Most of my essays have been hopeful, positive, and somewhat upbeat despite setbacks and obstacles. Looking on the bright side seems to be in my nature. This time around, however, I’ve had a difficult time finding that happy place from which to launch the new year, 2022. During the last week of 2021, I reread some of my posts from last year, putting off starting to organize my thoughts, searching for inspiration.
And then, in the final days of the year, disaster struck not far from my home. A catastrophic fire ripped through suburbs north of Denver, close to Boulder, Colorado. The connecting artery between the two cities, U.S. 36, was once a toll road through grasslands and wild open spaces, became a freeway after the construction costs were recovered. Over the years, suburban communities have sprung up along that stretch, filling in around small towns with historic centers, peopled with commuters to both cities and those preferring a less urban, family-friendly place to live.
Unlike the more common stories of raging fires in forests or mountains, this blaze, dubbed the Marshall Fire, the source of which is still undetermined, gutted residential neighborhoods. Gale-force winds fueled a fire moving so quickly that residents had barely enough time to leave. Almost one thousand houses are estimated to have been destroyed. As of this morning, three people are reported missing—a low number considering the devastation, said the governor and media—but sad just the same. I grieve for those people who have lost their homes and belongings, and possibly a family member among those three, now staying in shelters trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives.
My home is perched on the side of a mountain, at the edge of town. There are a few houses above mine, but only a few. The landscape and a rocky road continue up to the peak of Saxon Mountain, with wilderness along its ridges and down the other side, connecting with miles and miles of open, green spaces, forest and mountain. Below my house is an open space where tall dry grasses provide bedding for deer at times; I can see their impressions in the lay of the grass. Bighorn sheep graze in the spring; an occasional moose, bear, fox or mountain lion wanders through; rabbits, squirrels and birds make this plot their home. Three huge evergreens hug the sides of my house, and graceful aspen trees circle the structure. Fire prevention recommendations suggest establishing a perimeter around the house that would be less flammable, but I have been reluctant to remove these beautiful living creations. But now, having spent the past few days following news updates about the Marshall Fire, I find myself thinking it may be time to make a start this spring.
Last year at this time, we looked forward to vaccines, developed at astounding speed, to tame the Covid pandemic. In my town, the locals have, for the most part, accepted the masking and distance requirements, although it’s a tourist destination and visitors are not always as respectful, preferring to flaunt their independence, as if only they were the ones who would be affected by their choices. For a while, I was feeling safer, fully vaccinated and boosted, to venture out more often and be among others carefully. I even took a few long-awaited trips to visit my son in Massachusetts and brother in Canada.
But the Omicron variant is with us now, moving almost as quickly as a wildfire. Perhaps not as severe, it’s ubiquitous, and percentage-wise the numbers are rising. In the past few weeks, several family members have caught or had brushes with the virus. As an older person, I’m shrinking back into my shell, waiting it out again. I don’t doubt the virus will be a part of life going forward; I just hope to find a balance that works for everyday life. As for holiday celebrations, I remained cautious. I reluctantly cancelled my spot at a New Year’s party. A snowshoe in the freshly fallen snow, which thankfully helped to stop the fires, will be my destination to celebrate the coming hopeful? (I hope!) new year, outdoors.
I hope this new year will be a good one for you.
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Email me at: Ruth@RuthRosenfeld.com