Posts Tagged ‘Gary Kimsey’

Once again, our hamlet of Poudre Park in the northern Colorado Rockies is confronted by a forest fire.

This time it’s the Seaman Fire, named after the nearby Milton Seaman Reservoir. The fire was started by a September 11 lightning strike from a minor rainstorm that swooped by us so fast we hardly noticed it.

As I write this article, helicopters are flying overhead. Their temporary landing base is atop a small rise at the mouth of Hewlett Gulch, a popular hiking trail beginning a quarter of a mile from us. About 120 firefighters are working to contain the fire that burned 230 acres by this morning. Three air tankers and three helicopters have been assigned to drop water and slurry on the fire.

Ring of fire: The glowing of the Seaman Fire on a mountainside reflects off the Cache la Poudre River. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

As forest fires are measured, this one isn’t big—yet. The fire is on uninhabited land a little more than a mile away. On the mountains, meadows, and gulches between here and there, the vegetation of ponderosa pines, sagebrush, and tall grasses is extremely dry.

The fire seems far away, but a swift, steady breeze could have it here within minutes. Our community has woefully learned that lesson before.

We were surprised in 2012 by the sudden blazing arrival of the High Park Fire, which burned 87,284 acres through the mountains, killed a woman and destroyed 259 homes. It was the second largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history.

In that fire, too, we thought we were far enough away to be safe. A lightning strike started the fire in Rist Canyon to the south. Eight miles of forested wilderness separate us from Rist Canyon.

On a night shortly after the High Park Fire started, Patty and I were awakened by the vigorous clanging of a wind chime outside the bedroom window. I climbed out of bed to get a drink of water and noticed lights were on at the volunteer firehouse across the dirt road from us. Bleary-eyed and donned in my jammies, I wandered over there to see what was going on.

Two of my neighbors, both volunteer firefighters, stood outside the firehouse, looking south at the mountains that start only a few dozen steps away. The southern sky beyond those mountaintops was illuminated reddish-orange from the fire that we thought was miles away.

I yawned. “Fire coming our way?” I asked.

“No, it’s still over in Rist Canyon,” one of the firefighters replied. “That’s the last that we heard, anyway.”

Feeling safe, we chatted for a couple of minutes. The wind had turned slow and pleasant, but, since Poudre Park is in a valley surrounded by mountains, it was brisk along the higher elevations.

Suddenly, a 100-foot wall of flames leaped over Little Mountain in front of us—that’s the name of the smallest of the mountains surrounding Poudre Park. At the same time, a rumbling roar came from the direction of Rainbow Ridge, a large forested mountain a quarter of a mile away at the eastern end of the valley. We call it Rainbow Ridge because it’s long arching shape resembles the curvature of a rainbow. It’s also where beautiful rainbows appear during late-afternoon rain showers.

The roaring rapidly intensified until it sounded like a clattering freight train. A blaze of fire the size of a football field erupted at the south end of Rainbow Ridge. The wind shoved the heat northward and another large area of the mountainside suddenly ignited. The fire continued to hop-scotch hundreds of yards at a time.

By then, the valley was bright as day. I rushed back to the house and told Patty we’re out of here right way. She dressed quickly and grabbed a few items. The electricity suddenly went out. I found my wallet and car keys, and we rushed out. I was still in my jammies. As I closed our front door, I wondered if I should even bother locking it. I was sure our home would soon be gone.

All of our neighbors fled. The Poudre Canyon Highway, which runs along the south side of the valley, was blocked by fire to the west. The only escape route was east along the foot of Rainbow Ridge. By the time we reached there, the fire had flowed down the mountainside and was raging along the roadside. We could feel the heat as we sped by.

Our community was evacuated for three weeks. Seven homes in gulches on either side of Poudre Park were destroyed. Our community, though, was saved by 11 brave volunteer firefighters who kept the blaze from crossing the highway and burning Poudre Park.

