Adventure, Part One -by Wes Rutt

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There are surely lots of ways to age gracefully. I have chosen to continue a practice that I started when I was young.  Although age has necessitated some modification, it continues to provide me with new friends, interesting learning opportunities, and frequently some pretty exciting adventure.

Before I was old enough to legally drive, my brother and I tore down, rebuilt and started riding motorcycles. I immediately became hooked on having wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. My mother did not openly object to my newly acquired passion but made it clear that wind and bugs would only take me so far in life. She strongly suggested that I supplement that with a little additional education. So, for some years, I traded in my motorcycle for colleg

While in school I met Nicki, who has turned out to be my perfect companion and partner for a little more than 50 years now. We might have settled down and led a normal, contented and happily-ever-after life together. But she loved wind and bugs too.

Before the ink on our marriage certificate was dry we were planning adventures together. Since we both were born and grew up in the Midwest, our first trip had to be somewhat farther afield. So we flew to London, bought a motorcycle at a local shop and rode over 6,000 miles before returning home. Every day was an adventure. With the challenge of remembering which side of the road to ride on, we proceeded to ride our motorcycle through the Alps and even through a busy train station, among many other first-time experiences. We never planned more than one day ahead. We made many friends along the way, and we still stay in touch with some of them almost fifty years later.

There have been more trips since then. We traveled through the South right after the movie Easy Rider came out. One little motel in Georgia refused to accommodate motorcycle riders.

Once a local in an old pickup with his deer rifle in the back window drove up very close to me in a parking lot and stared at me. I tried to remember what had happened to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the movie. However, friends were made on that trip too.

One year we both found ourselves in jobs we didn’t care for, so we rode from Chicago to Oregon while stopping at all the national parks along the way. On one memorable night a bear stole our food pack from the table at our campsite. We unzipped the tent to confront the intruder and then decided to just go ahead and share our food with a new friend. We don’t really stay in touch with the bear, but for years we displayed the canvas food pack that he had opened with one sharp claw down the side.

On the same trip we flew to Australia where we worked out a deal with a local shop to sell us a used bike and then buy it back from us after we rode it for a month. We camped in an isolated park one night and experienced a wind storm which blew over our tent to the accompaniment of maniacal laughter outside. We lived through that and made still more friends on that trip.

As we got older our trips became shorter but just as much fun. Then in 2012, while I had the bike apart in our barn, the High Park Fire hit us. The barn was destroyed as was our faithful ride. We had many other things to think about at the time so we decided not to replace the bike.

To be continued...

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Wes Rutt is a runner, biker, and woodcutter who spends his free time as the Outreach and Education Chair for the Colorado Tree Farmers. Watch the YouTube video of his “Motorcycle Trip #1 - Laporte Loop” with his commentary on the history of the area.

 

The Kitchen Table -by Verley Boulton

When I was growing up, the kitchen table served as a place for a quick
breakfast before everyone engaged in their daily routines. When we all left,
no matter what the weather, Mother opened the window in our little
breakfast room as well as the kitchen door and aired out the smoke from my
father's luxury of the day, a cigarette smoked in quiet comfort after he had
cooked breakfast. Mother kept an immaculate house, so she was dust-
mopping the dining room and kitchen floors while Dad cooked, No one
would catch her with crumbs on her floor. In the late 1940's style, this
linoleum was dark red and, much to my mother's disappointment, it showed
every speck of dust that came in from the yard. Conversations at this table
were hurried and  just used to keep the family calendar intact. 

The table that was the centerpiece of our home was in the dining room. It
was an oak treasure that my mother had purchased second hand, but it was
new to her, and we were never allowed to rest our feet on any of the four
legs that balanced the lovely oak top. There were usually two boards added
so all seven of us could sit comfortably and there would be plenty of room to
do homework after the evening meal. I was fairly well educated by the time
I started school as this was where assignments were read and discussed, and
math problems were solved. Everyone was involved in getting the right
answers to any question that came up. 

Mother cooked a huge meal by noon on Sunday; this was our family
time. Dad, who often worked away during the week, was always home then, and
great discussions would sometimes last until three or four 0' clock in the
afternoon. There was no question about whether our parents knew what was
going on in our lives. 

As my older siblings left home, Sunday afternoon family time was the thing
I missed most, as I was home by myself for my high school years. My
brother inherited the table, chairs and buffet when we emptied my parents’
home. My niece bought the set when my brother died, and we still sit
around the table in her kitchen when we visit her home in Denver. 

