High Over Boulder, High Over Estes Park


We hadn’t been in Boulder since April, just after we moved from Olympia to Boulder. We missed our friends. We wanted to chant up the sun with them on Flagstaff Mountain at dawn on the autumn equinox.

Delta had a great deal so Friday morning at 7:20 we caught the 40 bus across the street, transferred to the light rail downtown, and were through security and sitting in the SeaTac South terminal at our gate by 9:30, all for $1 each, the Metro Transit fare for seniors. Not bad. We arrived at DIA on time to a hot Colorado, found our way to the bus terminal below the Westin, boarded seconds before the RTD bus left Platform 8 for Boulder, paid our $8 each, and arrived at the South Boulder Road and Foothills Parkway bus stop by about 3:00. Alan and Tessa picked us up in minutes. Portal to portal in seven hours.

We sat and talked in their den the rest of the afternoon, happy to be together again after a five month hiatus. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder had a new interim minister and as it turned out he’d come from Olympia where he had also served as an interim (or transitional) minister. We’d been members in Boulder years ago and Olympia until we’d moved in the spring. Interim ministers usually serve about two years while a congregation goes through a process to find their next settled minister.

We talked too about Seattle’s large homeless population, conspicuous in Ballard and ever-present in the small park next to our apartment building. Olympia and Boulder have homeless populations as well and so far no one has found a way to “solve” the problem, if that means having no visible homeless while at the same time treating homeless with respect and kindness and helping them become housed and employed. The Olympia church has been very active in this area. (Later, back in Ballard and listening to City and County Council candidates debate homelessness policy and reading articles in The Seattle Times about what Amazon, Microsoft, Mary’s Place, and others are actually doing about homelessness, a more encouraging picture may be emerging.)

Fifty years ago initial research suggested that psychedelics might have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and addiction. Then the Federal Government declared these drugs/chemicals Schedule 1, effectively halting the research process.

Times have changed. Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, Washington, and other places even though the Federal Government continues to categorize it as a Schedule 1 drug. This year Denver voters approved a referendum providing legal protection for psychedelic mushroom (psilocybin) users. And now there’s a modest Federal effort to permit psilocybin research.

Yvonne and I had read Michael Pollan’s book about psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind, in which he points out that properly used psilocybin is not dangerous and not addictive. Thinking that Tessa and Alan might be interested in Pollan we sent a copy to Boulder.

Over a delicious homemade casserole of polenta, mushrooms, and cheese we talked about Tessa’s recent experience with a guided psilocybin journey which she undertook during her birthday week last May. She did this after reading Pollan’s book and knowing about the research being done at Johns Hopkins about using psilocybin with people suffering from addiction, depression, and end of life anxieties. Tessa is suffering from stage 4 pancreatic cancer and knew that psilocybin might be helpful to her as she deals with the possible end of her life.

At dinner and on the telephone weeks before we talked with Tessa about her guided psilocybin journey. She and her guide prepared a room in her house for the journey: a comfortable recliner chair, objects with special meaning such as Chimayo dirt, and a play tape that included classical and Native American music she’d chosen. She’s written up some notes and with her permission I’ve included some of them below.

May 17, 2019

My guide and I broke up three grams of the long-stemmed mushrooms (grown in Nederland) which was steeped into a tea for fifteen minutes with small amount of lemon ginger tea added at end. 

There were several phases:  Sharing my intentions and wishes; drinking the tea; a psychedelic “trippy” time once the psilocybin kicked in and which I hadn’t expected.  Lots of colors and shapes, none of which stayed around to form a picture but were more like a light show.  My guide wrote down words I spoke aloud, and during this time I said, “My hands are following the visual things and the floating lights.”  I really enjoyed it, and I found myself laughing and at other times too when the music seemed lighter and even funny.