This is the memory that comes to mind today as I listen to helicopters. Wildfires are tragedies that others in our nation have experienced, especially in California and the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure people thought they, too, were safe—in the beginning when a fire seemed a long way away.

But, as with many things in our lives, our fortunes can change in a moment. We should cherish what we have—families, homes, and life itself—because it could all go away. All it takes is shifting of the wind.



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When you live in a tiny rural American community a long distance from a big-city celebration, how do you celebrate the Fourth of July?

It’s pretty simple and as fashionable as apple pie.

You organize a parade. You break out red, white and blue flags and bunting and bling. You designate the local preacher as Grand Marshall. You name Honored Guests—in this case, uh, two grizzly bears entwined in, of all things, fierce battle.

That’s how it went on the morning of the 2018 July 4th in the historic hamlet of Poudre Park in the northern Colorado Rockies.

The parade was the 7th annual—well, maybe the 5th annual as there seems to be some friendly disagreement among local residents about the number of years.

Regardless of how many years, the parade is billed as the “World’s Shortest July 4th Parade with the Biggest Heart.”

The parade originated with the grandkids of residents Stephanie and Bob Maynard riding their bicycles, beautified in patriotic colors, along Poudre Park’s main (and only) avenue—a narrow, dusty, rocky, dirt road.

Photo by Edie Palmer

Something about the grandkids’ display of patriotism caught on in the community of a couple of dozen residents. Parade enthusiasm grew year by year.

The parade route is 509 steps from the starting point at the volunteer firehouse and community center and goes down to the far end of the road, where the parade turns around and retraces its path back.

Time elapsed: seven minutes to make the trip to the end of the road, and another seven minutes back. Hmm, well, a bit of fudging happens and the official roundtrip time is recorded as 20 minutes total. Twenty minutes make the parade more impressive, right?

This year seven floats entered the parade—psst, any mechanical thing that moves on three or more wheels is considered “a float.”

The floats included two golf carts, one driven by a grandma, her young granddaughter in the passenger seat; a tiny battery-powered orange sports car driven by two small youngsters (the kids did pretty good until the driver decided to see if he could drive with closed eyes and accidentally veered toward four spectators lounging roadside in their camp chairs); a sleek red convertible roadster; an SUV pulling a flatbed trailer that displayed a colorful cutout of Uncle Sam and a military veteran and a couple of ladies waving the Stars ‘n Stripes and wearing red, white and blue leis (the vet and ladies were living and breathing people, by the way, as opposed to Uncle Sam); a car chauffeuring the Grand Marshall, Jim Hudson, the 88-year-old preacher (now retired) who founded the Poudre Park nondenominational church; and another truck pulling a flatbed on top of which was a recently completed welded barbed-wire statue of two fighting larger-than-life grizzly bears, the Honored Guests. This was the bears’ first public appearance. It’s a magnificent statue made by Brian Gueswel and his father, Carl, 80, a long-time resident of this hamlet along the Cache la Poudre River.

Photo by Edie Palmer

Oh, just an aside here from the writer of this blog: It took longer to write the above lengthy run-on paragraph than it did for the parade to make its roundtrip journey.

The floats were adorned in red, white and blue everything. A half-dozen kids road alongside on their bikes, similarly decorated. The spectators were garbed in patriotic clothing. One lady also wore blue angel wings on the back of her shoulders. Some guy was donned in a bright, flowery Hawaiian shirt that he claimed attracts hummingbirds, none of which, by the way, visited him during the parade.

As in previous years, the plan was for the parade to be led by the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Department’s shiny red fire truck stationed in Poudre Park. However, the fire truck—moments before the parade started—was called away to make an emergency run to a vehicular accident on Colorado Highway 14 several miles down the canyon from Poudre Park.

Photo by Patty Kimsey

Poudre Park is in a quiet valley encircled by mountains. Colorado Highway 14 runs along the valley’s south; on the north, the river. The hamlet’s usual quietness was broken on July 4 by loud patriotic music thanks to a resident who set up speakers along the parade route.

