Friday, June 22, 2007

The Last Week in June

It's time for what has become an annual tradition here at Blonde Champagne: "The Last Week In June."

This week was, in my childhood, what kept me alive throughout the other fifty-one. It is what pulled me through nine months of hell in grade school. It was The Week, the Week of God and All Joy: One week in Colorado, horses and dust and pine trees and creeks of freezing mountain runoff. Even if I've been conducting my June unconsciously aware of the anniversary, I suddenly will feel a strong rugged pull as the Fourth of July approaches and look at the calendar and realize, "Oh. The Week."

From the year I was six until the year I was thirteen, this was It. I have never known a place I was happier. College comes a close second, but four years are impossible to conduct without at least some semblance of tears and heartbreak. There were no tears in Lost Valley except for the following Sunday, when there was always near-hysteria. One year I sobbed as the plane departed from Colorado Springs at the thought of another twelve months of waiting in Cincinnati: Were we going to Ohio for a funeral? the woman sitting behind me wondered to my mother's horrified humiliation.

A part of me is literally seared there, burned into the walls of the main dining room. Each family creates its own brand as it passes through, adding checkmarks each returning year. Our brand sits high on a far wall overlooking the mountains and the hummingbird feeders. The brand is a boot representing the brief fact that we all rode that first year, even my mother, who bravely lasted until Wednesday, when she gripped the saddle horn of Colt 45 so tightly that tendinitis followed. Our initial stands in the middle of the boot over wavy lines representing the Ohio River. As I was fully lame even at an early age, this was my civically proud suggestion.

When I grew up and went to stay with my then-boyfriend in Colorado Springs for a month, he drove me there along a narrow shelf road I thought wondrous at the time and now, returning as a driver myself, recognized as terrifying. On one side is a drop of many thousands of feet through trees and jagged scenery; on the other, pure mountain. When two cars meet going opposite directions, one driver has to back up, slowly and with much tense cursing.

"This place is kind of cheesy," the ex announced as he got out of the car and looked upon cabins named "Jessie James" and "Diamond Lil." And I knew then, somehow, although the end was yet months away and much sobbed over, that I could never, ever marry this person.

It is kind of cheesy, in a City Slickers sort of fashion, the way the wranglers greet the suburbanites at the cattle guard entrance on horseback and canter away in front of the car to guide these unleathery dudes to the check-in lodge, but when you are six and you are miserable, this is wondrous to behold. It announced horses to me, the very ones I write about today, and it brought seven days of the social acceptance I never found in the classroom. I heard God in the pines and I inhaled; this was where my soul has lived for so long. This was where the kid picked last for the kickball team won rodeo awards for booting her quarter horse around the barrels the fastest.

Terrible fires raged five years ago all around this little green valley I have always thought of as cupped in God's palm. The ranch was evacuated, the horses herded to safety. I was reunited via phone with one of the kiddie supervisors who cared for me twenty years ago and have exchanged Christmas cards with ever since (it is that kind of place) and she described to me what happened.

"The fire got to the cattle guard," she told me, "and it split. Burned everything around it, but the ranch was untouched. The areas in the mountains where you rode as a child are scorched, I'm afraid."

I would be scorched, too, if I returned right now. I know towering pines and thick tangles of wildflowers, and I prefer to keep them alive inside of me rather than replacing them with black and charred reality.

The regeneration has already begun, I know. It will be well underway three years from now, when Jim the Small Child Nephew will be old enough to ride with a plastic cowboy hat on his head and a face full of sunblock. We will go, I think, the last week in June.

sorting through slide show pictures at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

4 comments:

Anna Pink said...

I always love that one. Thanks again:)

Anonymous said...

I love that one too...so much so that I looked into booking a week in the summer for my son and I despite the fire's toll...that was until I read the pricing list...which indicated it would cost the 2 of us $4,000 dollars for 1 week...am I reading their website correctly?? Maybe it was more reasonable back when you went?

MB said...

Very much so, anon. I'm so glad you liked the piece, and yes, the prices were MUCH more reasonable when I was a little girl... there's no WAY we would have gone if the owners wanted that kind of cash back in the day. This was back in the pre- "City Slickers" era; in the 90's the guest ranch industry experienced a boom and the prices went with it. Now the property values are skyrocketing out there as well, and when you couple that with gas prices-- well, you get 4k for one week, which, yes, is pretty steep, even though that price is all-inclusive (food, riding fees, cabin, etc, are all in there.) Then there's the ridiculous cost of insurance on suberbanites who are whitewater rafting and hiking and skeet shooting and riding horses and herding cattle, most of whom have never so much as seen a cow up close before. You can imagine the potential lawsuits.

I had better start cracking on that multi-million dollar bestseller, no?

Anonymous said...

A classic. Thanks for putting it up again.

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