I was also sometimes aware of myself observing my experience now and at other times throughout the day, though when I did, I tried to get back to just being in the moment.  My senses were heightened throughout the day — While my eyes were closed from the beginning, I was glad when my guide gave me an eye mask because the lights were flashing so brightly.   Sometimes I even covered the mask with my hand.  Sounds were especially strong — I felt surrounded and immersed in the music. I was also very cold (apparently this is true for many) and my guide had to keep covering me with more and more blankets.  And I was very aware of my neuropathy and other side effects of the chemo, which made me move around a lot in my chair, trying to warm my feet and lessen the internal pains in my body.

During the next phase, before things became heavy, I started to be aware of feeling that this had all happened before and I said, “I feel like this has happened before.  I don’t know how, but I feel it has happened before.”    “It’s like a dream I’ve had before.  I don’t know how, but I feel it has happened before.”

I had wanted/expected guidance that came in the form of words and pictures of loved ones, but it didn’t ever happen — or rarely did — , and it became OK that it didn’t.  At first I expressed sadness at not seeing or hearing them clearly and then I said, “I don’t need words.  I’ll just let myself feel what I’m feeling.”

This was the beginning of the dark/hard time that came in waves for about an hour and a half.  I needed my guide with me, holding my hand, as I cried and felt a wall that was keeping me from the future, accompanied with the fear of never meeting or seeing my granddaughter, and fear for her and my daughter and her husband.  Not being able to go into the future was the hardest part. The actual physical pain I was experiencing on Tuesday around my chest that I fear is my returning cancer made me feel that I would be dying soon.  During this time, my guide put some Chimayo dirt, moistened with Lourdes water, on my forehead which was very soothing.

The dark times came in waves, and in between were wonderful times of feeling the interconnectedness of everything and accepting the experience and losing my fear of dying.  All on the other side would be OK.  No words, just feeling it all.  Very hard to put this into words, but also very real. Then I was able to hold both parts of the wave at once; and after a particularly hard wave, my guide said she was sorry that it was so hard, I said, “it’s good and bad.  It’s both, and it’s everything.  I’m not afraid of it.”  And later, “I don’t want this to end, the connection I feel.”  I think it was at this time that I was making hearts with my hands. One of the last things my guide wrote down that I said was “We are always connected.”

I wanted to stay in that space and heightened awareness and experience, even as I was coming out and returning to the world.  I kept asking my guide for more music, but eventually I was able to take off the mask, move to the deck chair and be back more or less in the world of every day consciousness.  I did stay outside very acutely aware of nature for quite a long time, really seeing birds and clouds and all the flowering of the spring.

My guide talked about this guided psilocybin journey as “inner healing experiences,”  — letting your inner guidance tell you just what you needed to feel and be aware of at this time.   Now, three days later, I believe it’s true.  I am very grateful for the experience and am not afraid of it.  I could do it again if I felt I needed to.  It really was in so many ways an internal journey as far as I was able to into the words of “Return Again.”

Return again,
Return again,
Return to the home of your soul
Return to who you are,
Return to where you are
Born and reborn again.


Early Saturday morning, on the tipping point of autumn, the air cool, the sun hot, the sky blue, I walked to Big Daddy Bagels in the Meadows On the Parkway shopping center at Baseline and Foothills Parkway and picked up a bag of sesame seed bagels and two kinds of cream cheese, plain and veggie. I love the store and the fresh-made bagels. We haven’t found good bagels in Seattle yet, though we really haven’t looked very hard. Boulder has a number of great bagel providers, another being Moe’s. After we sold our Wonderland Hills home in 2000 and before we committed fully to Orcas Island, we had a condo behind Meadows for two years, and that’s when we got to know Big Daddy Bagels.

Walking east back along Baseline, (the road is built on the 40th parallel), and ready to cross very busy and very speedy Foothills Parkway, I saw a young dad coming west from the other side of Foothills. He had a baby in a stroller and a three-year-old on a little bike, the group trying to cross this dangerous highway. I was afraid for them. What if the mom, at home, had seen the scene? What would she think?