It would be grand to report that spectators lined the road cheering. The parade started that way, you know, but, as it proceeded on, spectators joined in and proudly marched with the floats.

Suddenly, the number of roadside spectators dwindled to four obviously very wise folks, this writer included, who settled into camp chairs in the cool, lovely shade of a tree, a good place to be as it was a hot, sweaty morning and, of course, those 509 steps are a very long way to go even for those of us who are avid parade watchers, right, uh, sure?

There you have it, what happens on July 4th in a tiny American community. A great parade. The world’s shortest parade. The parade with the biggest heart.

Photo by Edie Palmer

After the parade, it was time in the community center for cinnamon rolls donated by Vern’s, a historic restaurant in nearby LaPorte, Colo. Photos by Edie Palmer.

The parade’s Grand Marshall, Jim Hudson, and his wife, Velma, partaking of cinnamon rolls after the parade.

Photo by Patty Kimsey


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The season of fall is upon us in our quiet niche in the world, as we are nestled in a small northern Colorado mountain valley along the Cache la Poudre River.

We’ve reached the time of year when the river, flowing along the north side of the valley and alongside our backyard, drops to a level where it’s possible to wade across with only getting wet up to the knees. Gone is the raging, muddy flooding of the spring. Gone is the summer waterway of clear, swirling eddies and frothing whitewater rapids so loved by anglers, rafters, kayakers, hikers, picnickers, and folks who just enjoy watching things of Mother Nature.

A view across the river during the Oct. 9 snowstorm that signaled the change into the season of fall.

Many people incorrectly think this seasonal change in the river is the stream’s natural ebb and flow. It is a way, sort of. When my grandparents arrived in the valley in 1929—into what is now the hamlet of Poudre Park where Patty and I live—the river roared in the spring with cold water from snow melted in the high mountains of the Continental Divide 40 miles up the Poudre Canyon. By the end of August, the river was often completely dried up and remained that way until the spring flooding began in the next May.

Then, as the years passed, came the construction of high-mountain reservoirs to store drinking water for cities like Fort Collins and Greeley on the plains to the east of the mountains. Farmers of corn, wheat, sugar beets, millet, sunflowers, and other crops are also beneficiaries. And, with the construction of the high-mountain reservoirs, so came the building of reservoirs on the plains.

The same view across the river as the snowy photo above. This was taken four days later as Indian Summer set in.

Starting in late spring, the high-mountain reservoirs are drained of the snow-melted water captured during the winter. The water is run through the canyon of the Poudre River and into canals inside and outside of the canyon. The canals dump their flows into the plains reservoirs that have been emptied through use over the previous months.

This cycle keeps the river running higher and longer throughout the year than the waterway naturally would. It’s a man-made cycle that most people are unaware of. At this very moment in October, the high-mountain reservoirs are empty, ready to be filled by snowmelt next spring; the plains reservoirs are full enough for use during the coming months. And the river still flows, although significantly low at this time of the year, unlike when it typically dried up in my grandparents’ era.

Drifting from one season to the next

I like the times of the year when one season drifts into the next. I suspect many Americans are unfortunately too busy to pay much attention—beyond a nod or a quip—to the shifting of the seasons. It’s far too easy to be guilty of violating that ol’ saw about stopping and smelling the roses. In the case of where Patty and I live, it’s a matter of stopping and smelling the freshness of the mountain air. The air is brisk and a welcomed seductive onslaught that makes nostrils flare and senses open wide to the feeling of wanting life to go on forever.

This year, the seasonal change into fall came much as it often does. The dry late summer was enhanced by sunlight so bright you have to blink a lot when you’re outdoors. In late September, a snowstorm usually races by, leaving in its wake heavy, wet snow that breaks limbs of riverside cottonwoods still thick with leaves. The ponderosas, spruces and white pines covering the mountainsides hunker down, their snow-laden boughs every now and then giving a springy shake to rid themselves of the burden.