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Verley Boulton moved from South Dakota to western Colorado at age 10. She received an accounting degree from Barnes School of Commerce inDenver and worked as a financial analyst for 25 years at Teledyne Water Pik.She revisited the kitchen table in her niece's AirB&B in Tucson in October



Renewal by Grandson

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Our 5-year-old grandson learned to ride a pedal bike last night!  For months he had resisted trying, saying he would learn when he was older.  Last night, for whatever reason, he valiantly confronted his fears on the back patio when no one was watching.  With success in his back pocket, he excitedly announced it to all.

I, his Gigi, got to follow him, soon after, on a bike ride around the neighborhood and onto part of the paved trail nearby.  Although my main function was to keep him safe and help him find the way, I began to realize that this exuberant little bike rider had a few things to teach me.

The plan was for him to stay on the sidewalks in the neighborhood, then go a short distance on the bike trail, with me following on my bike.  He wobbled around the first sidewalk corner and immediately almost rear ended a parked truck!  But luckily my “shout out” alerted him in time. He quickly maneuvered back to the sidewalk.  Lesson:  When life plants an unexpected “parked truck” in your way, listen to the warnings, then get back on track and keep going. 

Next came a house whose front yard is filled willy nilly with various garden art, knick-knacky animal sculptures, and lots of weeds. He stopped to admire it all, declaring he’d like to live in a house like that someday.   Lesson:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

As we rounded the next corner onto a cul-de-sac he slowed down to watch young rabbits hopping through the yards.  He sees rabbits every day, as they are as ubiquitous as kids on a playground.  Even so, he was fascinated.  Lesson: Don’t stop observing the commonplace just because it is commonplace. 

He continued wobbling, the handle bars moving left and right as though steering through an obstacle course.  The result was an up and down, back and forth between the sidewalk, with its slanted edge, and the street.  I daresay my distracted mind wobbles through my daily activities.  Staying focused and mindful takes practice.

Once on the bike trail, it wasn’t long before he came to an abrupt halt (dragging his feet to stop until he learns how to brake). He looked over at the abundant cattails growing in the marsh.  “Are those cattails?  I’ve never seen real cattails! Those are cool.”  As I looked at them through his eyes, I wondered if I still allow myself to feel the awe and excitement of new discoveries. 

As we proceeded over a wooden plank bridge, he suddenly jumped off his bike, leaving it in the middle of the bridge, and shouted out, “Did you see that snake?”  Well, no, I hadn’t, but I was cautiously alarmed by this pronouncement.  He leaned over, peering into the half-inch gaps between the boards. I peered, too, but saw nothing.  “There is a real snake down there under the boards.  It’s not a gardener snake.  It has a black mouth!”  Fortunately it was not showing itself for which I silently gave thanks and marveled at his good imagination.   The lesson here is that there are many “snakes” of all kinds in life.  You just have to be able to spot them in the cracks, and “call a snake a snake.”  Oh, and hope it’s just your imagination.

It was a pretty long ride for a little guy, but when we got back to the slanted driveway, he didn’t walk the bike up.  He summoned his strength and rode right up it to the garage door, announcing his accomplishment to all.  Even when he was tired, he pushed through to the end.  I’m sure some of that strength came from his pride, excitement, and enthusiasm with his new accomplishment.  

As an aging grandma, I can learn that I don’t need to “get off my bike” or slow down until I’m ready.  I can give life that extra push, fueled by the wonder and joy of each new day.  Renewal through grandson! 

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Jean Christen is a retired elementary teacher who indulges her passion for children by telling stories to 2nd graders and babysitting her grandson.  Originally from the Midwest, she put down roots in Fort Collins after a stint in the Peace Corps and graduate work at UNC in Greeley (CO).  In retirement she has begun writing vignettes about her life to pass down to her children and grandchildren.  She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, and together they enjoy family, volunteering, and traveling the world.  



The Tension of Aging - by Susan Devan Harness

 
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I feel old.

That’s what I told a friend of mine, who is 17 years my senior!  He gave me a wry smile.

The thing is, I knew it was going happen.  I’m all of 59, but aging has been on my mind a lot, especially when I think about my mom’s aging process.    

At some point in her seventies Mom became more frail, less mobile, but I didn’t assign a value to that.  She still walked to the library once a week, she still participated in deep and thoughtful conversations, and she still enjoyed seeing my sons, her grandsons, although conversation with them was more difficult; they were teenagers.  But I never considered her “old.”

Not like the elderly couple I saw one day as I drove to her apartment—the ones who shuffled across Mulberry Street where it intersects with Remington Street.  Their backs were bent and their gazes studying the pavement in front of them.  I could sense their worry that the drizzle of rain had made the road slippery.  It was clear from their pace, from their careful, tight gait, that their joints prevented them from walking faster. She held onto his elbow with such ferocity, probably knowing a fall would change her life forever.  