The neighborhood I walked through was developed in the 1970’s, I think, and features large trees, lush green lawns, and bushes that crowd out the sidewalks. It’s a mature neighborhood in more than one way, some of the now elderly property owners there from the beginning. Boulder averages 20” of precipitation annually, about half as snow, so it’s dry, though not quite a desert. Various kinds of cactus grow naturally. January lows average 22 and July highs 88 but the trend is higher. September 1st was 100, 22 degrees higher than average.

Over breakfast, I watched squirrels dash along the top of the backyard fence and birds at the feeder Tessa stocks daily. Alan has been writing an autobiography and both have been using 23andMe to reveal heretofore unknown relatives, some of whom have responded to contacts.

We talked a bit about Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens Alan had started but not yet finished. I had almost completed a Sapiens re-read in preparation for a Ballard book group discussion. During a walk later Alan dismissed Harari’s enthusiasm for daily meditation in his third book, 21 Issues for the 21st Century. I claimed that it’s one of the most important elements of the book – the clarity of mind that results is a possible antidote for what Harari describes as the increasing likelihood that humans, all of us, will be hacked by ever-improving artificial intelligence systems. Hacking, for Harari, doesn’t mean that machines will know us perfectly, only that they will know us better than we know ourselves, and thus have the potential to influence for good, and that would be nice, but perhaps just as likely for ill.

Tessa and Yvonne head out for a three hour lunch with Ann and Barb and Alan is due at a book launch in Aurora for one of this PhD students. I read some more Sapiens and do some writing.

Dave, Ann, Barb, Dean, Yvonne, Tessa, John, Alan at California Pizza
Dave, Ann, Barb, Dean, Yvonne, Tessa, John, Alan at California Pizza

Saturday evening the eight of us (Tessa and Alan, Ann and Dave, Barb and Dean, and Yvonne and I) meet at California Pizza for dinner, the first time we’ve all been together since our Good Friday pilgrimage at Chimayo, New Mexico, in April. We catch up on family, projects, travel, classes, and indulge in gentle teasing. Our booth, filled with old people, frequently erupts in raucous laughter. The wait staff and other patrons are embarrassed for us but we don’t care.

I’m the only one to eat pizza, can’t finish it, and save it for lunch on our return flight to Seattle Monday. As we visit, 40 high school students, all dressed up for homecoming, take the tables nearby. A few tuxes, many very short skirts, lots of noise and evident ill-ease, especially among the young men, who are trying to think of what to say to the young women seated next to them.


Estes Park via Route 36

Sunday morning Tessa, Alan, Yvonne and I decide to drive up to Estes Park, see the sights and come back via the Peak to Peak Highway and then down Boulder Canyon back to Boulder. Yvonne and I haven’t been to Estes Park in at least fifteen years.

Driving north out of Boulder on Route 36 we’re suddenly in the country. Because of Boulder County open space policies dating back to the late 1970’s. Boulder doesn’t allow development on the slopes of the foothills forming the backdrop to the city. It doesn’t allow development beyond the boundaries of the city, encouraging fill-in and increased density to provide more housing. The road north to Lyons hasn’t changed much since 1975 when I moved to Boulder from Illinois though the county has more than doubled in population – because development and zoning is tightly managed.

We pass Lee Hill Road going west, the northern boundary of Pinebrook Hills, the foothills subdivision behind the Dakota Ridge hogbacks and so invisible from the plains. For years I ran up to and through Pinebrook Hills from our house in Wonderland Hills. Farther north on Route 36, I see the Greenbriar Inn, an excellent area restaurant where my first customer and I celebrated signing our group travel software development contract. That was in 1974 before moving to Boulder.

