It has been a traumatic period in the history of my city.
Last Friday night, I watched the water pour through Manitou Springs, over the sidewalks and bridges, through the streets, through a café I love. The water is black and thick with debris and it’s wrecking things. Things I love. Things that feel like they define me.
Last summer it was Waldo Canyon. I know there was a lot of coverage of the loss of homes, and that was deeply tragic. But my loss was the hiking trail there. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. There was a meadow by the creek where the trails diverged at the circle point. People camped there, though I never did. I would have been too afraid of bears wandering about to get the raspberries that grew thick along the ravine.
I hiked there, though, more times than I can count. I walked with my friend Renate, a charming German who made me laugh, and Chrysauna, a young teacher with ice blue eyes. Once, my friend Heather and I had to take the last of the hike at a .10 of a mile an hour pace to let an old dog rest. His paws had grown raw over the hike and he was too big too carry.
Mostly, I remember early mornings in high summer, with hot blue skies and a group of cheerful companions in good boots parking their cars at the lot and tromping up the stairs to the trail, laughing and joking and feeling good about ourselves because we were going to hike.
I loved that trail. The raspberry bushes, and the place where we stopped behind a bunch of boulders to pee, deep in the shade of Ponderosas. The switchbacks up the long steep stretch about a third of the way through, and the spot were we always, always stopped to admire Pikes Peak in full revealed glory, one of the best views in the county. I loved the high view of the city, hazy in the distance, and the spot where we stopped sometimes to eat a snack, on a long log that had fallen sometime ago. Once, Chrysauna and I got lost and ended up in Crystola, and had to call Christopher Robin to come get us.
There is some part of me that kept thinking, quite irrationally, that if I had a cheerful attitude that somehow the trail would be restored. That somehow, some miracle would happen and—It has come home to me lately that I will never hike there again. It is gone. It only exists now in my imagination. It was burned to nothing in that big fire. We are not allowed to go there, and even if we were, I would not know it.This is not easy for me. I know it is not like losing house. But it’s a pretty gigantic loss to me. It’s personal.
The Friday before last, I was restless from working too many hours and I texted a friend to see if she wanted to go to Adam’s Mountain Café with me. We sat on the patio by the creek and watched the creek rush by in its stony channel and ate grilled watermelon salad and a Small Planet burger and even indulged desert. Afterwards, we ambled through the arcade and I stopped to have my ritual sip of water from the ever-flowing fountain.
I have been wandering over to Manitou since I was a small child. It tugs me to its bosom when I am tired or confused or lost, allows me to dance on its streets when I’m celebrating. It holds my life like a prism, showing now the the wild me, the young me, the weary me, the Colorado native me. Every time I walk through that arcade, I am five again, with my father’s hand in mine, and I am looking down at the creek visible between the boards beneath my feet. I am sure I could fall through. My father assures me I will not.
I never have.
The Friday before last with my friend, I resisted buying salt water taffy from Patty’s, and instead bought a copper bracelet to see if it would heal my wrist. I shot Instagram photos of the old-timey signs. I thought, with gratitude, of how much I love the place. The hot sun burning my head. The arcade, the restaurant, the twisting streets. The hippies, the homeless kids, the tourists, the old timers with their grizzled long hair, the dogs.
Last Friday afternoon, an inch of rain fell on the Waldo Canyon burn scar. In a half hour, the water came roaring down the canyon, washing over a highway, sweeping cars ahead of its raging force. Houses were torn off their foundations, 40 cars were swept away. One man died, a woman is still missing. It’s chaotic.
This has all happened before, the fires and the floods. It will happen again. All of it. I understand—intellectually—that it’s a normal, natural process. Emotionally, I feel grief and exhaustion. Emotionally, I wonder what can really possibly be done to really stop the floods from destroying Manitou. That might seem unnecessarily negative, but those bold facts stand there, staring. The burn scar is naked and enormous. There are three canyons that feed into the town. There is no place for the water to go.
Eventually, maybe levees will be built. Eventually, there will be even more ideas that are better than that. In the meantime, every time there are thunderstorms over the scar, we are collectively looking at Manitou.
When the fires licked so close to the skirts of the town, I chanted under my breath, please not Manitou, please not Manitou, please not Manitou. And it was spared. What does not seem plain is how it will fare under this new threat.
The good news is, we are toward the end of the summer. The monsoons will slow. And we have all learned, in our beautiful city, that life is more precious than we realized. Things can change in an instant, when a spark ignites a forest. When a rainstorm arrives, as always, on a summer afternoon.
That’s the thing. Life is always random. We just pretend that it is not. Fire brings it home. Floods remind us. But it’s always like this. Ultimately, life is dangerous and unpredictable.
It is also so unbearably perfect. I am lucky enough to have the shady, fragrant trails of the Waldo Canyon trail in my mind, living and breathing in my imagination. As long as I live, it will live with me. Manitou, as it is right now and perhaps always will be, also lives.
Once again, I remember: be here now. What we have is today. This moment. In my world it is sunny and summer, cool enough with a breeze coming in through the window that I thought about putting on sleeves. My old cat is sleeping her box. A big fly is in the window. Clothes are washing.
Be here now. What is your here and now?