The first snowstorm came a bit late this year—on October 9 a storm swept in from the north and deposited six inches. On the next day, the sun was back out in a delphinium-blue sky and most of the snow melted away.

Now, we’ve reached Indian Summer where the weather will likely remain mild—in the 60s and 70s in the afternoons—until Halloween when cold rainstorms typically arrive, signaling the approach of winter.

I’ve always been fascinated by the term “Indian Summer.” Where did it come from? Well, hey, Siri…?

The term Indian Summer seems to have been first recorded in 1778 when native Americans described to the American English how the first frost is followed by a spell of warm weather, a good time to go hunting. In other parts of the world, such a short warm period in the fall is marked by names as All-Hallows Summer (Britain); été de la Saint-Martin (France; happening around Feast Day on Nov. 11); and St. Luke’s Summer (or Little Summer occurring around St. Luke’s Day on Oct. 18).

The one thing that Siri notes is an emerging political incorrectness with the use of “Indian” in the “Indian Summer” name. I’m usually in favor of political correctness, but, you know, the words “Native American Summer” just don’t roll off the tongue very well…

Critters and such

The critters that we see in our valley are different at this time of the year.

The blue Stellar Jays—they have tall dark blue topknots like Woody Woodpecker—have returned from their summer sabbatical in the higher mountains. The Stellars have an ingenious strategy. They learn who—“who” being among the couple of dozen residents of Poudre Park—throws out sunflower and millet seeds for the birds. In the early mornings, one Stellar becomes the lookout. When I step outside to toss around seeds, the lookout starts squawking with a loud vigor.

By the time I get back my front door, a dozen or more Stellars have arrived for their breakfast. Next come Flickers, American Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Mountain Chickadees. Sometimes it looks as if our yard is vibrating with a swarm of colorful birds.

In mid-morning, squirrels wander into the mass of birds to grab breakfast. These are fox squirrels, the largest species of tree squirrels native to North America. They have a beautiful light brown fur, swashed slightly with a reddish hue, and huge fluffy tails of golden brown fur. During most of my life, we never had squirrels in Poudre Park. Then, about two decades ago, they wandered up the river from the plains and settled in our valley.

A seldom-seen Abert’s Squirrel that visited us this summer–black fur and tassels on the tips of its ears.

On very rare occasions, another variety of squirrel wanders into our community, this an Abert’s Squirrel, a black-furred creature with tall ears tipped with furry tassels. The Abert’s Squirrel typically sticks to the quiet forests far away from civilization.

This summer one decided take a vacation among us; it showed up daily for about a month in our yard to gather seeds. It never seemed as comfortable as birds and fox squirrels do among the trappings of civilization. Every time a vehicle drove along the dirt road at the south edge of our property, the Abert’s jumped in surprise straight up more than a foot into the air and scurried off to the safety of a tree. I figure the frightfulness of our civilization eventually overwhelmed the Abert’s sanity and it escaped back into the nearby forests.

The Great Horned Owls have returned. They roost for the winter in the pine forests on the mountains surrounding the valley. Late at night, they hoot back and forth from one side of the valley to another. It’s a non-rhythmic symphony of wonderfully eerie sounds. Sometimes I just can’t help myself: I step out into the night and shout out hoots. There’s always a silent pause from the owls. It’s as if they’re trying to figure out who or what this hooting interloper is. Within a minute they’ve decided that I’m not a threat and I should be ignored, and they return to communicating with one another in their own special language.

A black bear has come snooping into the valley late at night to raid apple trees. It’s a quiet creature. We only know of its presence because of the huge piles of feces it leaves behind. Meanwhile, a mother mountain lion and her two nearly grown cubs recently explored our valley. Cubs remain with their mothers for two years to learn hunting skills. The trio was spotted at various locations throughout our valley. One night they decided to take a nap in the yard of my son Clay and his wife Meri next door. Okay, I can never resist a bad pun—the mountain lions took a “catnap.”