At the Greenbriar Inn, Left Hand Canyon Road heads west into the foothills and then south to connect with Lee Hill Road. At Buckingham Picnic Area, north of that intersection, James Canyon Drive breaks off Left Hand Canyon Road to wind through the narrow canyon west to Jamestown (Jim Town), an area devastated by the 2013 flood, when rain stalled over the area for four days and flooded James and Little James Creeks. When driving to the Indian Peaks for hiking we’d usually take the Left Hand Canyon route, passing below Gold Hill, and then through Ward before coming to the Peak to Peak Highway (Route 72) near the entrance to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Looking east I can see Haystack Mountain, north of Boulder Reservoir, where Jim and Adrian had their ranch and we sometimes had book club meetings and UU men’s group events. West of Route 36, Joder Ranch, where Jeni and her friend Kirstin rode horses and mucked out stalls, has become an open space trail site. A bit farther north we pass Alf’s property where the UU Church collected lichen-covered sandstone rocks to use to form an inside wall that would serve as a heat sink behind tromp walls on the south side of the Sky Room addition built in the late 1970’s.

For 300 miles, from Wyoming in the north to New Mexico in the south, the Front Range bifurcates Colorado, the plains to the east and mountains to the west. Boulder is right at the base of the mountains, originally a supply source to the fast-growing mining towns to the west that sprung up after gold was discovered in 1859 and now a high tech city and site of the University of Colorado main campus. Less than 20 miles west of Boulder, at 5328’ elevation, the Indian Peaks rise to 13,000’ and more, an area of alpine lakes, glaciers, and wonderful hiking.

At Lyons, 17 miles north of Boulder, Route 36 enters the mountains, heading for Estes Park. The St. Vrain Creek runs through Lyons and east to Longmont, joined by Left Hand Creek and Boulder Creek before entering the South Platte River, a tributary of the Platte, itself a tributary of the Missouri, a significant tributary of the Mississippi.

Starting in 1991, Lyons has been the home of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, the banks of the St. Vrain, with beautiful red sandstone cliffs just north, providing a venue for three days of music. In 1995, Yvonne’s friend Julie visited from Seattle and we took in Nanci Griffith’s set at the Festival. That weekend we were also part of Griffith’s audience at the eTown recording session at Boulder Theater. eTown is a syndicated radio show/podcast created by Nick and Helen Forster featuring music in a social and environmental issues context. We first saw Nick perform in 1981 with bluegrass band Hot Rize (and their alter ego, Red Knuckles and the Trail Blazers).

But in 2013 after days of continuous rain over the mountains west of Lyons, the St. Vrain flooded, like many other northern Front Range mountain creeks, damaging Lyons and then Longmont downstream. Nine people were killed in the area, houses pushed off their foundations, roads washed out, and stream beds rerouted, especially in the foothills. The whole town had to be evacuated and it was six weeks before residents began to return. Recovery was protracted, especially upstream, but Lyons citizens created working groups that used FEMA, State, County, and other resources to create and implement a recovery plan. I can’t imagine how hard that was for people of this beautiful, town of about 2,000 people.

At Lyons, Route 36 turns northwest, arriving at Estes Park, about 20 miles away. There Route 36 merges with Route 34 coming west from Loveland along the Big Thompson River. Route 34 continues through Rocky Mountain National Park as Trail Ridge Road, crossing the continental divide and providing access to the town of Grand Lake, Grand, Shadow Mountain, and Granby lakes, and the nearby source of the Colorado (Grand) River at La Poudre Pass.

Estes Park lies in a broad, relatively flat valley, that is, a mountain park, and is drained by Big Thompson Creek, another South Platte tributary. Big Thompson didn’t flood in 2013 but in 1976, the year after I moved to Boulder, four hours of very heavy rain caused a flash flood on the Big Thompson. A water wall 20’ high rushed through the canyon carrying everything with it, killing 143 people and injuring another 150. Some of those killed had been camping in the canyon and couldn’t escape.

