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Archive for the ‘Poudre River’ 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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As a way to usher in a New Year, I like to rise early to take stock of the world outside.

The first dawn of 2015 found me—bundled in warm clothes—wading through five inches of snow that carpeted Poudre Park white on Christmas.

The mountains surrounding this northern Colorado hamlet were splotched in dawn grays. The air was fresh and frigid. It felt like ice crystals formed in my nostrils with each breath.

The first places I visited were the bird feeders in the front yard. The feeders hang from poles about six feet tall. The morning, though, was still too early for the American goldfinches, mountain chickadees, juncos and other types of birds that come feeding during the warmer parts of the day

The snow under the feeders was packed down and marked by hundreds and hundreds of tiny, needle-thin cross-hatches of tracks left by yesterday’s visitors.

Life and death in the snow

When there is snow on the ground, I shovel away a large patch where I can spread around millet, cracked corn and sunflower seeds favored by doves, Stellar jays and other ground-feeding birds.

This morning—a foot or so away from the cleared patch—there was an impression in the snow about the size of my hand if I spread my fingers wide. The edges around the imprint were fluffy.

It took me a moment to realize this was likely a spot where one of the Great Horned Owls that live in the mountain forests swooped in during the night to capture a mouse. Most likely, the mouse was feeding on the nearby seeds and, sensing danger, tried to escape by scurrying under the snow.

It didn’t work. Great Horned Owls have remarkable hearing. Ornithologists say the owls can hear a mouse moving around under a foot of snow.

Stealthy visitor

Our backyard is edged by the Poudre River. The stream is largely frozen over, save for a narrow channel. Farther down the river, as well as up the river a ways, the Poudre freezes over completely. This creates a mass of ice that can be traversed to get from one shore to the other.

For the last couple of years, a bobcat has lived in a den somewhere among the trees and rocky crags of the huge mountain on the far side of the river. Local residents have spotted the cat strolling along the ice-covered shores in the early mornings. Others have heard it screech in the night. I’ve never seen or heard it.

This morning, however, it was clear the bobcat came visiting in the night.

The tracks are easy to identify in the snow. A bobcat’s hind legs sink into the snow and make what looks to be a small handle at the back of the print.

The tracks came down along the river bank and turned up into the backyard. They went straight to an old sawed-off tree stump that’s about a foot tall.

There, the bobcat hopped up on the stump for, I imagine, a better view of the night terrain.

It had been a clear, starry night. The moon is in what’s called the Waxing Gibbous phase. The word Gibbous dates back to the 14th century and is Latin for humpbacked.

In this phase, on the first night of 2015, the moon was more than 80 percent illuminated, but it wasn’t yet a full moon.

For a bobcat, it meant good moonlight for spotting the next meal or identifying lurking dangers.

I wondered: Did the bobcat just pause for a moment on the stump? Or did it stand there for a while contemplating the world, the same as I was doing as the morning light grew brighter?

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It’s a Poudre spring of rainbow foxes and snow-covered outhouses.

As with the rest of northern Colorado, the Poudre Canyon was hit this week by two spring snowstorms.

Spring snows aren’t uncommon, although we haven’t had many in the last few years of drought-like conditions. In 1980, three feet greeted May Day. In 2003, five feet fell over two days; the snow came up to my chin.

Black fox kit with a white tail outside of its den along the Poudre River. Photo by Gary Kimsey

Black fox kit with a white tail outside of its den along the Poudre River. Photo from spring of 2012 by Gary Kimsey

This time, the first storm started April 14, continued through Income Tax Day, and left behind eight inches of snow in the lower Poudre Canyon where I live. Then came a cold April 16 night. The upper inch of snow froze solid. Then another storm wandered in, this still underway.

Delicate snow

As I type here in my warm office in Sunnyside—the cabin built eight decades ago by my grandparents and now converted into office space—I look out the window and, beyond 3-foot icicles hanging like sharp stalactites from the roof’s edge, see little but white haze as snow flakes drift down.

On the far side of the backyard, the wood fence that is angled down toward the river is topped with a thin, delicate wall of snow. The roof of our outhouse—built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps—is covered with a foot-deep blanket of snow. I’m certainly glad for indoor plumbing.

Snowplows from the highway department have worked diligently to keep the canyon road open, a tough and commendable task.

Rainbow foxes

Driving home from work in Fort Collins late this afternoon, I spotted a fox casually trotting with grace and ease over the top of the snow along the shoulder of the road.

It used to be that we had pure red foxes in the canyon, but a few years ago the gene pool got mixed into. Many Poudre foxes, like this one, are now fancifully sprinkled with rainbows of red, white, black, brown fur.

Last spring I spotted a fox kit lounging outside of its den. The kit was black and it had a white tip on its tail. (See the photo.) In the fall, as I was near the den again, I spotted what I figure was the same fox—an adolescent now, but still black and white-tipped.

This afternoon I could see the back trail of the rainbow fox. It came from a den dug into the side of a small hill.

And there I was fortunate enough to view something I’d never seen before.

Foxy play

Four fox kits were outside the den, light-footedly prancing around on top of the deep snow.

They were loping about four feet up the side of the hill, and then they slid down a narrow chute they had made over the top of the snow. The chute ended near the entrance to their den.

Sometimes a kit came down on all fours. Other times, belly slides. And even a posterior zoom flew down the chute.

It’s a playful spring along the Poudre River.

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