On the Road & Home Again

Last Thursday, Red and I hit the road promptly at eight-thirty am, and I envisioned clear roads for the 490-mile drive to Denver, where I was scheduled to speak at ProGreen Expo on Friday and the Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference on Saturday.

The roads were clear, even if for the first hour and a half (photo above), the landscape on either side was distinctly snowy. But by the time I wound through the Wind River Canyon and turned east toward Casper, the snow-pack decreased markedly.

The Wind River Canyon, with its towering cliffs of Paleozoic limestones and dolomites, one of my favorite parts of the drive. 

Only the wind started to blow. For the 90 miles from Shoshoni to Casper, it was mostly a tail-wind. That was good. 

From Casper on, that changed, and the gusts walloping Red grew stronger and stronger. The overhead warning signs on Interstate 25 advised the road was closed to light, high-profile vehicles because of gusts 60+ mph.

I can attest to the “plus” part: as I was exiting at Wheatland to fill Red’s gas tank, I watched a semi truck and trailer blow over in a particularly vicious gust, the whole rig toppling slowly onto its side. A highway patrol car stopped right away, so I headed on to the gas station, where I had to hang onto Red’s side mirrors to keep from being blown off my feet! 

The gusts continued, and the air temperature continued to climb, until when I finally stopped in Boulder to pick up my cool new retro microwave at Big Chill appliances (more about that later), it was 78 degrees. Quite a change from the 25-degree temperatures as I left Cody that morning. 

The next day, I wandered the trade show at ProGreen, talking to tree farmers, nursery-folk, and vendors of mini-excavators (I got to sit in the cab of one and play with the controls) and arborist’s tools (I bought a wicked new pruning saw), among others. (ProGreen is the annual convention of the region’s “green industry,” landscapers, maintainers of public gardens and golf courses, equipment providers, and nursery folk.)

My talk, “Terroir in Landscaping: Restoring Local Flavor,” was in the last group of presentations of the four-day conference, and it was 80 balmy degrees outside, so I wasn’t sure I’d get much of an audience. To my surprise, more than 100 people showed up, and they were completely absorbed and attentive through the whole hour. (This column from Houzz explains one facet of terroir as that French word for local flavor applies to landscaping.)

Afterwards, an eager group came up to thank me and ask questions. One guy said, “Best talk of the whole conference! Thank you.” Wow! 

Then my friend and fellow plant nerd Erica Holtzinger and I went out to lunch and talked plants and kids and life. After which I went off to do big-city errands, and then braved rush-hour traffic (where do all of those people come from?) to stay with another friend, Connie Holsinger (no relation to Erica, although we have all worked together) of the Habitat Hero Project and Terra Foundation. 

The next day was an all-day immersion in the second annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference. I had the honor of welcoming the participants to the sold-out conference and MCing the opening panel, after which I taught a workshop on Design with Natives, ate lunch with a table-full of eager attendees and answered questions, and then served as introducer and time-keeper for another session, and then helped move and re-arrange tables and chairs at the end of the day.

Great job, Jen, Ronda, Amy, Deryn, Jim, Irene, Nick, and Karen!

So if I look a little tired in the photo above of the Conference planning committee, all of us giddy that we pulled off another successful conference, it’s not surprising. 

Connie, who also participated in the conference, took me out to dinner at Zucca Restaurant in Louisville that night, and we both ate so much delicious Italian food that we were sorry we hadn’t walked there and back. (I was tempted to lick my plate after finishing off a serving of pumpkin ravioli with browned sage butter.) 

The next morning (yesterday!), I was packed and ready to hit the road by seven-thirty. It was damp, chill and cloudy, but I could see blue skies to the north, and Red doesn’t care what the weather is like–she’s always ready for a road-trip. 

We stopped in Cheyenne at a Home Depot to buy some bath fixtures, LED lightbulbs and other house-renovation supplies, and then drove on. The wind wasn’t blowing (much, for southeastern Wyoming), the sun was shining, and I was ready to be home. 

At four pm, I pulled Red into the garage. And then came unloading, including that new retro microwave, which I immediately unboxed and put on its shelf (it’s on the right in the photo below), and as I hoped, it provides the perfect aqua counterpoint to my vintage wall oven. 

Officially the coolest kitchen I have ever had… 

And then I walked into the living/dining room and discovered that Sam, the electrician who installed and programmed the amazing  wifi light-switch system that meant we didn’t have to rewire the entire house, had also unpacked and installed Sputnik, the retro chandelier I had ordered for the dining room.

Of course, I had to find the LED Edison light-bulbs I had gotten at Home Depot and install them. And then I had to turn Sputnik on and play with the wifi dimming switch for a few minutes.