I glanced at the walk signal and watched while the little red hand, which had been white when they began this journey, flashed insistently, turning solid when they reached the half way point.  I studied the drivers of the cars, protected behind their windshields, and felt their tension of wanting the light to turn green and hoping the elderly couple would not impede their own journeys to whatever important places they had to go: meetings, coffee shops, classes, shopping.  

Then, like a rubber band snapping back into place, the tension released.  No sooner had the couple’s feet touched the sidewalk on the far side than engines revved and cars began to speed by, and I thought, “This is going to be me someday.  Some stranger, perhaps even my children, will be frustrated with the amount of time I take out of their afternoon.”

I realized then that the construction of our world makes it difficult to be old.  Our roads are too wide, the lights too short.  The cars are too fast, our free time too limited.  And although our days are long, our lives are too short to get everything accomplished that we set out to do when we were young. And we sit at lights and tap our steering wheels and think about what’s going to happen next and how exciting/stressful/expensive/difficult that will be, with very little thought about what’s happening right now.

So as I think about the elderly couple who carefully made their way down an uneven sidewalk, I pondered whether they were thinking that it would be nice to be able to cross a street and not be aware that they were somehow interrupting someone’s day.

 

Photo by Rick Harness   

Photo by Rick Harness

 

Susan Devan Harness, author of Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption, and Mixing Cultural Identities Through Transracial Adoption: Outcomes of the Indian Adoption Project (1958-1967) is a member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes.  As a cultural anthropologist, a writer, and an aging person, she is interested in people and their histories.

Empty Chairs -by Barbara Fleming

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Mortality is an inescapable fact of human existence; aging brings it into sharp focus. Recently I have seen more and more empty chairs among my circle of friends. How dear they all were to me.

Jane always sat perfectly straight. She was a cat woman if ever there was one; she devoted her later years to the welfare of cats— fostering kittens, adopting strays, volunteering at a cat shelter. Jane was intense, passionate, opinionated and outspoken, and no one ever had a truer or more loyal friend. 

Jean grew day lilies and wrote books. She tended lovingly to her aging cat, volunteered at the Gardens at Spring Creek, and faced each day with curiosity and humor. Her quick wit endeared her to anyone who knew her and her smile, when earned, warmed one’s heart.  She was a bright light dimmed too soon.

Nancy’s seat was a piano bench. A fine pianist, she played in church for years. Nancy had a robust, memorable laugh, a great sense of humor, a highly tuned sense of indignation about injustice, and a habit of speaking her mind. She was an excellent writer, a loving mother and devoted grandmother, a caring wife and a faithful friend.  She was a dog person as well as a passionate advocate for her chosen causes. She lived richly and fully every day.

Dona was a musician, too. A teacher and school principal before she retired, she nearly always found something to be happy about. She lived in the present as much as anyone I have ever known. She never dwelled on past sorrows and losses. She poured her heart and soul into whatever she chose to involve herself in. She was generous and kind and cheerful; like the Cheshire cat, her smile was the last part of her to fade away.

Coming more recently to the circle was Susan, a lover of words like me. Her smile would light up the room; she was even-tempered, cheerful and keenly intelligent, always seeking to learn new things. Adventurous, she loved to travel and often went on long hikes with her husband. Her creativity came out in the costumes she sewed for her grandchildren and her ways of playing with them. They constantly delighted her. 

Margaret—never have I known anyone quite like her. She loved to tell tales of her childhood and adventurous youth. She was fearless, managing to leave a bad marriage with two small children in tow to make her way back to the United States and start anew. She was open and friendly and completely her true self all the time: What you saw was who she was. Despite many traumas and losses in her life, she forged ahead from day to day, living the best life she could and spreading love and friendship around like flower petals. 

A longtime friend, Gretchen was the embodiment of courage and determination. She overcame many obstacles in her life and met a diagnosis of chronic disease with calm and fortitude. As long as possible she would not let it keep her from doing what she wanted to do—travel, even as far as Japan, go to plays and performances, attend church regularly.  She adapted to the altered circumstances in her life better than most, accepting what she could not change. She was a loyal friend and a good person through and through.

So have they all left empty chairs behind—but I fill those chairs now with warm memories of good times together, of companionship and support, and of shared joys, sorrows, laughter and love. I am grateful to have had them in my life and, as my own mortality approaches, to have been enriched by these very different and very special individuals. Each brought with her unique and memorable gifts, and each one has left an imprint on my heart.

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Barbara Fleming is a local author and editor. Her most recent published book, Hidden History of Fort Collins, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Her newest novel, My Name Is Meggie, will be published later this year. You can visit her at her website  https://www.authorbarbarafleming.com