain and headed off to Denver to begin our wedding fun. There’s no doubt that the modern American wedding has become quite a production these days. There is, first, the choice of destination; I guess no one ever gets married in their backyard anymore. Then, there is the wedding venue itself: in this case, a lush meadow overlooking a peaceful green valley rising into the foothills of the Rockies. Clouds scurry by and there is even a drop or two of rain, but just as the wedding party comes down the grassy aisle to the strains of “Here Comes The Sun,” the raindrops disappear and the sun magically comes out. I thought I heard the wedding planner breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

What a beautiful, happy event! The wedding party, the flower girl, the two well-behaved golden retrievers, the proud parents of the bride and groom, and, of course, the stars of the show: the happy couple themselves. Their vows were unscripted and sincere; their smiles radiated love and gratitude. Marriages are promises made and I have no doubt these promises will be kept forever.

After all the stress of planning, the moment finally arrived and a new husband kissed his bride. Let’s get this party started! We settled in to dine and dance. The toasts were marvelous: the father of the bride brought everyone to tears with his loving tribute to his newly married daughter, the two maids of honor took us behind the scenes of the newlyweds’ first tentative courting steps, and the best man, the groom’s older brother, hilariously captured the rough-and-tumble of brothers growing up in the embrace of a loving family. We should all be so fortunate.

Once all the wedding festivities were over, we made time for family. We connected with our recently relocated niece and nephew for lunch up in the foothills. The following day, it was time for the icing on our Colorado cake: the long-awaited reunion with my son and daughter-in-law and their two children—our grandkids. It had been four, long years since we last hugged the boys; they were little tykes then, but no longer. How grand to see and spend time with our two big, beautiful Colorado boys and their parents!

Sometimes, expectation exceeds experience. Not this time. We head for home tomorrow, so, as I’m wont to say…

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.

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