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Archive for the ‘Poppies’ Category

On this summer solstice of 2016, giant orange poppies beautify Poudre Park, the hamlet where we live along the Cache la Poudre River in the northern Colorado Rockies.

The poppies grow in pockets throughout our little mountain valley—in corners of our neighbors’ yards, along fences, singularly here and there like steady sentries, and wildly on vacant land.

The orange is a stunning contrast to the many different shades of green—ponderosa pines, blue spruces, cottonwoods, lilacs, apple trees, and grasses—that color the valley and surrounding mountains.

Pink roses and poppies planted decades ago by Ethel Kimsey at Sunnyside in Poudre Park, Colo.

Pink roses and poppies planted decades ago by Ethel Kimsey at Sunnyside in Poudre Park, Colo.

Most of the poppies are descendants of ones planted by my grandmother seven decades ago. Neighbors liked them so much they came and asked her if they could dig some up for their own yards. The poppies spread over the decades from here to there to over there.

I enjoy them. They give an important sense of place, heritage and history, something many Americans lack in today’s all-too mobile society. It’s a loss to be regretted.

Without the feeling of familial connection and landed roots, it’s easy for some people to become less secure in soul and life. Such a condition can lead to drifting philosophically and morally, sometimes resulting in less compassion for people of varying origins, religions, lifestyles and, as we see today, a desperate need to latch blindly on to political leaders who falsely boast they will make everything great.

The poppies of Poudre Park start blooming before summer solstice and are usually gone a few days after. This year’s solstice on June 20 coincided with the full moon, a rare occurrence. The day was the longest of the year, about 17 hours of daylight in Colorado. The poppies loved this flood of light.

A painting of a Sunnyside poppy by Patty Jackson.

A painting of a Sunnyside poppy by Patty Jackson Kimsey.

My grandparents—Charlie and Ethel—purchased our property for $100 on Sept. 29, 1929. Compared to the great expanse of some land ownership in the West, it’s a tiny lot: a mere 100 by 200 feet, which comes out to Charlie and Ethel paying less than half of a penny per square foot.

However, I suspect the purchase may never have happened if they had waited a month: October 29 was the start of the Great Crash that heralded in America’s worst depression. As with most Americans, Ethel and Charlie became financially distressed because of the Great Depression.

Back then, the price of riverside land in Poudre Canyon plummeted to 50 cents an acre. I once asked my father why he and my grandparents didn’t buy up a bunch of property. His reply: “Like everyone else, we didn’t have 50 cents to our name.”

Now, on this summer solstice of 2016, the cost to buy such land can be more than $100,000 an acre.

Our property is flat except for the north edge where a rocky bank slopes down to the Poudre River. When my grandparents bought the site, it was covered with tall wild grasses; Colorado thistles with white flowers; bull thistles that blossom purple flowers; mullein that has velvet-like leaves; prickly pear cactus and ball cactus, both of which bloom delicate yellow flowers; sagebrush with gray-green leaves; dagger-pointed yucca; and thickets of aquamarine-colored willows on the river bank.

Charlie and Ethel cleared the land and built a three-room cabin, not an easy task since there was no electricity and boards were sawed by hand.

The well was dug by hand by two hardy neighbors, Frank and Louie Gueswel. This, too, was no easy task. Through the eons the river meandered back and forth across the valley, leaving a base of river rocks to be found only an inch or two below the top soil. To dig a post hole, one uses not a shovel but a long crowbar for prying out rocks.

For more than three decades—until electricity arrived in Poudre Canyon in the 1960s—water for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes and bodies was drawn from a hand pump.

At sunrise on the summer solstice: Poppies in Poudre Park.

At sunrise on the summer solstice: Poppies in Poudre Park.

The outhouse was constructed by workers from the Civil Conservation Corps, which Franklin D. Roosevelt created during the Great Depression to employ men who tackled projects that improved America’s infrastructure. In the Poudre Canyon, CCC crews built hiking trails for the public, outhouses for the dozen homes in Poudre Park and other projects.

My father was 14 years old when Charlie and Ethel purchased the land. He wanted to name the site “Deadman’s Inn.” Wisely, my grandparents settled on another name: Sunnyside. My lovely partner and wife, Patty Jackson Kimsey, and I now call it “Sunnyside on the Poudre.”

In addition to the poppies, my grandmother planted pinks roses and small succulent plants called “hens and chicks.” After Charlie and Ethel died, my parents—Glen and Lucille—built a house on the site–replete with a bathroom and all sorts of modern conveniences. Both of my parents have been gone for three decades. My children, Clay and Kate, were raised at Sunnyside; my first wife Connie passed away there in 2011.

In the 1990s, we remodeled the old cabin into office space with big windows that look out at the river flowing past the backyard. My grandmother’s pink roses remain; they are in bloom right now, surrounded by poppies. Her hens and chicks still thrive. The CCC’s outhouse still stands, although seldom used since we have indoor plumbing. The well remains, too, even though the hand pump no longer works.

And, of course, the poppies look beautiful on the summer solstice, reminding me of the importance of place, heritage and history.

 

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