The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel

Route 36 drops into Estes Park from the southeast, huge rock expanses to the north, Lake Estes below, and just northwest of the lake, the Stanley Hotel, one of the characters, in effect, in Stanley Kubrick’s, The Shining, a film based on the Stephen King novel. The hotel was built more than a century ago by Oscar Stanley, one of the brothers who developed the Stanley Steamer automobile. In 1990 we attended a wedding reception at the hotel, and because we hadn’t seen the film could thoroughly enjoy the historic hotel without anxiety.

In Estes Park in 1953. Here with my two sisters, Julie and Marcy
In Estes Park in 1953. Here with my two sisters, Julie and Marcy

As we drove into Estes Park, we passed the fair grounds, a source of childhood memories. There, in the summer of 1953, Estes Park hosted an antique auto show and because my family was in town and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, my father walked us through the rows of beautifully restored old autos and told us what they were and what they meant. I loved it. Most importantly I was wearing my new cowboy hat and looked very sharp. We had shopped for souvenirs, very exciting for a ten-year old, and I had a hard time deciding between a toy birch-bark canoe with its exotic fragrance and a chartreuse cowboy hat. I chose the latter and felt dapper for months after.

Yvonne and I hadn’t been to Estes Park in years and could hardly recognize the place. Everything looked nice, fixed up. The streets and sidewalks were crowded. Flowers everywhere. A dozen antique cars. That looked familiar. And behind the autos, the city park hosting a half-dozen white tent canopies where volunteers served food, visitors sat eating at picnic tables, and behind them a guitar/fiddle band was playing favorite folk tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. What about that?

25th Autumn Gold Festival in Estes Park
25th Autumn Gold Festival in Estes Park

Without intending to we had arrived at the 25th Autumn Gold Festival in downtown Bond Park, organized by the Rotary. We had no idea. But what a pleasure. Bratwurst (including a vegetarian version), beer, roasted corn-on-the-cob, real lemonade, varieties of chocolate treats, bean-bag toss, and live music playing Boomer specials.

Sun, blue sky, food, and music
Sun, blue sky, food, and music

It was noon and we were hungry, so we made our way to the food tent for bratwurst, chips, lemonade, and beer, depending, and then found a half-occupied picnic table. Within a few minutes the couple who had been at the table gave up and went elsewhere. We were set.


Aspens around Bond Park were starting to turn gold but because the fall had been unusually warm (a theme?), they were weeks off the pace. But it was a beautiful Rocky Mountain fall afternoon, a bit breezy with some puffy white clouds, and a blue, blue sky, bluer than in Boulder, perhaps because at 7522’ we were 2200’ higher and closer to the cerulean ceiling.

Cowboy Brad and his band
Cowboy Brad and his band

The three-man band was playing John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and you can make fun of it all you want but being in the mountains on a beautiful day with cool air in our faces and warm sun on our backs with friends we love and eating bratwurst and drinking home-made lemonade, it was a Rocky Mountain High. We hadn’t made any plans and we’d stumbled into a special time to be together. If we were prone to fist bumps we would have. Instead we wondered whether we had been touched by some kind of unbidden, undeserved grace.

Cowboy Brad and band finish with John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

The band played on, now Gordon Lightfoot, another favorite. An audience had set up their folding chairs in a semi-circle about 25’ from the stage. A few couples were swing dancing on the intensely green, thick autumn lawn. An old gent was dancing with himself and one cowboy was dancing with his Golden Lab, who didn’t seem very enthusiastic. We soaked it in and then it was time for dessert. Ice cream for some, chocolate brownies for others.

Bean bag toss foreground and aerial tramway cables background top right
Bean bag toss foreground and aerial tramway cables background top right

The band, with lead singer Cowboy Brad Fitch, was nearing the end of its set. I’d noticed two cable-cars making round trips up a mountain just south, a new Estes Park amenity apparently, and suggested we walk over and make the ascent. Should be a good view and something else to do while we were in town.

