As I prepare to depart today for Colorado and this weekend’s Greeley Kennel Club shows, I cheerfully challenge Thomas Wolfe’s admonition of “You can’t go home again.”
My family moved to Colorado when I was just five years old, and my memory is awash with idyllic images of the state. After a happy life that has taken me into almost every corner of these United States, three locations stand out as emblems of the majesty of our country, the Grand Canyon, the California coastline in Big Sur and the Rocky Mountains. While I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to spend time at the first two locations, I have not been back to the Rockies since my youth.
Denver is one of America’s great cities and offers all the amenities (and challenges) of a major urban center, but it is its proximity to the wonders of the nation’s open spaces that make it special. Although I was very young when my mother and father packed up the old Chrysler and moved from Oklahoma City to Denver, I still remember the trip. As soon as we left OKC, I began looking for the mountains. I had only seen mountains on TV and in books. However, the first thing I remember that signaled I was in a different world was a herd of pronghorn antelope bounding through tall grass adjacent to the highway. I couldn’t have been more excited if my family had been on safari on the African veldt.
Soon after, the mountains loomed on the horizon, and my enthusiasm for my new home was kindled. The first thing on my agenda was to experience snow. I had lived most of my life in the South with just a short stay in Oklahoma and had never seen the white stuff. From our new home, I could see snow on the mountain tops, but I had to wait a few months before I was treated to snow on my front lawn. As much fun as I had making that first snowman, I had even more fun lacing up my first pair of ice skates and scrambling out on a nearby frozen lake. On one of our skating outings, I was lucky enough to see two future Olympic gold medalists, Hayes Allan Jenkins and his little brother David, the 1956 & 1960 winners.
But back to those mountains… my dad was an avid fisherman and an occasional hunter, and we would head to the mountains as often as we could. Some of our favorite destinations were the streams and lakes around Moffat Tunnel. The tunnel is one of the early 20th century’s greatest engineering marvels, a six-mile rail and water tunnel through the continental divide at a lofty 9,200 feet above sea level. The altitude meant there were only a few months a year that there was not snow around the streams, and even in those months the water was incredibly cold, and incredibly clear. It is no wonder that residents of the Rocky Mountain State are so protective of their environment.
The mountains were also the site of my first trip to cut our own Christmas tree. Back in those days, they did not have the ubiquitous Christmas tree farms we have. You just parked the truck and walked around in the woods until you found a suitable tree, a practice sure to bring the law down on you today. The steep incline also meant that once the tree was cut, you might have to chase it down the mountainside. While it seemed to unnerve my dad, I thought it was a clever way to get the tree down to the truck.
One my most loved memories of Colorado really has no geographic exclusivity. It was in Denver that Mom and Dad let me have my first dog, a Siberian Husky named Duke. Duke was only about 5 or 6 months old when it snowed for the first time that year. I remember him begging to be let out in that vocabulary peculiar to Siberians, then going absolutely nuts in the yard. It was a grand day for us both. I loved that dog so much that I made my parents name my youngest brother after him. To this day, he thinks he’s named after John Wayne.
Thomas Wolfe was probably right. You can’t really recapture the magic of your childhood. However, one of the advantages of age is that you appreciate your new memories as they happen. After all, I never went to a dog show in Colorado when I was a child. And that’s today’s Back Story.