A black moose on a walkabout along the river.

A few mornings ago, I was lucky enough to look across the Poudre River at the right moment and saw a black moose wandering along the grassy shores of Gordon Creek, which flows into the river. Considering the small size of its antlers, the moose was probably a youngster. We don’t often see moose around here. They usually stick to the marshes of willow bushes 50 or 60 miles up the canyon.

Sometimes, though, a moose will unexpectedly show up, hang out for a day or two in Poudre Park, and then head downriver in search of willow bushes to eat. I liken these wanderers to the indigenous Australian male adolescents who go on walkabouts as a right of passage into manhood.

By the way, I didn’t exaggerate when I wrote the moose was black. Most moose have brown fur interspersed with blackness. This one, though, was starkly black in color, as black as could be. Set against the backdrop of the green grass and the varying grays of the hillsides flanking Gordon Creek, the moose looked like it was in a colorful photograph where its body was cut out and replaced with black construction paper cut in the same shape as the animal’s body.

The days of fall

The light of the mornings now, at the start of our Indian Summer, arrives late, around 7 a.m., when the sun slowly inches over the crest of Rainbow Ridge, the tall mountain at the east end of the valley. The mountaintop has the long, bowed shape of a rainbow and it is over that mountain where rainbows show up after rainstorms.

Today, the birds and fox squirrels arrived as the sun melted away a thin layer of frost that covered everything. After the day warmed up a bit, Patty and I went out and worked on our fall chores. I’ve known Patty since 1963, the year JFK was assassinated, and she still emanates the same impressive energy, steady calmness, and stunning beauty as she did when I spotted her in the crowded hallway of our junior high school.

My main chore for this day was to put away the river pump. This is the pump that we use to water the yard and flowers during the drier times of late July to mid-August. After then, the daily Southwest Monsoon, which comes north from the Gulf of Mexico, deposits showers of fine rain onto the valley.

Putting away the pump is a process. Both ends of a water pipe along the bottom of the east fence must be opened and all spigots along the pipe must be twisted opened so every drop of water is drained, lest the pipe and spigots freeze and break during the winter. The pump, which sits at a corner of our backyard, has to be thoroughly drained and then carried about 40 yards to storage in our garage.

I’ve noticed the pump gets heavier every year. Twenty years ago, when I was a youngster in my mere 40s, a pump was a wee thing of no weight at all. Now it’s as heavy as an elephant. Hmm, that’s an equation they didn’t teach us in our high school math classes: An inanimate object—regardless of whether it’s a square, rectangle, octagon, hexagonal pyramid, or river pump—exponentially increases in weight as the age of the bearer increases in years.

Patty with the last of our flowers picked prior to the onset of a snowstorm in the fall.

Before I flexed my muscles and began grunting, I paused and watched Patty as she worked in one of the dozen flower gardens around our land. The sunshine caused her gray hair to glitter as she bent to pick the last of the flowers, pull out this or that frost-killed annual flower and trim back a fading perennial. I reflected on whether my grandfather—when he and his wife lived on this land—stopped to watch his lady working in the sunshine as I did today with Patty, with respect, admiration, and love. I’m sure he did. They were married very happily for five decades before they passed away.

From where I stood, I heard the river trickle over small, rounded rocks. The tall cottonwood trees along the riverbanks are turning golden. A cool breeze fluttered leaves away from the trees. I inhaled the brisk freshness of the mountain air. Fall is, indeed, upon us.


I wrote this column on Oct. 13. It’s intentionally longer than ones I usually write. This I did for two reasons. One reason was so our friends—many of whom we met a half-century ago during all of our days together at Van Horn High School in Independence, Missouri—are able to see how Patty and I live in Colorado. Secondly, and definitely most importantly, Oct. 13 is the anniversary of the date when Patty and I were married. I hope she enjoys this as an anniversary thought on how enjoyable our lives are.

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