The Big Thompson River
The Big Thompson River

The walk took us along the Big Thompson, the banks tamed and planted. It felt good walking among the flowers and aspens. We were in old Estes Park now, rustic cabins all around, some with names and some labeled with the year they were built, sometimes a century ago, like the Stanley Hotel.

Ride the Spectacular Aerial Tramway
Ride the Spectacular Aerial Tramway

Shortly we arrived at the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. There was a waiting line and a projected half-hour wait but we didn’t care. Apparently during the summer a two hour wait isn’t enough to discourage enthusiastic Swedes, Germans, or Japanese. And then I looked at the two tramway cars, each on its own cable. They didn’t look new; they looked old. What? It turns out the tramway went into operation in 1955, two years after I first visited Estes Park. It was there each time I visited subsequently, more than a dozen times. Hadn’t I noticed? Had I forgotten? Oh well.

The Aerial Tramway descends to pick us up

The tramway was designed and built by Robert Heron and Heron’s family continues to operate it. It has a kind of simple elegance because it’s a free span tramway and requires no towers to provide additional cable support. It’s visually pleasing, light rather than massive.

Our rapid descent on the Aerial Tramway

The ascent takes only a few minutes and leads to a gift and food shop and restrooms. Off the tramcar, Vicki, a delightfully friendly woman, introduced herself and wanted to know where we had come from. Yvonne and I could say Seattle; that sounded appropriately far away. She and her family had come up from Colorado Springs for the day and were going to hike the trail down rather than descend via the tramway. Another day we would have done that as well but not today.

Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak to the southwest
Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak to the southwest

Off to the southwest I could see the twin peaks, Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker, the former at 14,259’ and the latter at 13,911’. Because Meeker doesn’t make the fourteener grade, it receives much less attention than Longs, which is only slightly taller. I’d been on Longs twice, summiting via the Keyhole Route the first time and making it only to the base of the abandoned cable route with the Boy Scouts when that’s where they chose to stop. We spent an hour or two watching rock climbers on the Diamond, the east face of the peak and a world famous and dangerous alpine wall. Thousands climb Longs Peak every year through the Keyhole. The climb isn’t technical though there’s exposure near the summit that’s sobering. The hard part is the elevation gain/loss, about 5,000’ over the fifteen mile round trip. That’s not nothing.

The Stanley Hotel below
The Stanley Hotel below

The tramway summits at 7,522’ so it’s 1200’ higher than Estes and so affords good views to the east, north, and west. We looked around, took some pictures, and then treated ourselves to a snack. We waited briefly for a tram and were soon back at Bond Park.

Return to Boulder via Peak to Peak Highway and Nederland

We found our car, and drove south out of town on Route 7, past Twin Sisters to the east, Longs/Meeker to the west, through Allen’s Park, where we spent some fun days with friends who had a cabin there, and then turned right, south on Route 72, the Peak to Peak Highway.

Spots of color but we were a week early
Spots of color but we were a week early

We were higher now, the nights were colder, and some of the aspen were at their golden best, but most needed another week. The Indian Peaks were now to the west, an area we knew well, at least parts of it. The peaks are under 14,000’ but over 13,000’. I’ve climbed Mt. Audubon twice. Nearby Lake Isabelle at 10,868’, is only 2.1 miles and a 353’ elevation gain from the Long Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I’ve hiked there since 1976 and with the family beginning in 1979. We’ve been there many times, especially on Labor Day weekends, with Alan and Tessa, and various members or our two families. A few times the lake was dry because it serves as a high-alpine reservoir and is occasionally called on.

The lake is surrounded on three sides by steep mountain slopes. The first time I took the family to the lake I insisted we climb the steep scree slope to the south and I heard language from the kids I didn’t think they knew. It was beautiful on top. We saw marmots, a CU research station, pica, and other wonders. We walked along the ridge east before descending to Long Lake. But it was too hard for everyone. I had made a mistake.

