Today, I’m sitting in the Denver Sheraton Hotel, my wife attending meetings about the software her ambulance company uses, and I’m staring out the room window to the west, towards the not-to-distant Rockies. The mountain ridges are capped in snow, and probably will be for another month or two, maybe longer. The foothills are lush green and a warm breeze is gently blowing through downtown Denver this mid-may day – people seem to be out in force on the streets below. But the crowds are impersonal, walking with their heads down, keeping to themselves, doing whatever it was they needed to do in downtown Denver. Like so many others the mass of people only made me uneasy, and miss the quiet of the mountains that much more.
Jackie and I spent the other night in Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70 at a favorite hotel, ate at a favorite restaurant, and enjoyed the springlike conditions, blooming trees, and calling songbirds along the nearby trail that follows the Colorado River. The natural beauty was similar to so many other places we have seen, and are drawn too – but none of our kids live here – and we could never live here for that reason. Secondly, having lived in Montana and Utah for many, many winters – I know my wife’s tolerance for extreme weather conditions would be sorely tested.
Leaving Glenwood Springs we drove through Winter Park and up to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) where we photographed an agreeable black bear. Last May we were in Winter Park for a little family reunion. One of my son’s, a marine stationed in Okinawa, was out to Denver with his family for a wedding on his wife’s side. Jackie and I rented a cabin in Winter Park and invited my other sons and their families to join us for a short reunion. And while we didn’t get all the wives and grandkids, still it was fun visiting. During that reunion we all piled in the vehicles and drove up to RMNP, also seeing the years first black bear, as well as moose, elk, coyotes, bald eagles, and osprey. On the drive to Winter Park last year we were buried by 24″ of snow that surprised us, but really it just made the reunion that much more memorable. We had to shovel out the cabin, go for cold walks in the snow with the grandkids, and enjoy some snowball fights. I wimped out going outside and getting into the sauna with my four sons – they got to visit for the first time in years and I enjoyed letting them – having dad in the sauna would have no doubt changed the conversation.
My wife and sons have accompanied me on hundreds of trips into the mountains, whether the Rockies, the Wasatch, or the Sierras – as well as to both coasts and the deserts of the southwest. We are a family of wildlife people – sometimes we just watch, sometimes I’m shooting – but we are all spotters and watchers. I used to pay the boys $1 (hey, they were young) for the first one to spot a mammal on our yearly summer trips to Yellowstone. They have all been on the ground with bears, moose, elk, wolves, great gray owls – and all the other critters we have encountered and photographed together. As the girls have married my sons and joined the clan they had to adapt to that unique family dynamic – and to their great credit they have.
The reality is that life takes us down different paths. Certainly my path has changed directions so many times that it would take a dedicated GPS compass to track all the twists and turns. And while I have settled into a pretty stable and consistent life pattern, there is no doubt that more stops/starts, goods/bads, and other course changes are ahead – that’s the only way it could be for any of us. In my 58 years I’ve found that the good times blend together forming a calm mosaic, smooth except for the bad times that jut out like pins and needles every now and then. No one gets out of this life without their share of love and pain, happiness and sadness – but it does seem to gradually moderate as the years pile up.
There isn’t a day when I don’t think about our kids decisions, relationships, children, health, or their jobs. But it gets easier, and as the weeks, months, and years flow by they all seem to be on great life paths – moving forward, gaining more education, moving to better jobs, successfully living their lives. But there is a constant thread that goes through their personalities – a familial link to either their mother (Kelli, Mark, Scott, or Lisa) or father (Evan, Matthew, Ryan, and Jason) that forms a bedrock foundation to their lives. I witness it with my wife’s kids, my wife witnesses it with my son’s. Sometimes Jackie and I seem to float in an sea of goodwill and love that our children provide us with. Occasionally we act as referees, but mostly we just laugh at their antics, stories, and memories of growing up with us.
I trace my love of wildlife back to my mother. As a kid we took vacations to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, or to our cabin in Felton. She was quite the wildlife spotter, and for many years enjoyed coming on summer vacations to Yellowstone and Glacier with us – always concerned equally about the boys looking for animals and having their seat belts fastened. She is nearly 80 now, her mobility reduced by neuropathy in her feet, and her memories fading with advancing dementia. But while she might have forgotten how long she has been retired or what countries she has traveled to, she is all present when you talk to her – especially sharp about her kids and the things she finds important. She has no trouble talking finances or politics, her significant other Joe, or the fact that she does not like having a car anymore.
About a year ago I was showing her wildlife images on my phone (mom is NOT online so there is no browsing my website images or blog articles) when she saw an image of a bison mother with her calf walking under her chin, in a protective stance. Something in that photo resonated with her, and I thought it had to be that she felt that it reflected her and us . I eventually had the image printed 24″x 30″ on steel and it replaced a “coconut people” painting she got from Haiti 30 years ago that had hung above the bed in her guestroom. On her living room table are two books I published on wildlife photography in the American West. My favorite image of us is from my days at BYU in Provo, Ut, about 1984. Mom had flown out to visit and we went skiing at Alta Ski Resort outside Salt Lake City. In the image we are in red ski jackets holding our skis and standing in the parking lot at the end of the day, smiles all around.
Just before I started this blog article, when I first got up this morning, I did a search for birding hotspots in the Denver area, tomorrow being my agreed upon photography day. My son Ryan lived and worked in Denver after graduating from college, meet his wife Karlie here, but eventually his work as a contract analyst for a Defense Contractor took him to Huntsville, AL. He knows the ski slopes but probably not birding locations. My oldest son, Evan, bunked with Ryan for awhile here when he did an internship in Denver while getting his electrical engineering degree. They spent time in RMNP, and running up and down mountains in the nearby Front Range doing things brothers do. With Matt transferring back to Quantico, VA from Okinawa son it won’t be long before another reunion is possible.
Tomorrow morning when I head out at dawn to my searched out birding locations around Denver I will reflect back on my wife and family, on the support I receive from them, and on the wildlife adventures we have all shared and enjoyed. Places like Yellowstone seem legendary, or even mythical to some, but to us the park is a comfortable home-away-from-home, a place where memories and adventures date back to the beginning of their lives. We are all at ease in the mountains. There is a web strung between us all, and when experiences and encounters happen to one of us, the vibrations find their way to the others – through pictures or stories. I received a letter from my 9 yr old granddaughter, Juliette, living in Okinawa the other day. We write little one page letters back and forth and she is unabashedly bold. She stated she wanted me to take her to go photograph wildlife when they moved back to the States … it couldn’t be any other way between any of us. BRP