Sputnik in all his glory…

After I finished unpacking Red, I walked to the Post Office, and when I returned, I found a box from Kerry and Dave Nelson, dear friends and former proprietors of Ploughboy, Salida’s late lamented local-food grocery store. I opened it and carefully lifted out a container of spring: bulbs in a beautiful yellow metal pot just the color of my kitchen cabinets. (Those jonquil sprouts are still yellow as well from their time in the box in transit, but they’ll green up in a few days.)

There is still an enormous amount of work (and money) required to bring this house back to life: we need to finish updating the electrical systems, re-do some plumbing, replace a few floors, paint all of the walls and ceilings (my office is the only room that is more-or-less finished), tear off the horrible carport that makes the front entry bay a dark tunnel, add insulation throughout, replace some windows, and clean more accumulated grime. Then there’s the yard: the snow blanket has melted and I can now see the mess (including the scary half-collapsed garden shed) and mud I will have to deal with come spring. 

No matter. I love this place already. I feel so fortunate to be here watching the evening sky turn pink and listening to the pair of great-horned owls hooting their soft duet from the spruce trees just outside. 

And to have friends and family and colleagues who offer support and kindness from near and far. Bless you all!

For Sale: Creek House & Treehouse

It's official: the for-sale sign goes up tomorrow. Creek House and Treehouse, the cozy, beautiful, and super-energy-efficient buildings I helped design and build, the place I imagined would be my forever home, are on the market. 

Why? Not because I don't love my complex bordering the stretch of urban creek I've spent 20 years restoring: I do. Coming home to the sound of the creek gurgling past, the sight of hummingbirds zipping from wildflower to wildflower in the front and side meadows, to the taste of ripe tomatoes picked from the lush vines in the stock-tank planter on the front deck, to the feel of sun-warmed rooms and the smell of cottonwood leaves drying in drifts under Ruby's Tree in the fall never fails to lift my spirits and fill my heart.

(Richard and I planted Ruby's Tree, the cottonwood tree on the left edge of the photo at the top of the post and the tree for which Treehouse is named, 19 years ago in memory of his Aunt Ruby, who loved to sit and fish in the shade of a cottonwood on her Arkansas farm. A sapling on a weedy vacant lot then, Ruby's tree is now so big that my two hands reach only halfway around the trunk, and is tall enough to cast a pool of shade over the second-story studio. Guests often comment about how restful the rustling leaves are on a hot summer day, echoing the sound of the creek.)

The Arkansas Hills from the Creek House front deck

I love the view of the Arkansas Hills across the river from both the house and the front deck, my three-season living room. I love watching the sunsets over the Sawatch Range and the Sangre de Cristos from the second-floor deck at Treehouse. I love the outdoor dining patio I finished this summer in the shade of Treehouse, and my meadows, especially the "thinking meadow" outside my office with its glorious red flashes of Indian paintbrush, gold and red blanketflower, pink snapdragon penstemon, and the young plum tree that will someday provide shade.

The wildflower-freckled north meadow with my "thinking chair" under the plum tree

I love the light-filled interior of both houses, the way the sun warms the rooms in winter, and the place stays shady and cool in summer. I love the colors on the walls, the smooth concrete floors, the ash cabinetry, the luxurious bathtub in the bathroom; I love my little workshop with its south-facing windows that light and heat the space, and the plant-bench where I nurture tomato and basil seedlings in winter. 

The kitchen end of the "great room"

If I love the place so much, why I am I selling it? I wrote about my decision last month.

It comes down to this: Salida was a wonderful home for Richard, Molly and me. Now that he's gone and Molly's making her life in San Francisco, it's just me, and after nearly five years alone, I feel the pull of the home I knew before I met Richard and Molly. 

The Bighorn Basin south of Cody with Heart Mountain rising over the highway

I'm returning to northwest Wyoming, specifically to Cody, the place that has held my heart since I was in grade school and first saw the Bighorn Basin and Heart Mountain on the way to Yellowstone with my family. Those spare, rumpled landscapes, home to soaring golden eagles and fleet pronghorn, redolent of sagebrush, took my breath away then and still do. 

So if you or someone you know has a yen for a place in Salida that's cozy and beautiful, sustainably built and landscaped with a whole lot of love and care, and in walking distance of the river and whitewater park, downtown and its galleries, shops and restaurants; and is on the town trail system with access to hundreds of miles of mountain trails, call Kathleen Nelson at Colorado Mountain Realty

I know someone's going to love the place. I wish whoever it is the joy of wildflowers, hummingbirds, sun-warmed rooms and creek-song for years to come.