Soon we passed the turnoff to Ward, east of the highway, and one of the routes back to Boulder but today we wanted to stop in Nederland to see the carousel and return via Boulder Canyon. At 8,228’ Nederland is almost 3,000’ higher than Boulder and so has a different, cooler climate.

Nederland is the gateway to the Eldora Mountain Resort ski area, about three miles west. Our kids learned to ski there in the early 80’s before we went on to Summit County. With an elevation gain of only 1,240’, it suffers in comparison to areas west of the Continental Divide but it’s close to Boulder, it’s much less expensive than better known areas, and the skiing can be as challenging as you want. Eldora also has groomed cross-country trails we used a few times, once getting lost.

The Nederland area is also the entry point to Caribou Ranch Open Space Park. In 1972, James Guerico, Chicago’s manager, built a recording studio there, used by Chicago, Elton John, The Beach Boys, and others until a fire in 1985. John Lennon spent time there in his lost years.

The Carousel of Happiness
The Carousel of Happiness

Alan and Tessa said we had to stop and see Nederland’s Carousel of Happiness on Route 72 just south of the Route 119 turnoff for Boulder Canyon and the way home. Scott Harrison rebuilt a 1910 Looff carousel, added 50 animals he carved and painted himself, installed a 1913 Wurlitzer band organ to provide music, and put it all in its own building so it could be enjoyed year-round. We all rode the Carousel of Happiness and it seemed especially fitting this day. As we went round and round, the Wurlitzer played “Mr. Sandman” and Yvonne, knowing all the words, sang along.

Now driving east on Route 119 past Barker Meadow Reservoir, water source to Boulder behind Barker dam, we headed downhill along Boulder Creek, an eighteen mile drive back to our point of origin. Maybe four miles in we spotted a naked man and three naked women posed on rocks in the creek. Surprised and in some cases delighted exclamations all around. We were well past before I could ready my iPhone for a shot. We talked for a while about what we’d seen. My guess is that we’d seen a photo shoot. Nudity isn’t a surprise in the Boulder area but in late September near cold Boulder Creek? They’re being paid.


We stopped at Safeway for some salmon and while dinner was cooking, we all took time to finish a jigsaw puzzle on the dinning room table Alan, Tessa, and anyone who happened to be in the house had contributed to over the last several weeks.


Minutes before the equinox dawn. Note commuters coming into Boulder from the south on Rt. 36 (right side middle)
Minutes before the equinox dawn. Note commuters coming into Boulder from the south on Rt. 36 (right side middle)

Monday, September 23, was the fall equinox and we all got up early to chant up the sun at Panorama Point on Flagstaff Mountain. Yvonne had made cowboy coffee cake the night before and would heat it up. Tessa had prepared fruit. Ann and Dave, Barb and Dean, coming from north Boulder, would meet us at Panorama Point. Our tradition of celebrating the two equinoxes and two solstices began nearly 40 years ago with Ann and Dave and their kids and Yvonne and I and ours. Attendance thinned as the kids grew and had other interests and then expanded again with Tessa and Alan and later Barb and Dean joining in. Often we’d meet at someone’s house, less often in a park, greet the sun, and then share a potluck breakfast. Yvonne and I had missed many, maybe most, after moving full-time to Orcas Island in 2002, but we were here now for the autumnal equinox and we were happy.

Red fox ambles by
Red fox ambles by

Only a handful of others were on the predawn mountain side. A young woman jogged by on the path to the summit. A few clouds, ringed by fire, hugged the horizon to the east. We found a picnic table and stood next to it. The air was calm and the world waiting to start a new day. Something moved nearby just out of sight and then sauntered casually toward us: a beautiful red fox, so light on its feet it seemed to be floating. Ann and Dave have seen foxes near their house below Mt. Sanitas, but this was my first sighting in Boulder. The elegant fox looked at us but didn’t seem to care, coming within ten feet, in search of something to eat, I assume. Then Reynard turned around, retraced his steps, and disappeared in the tall grass.

And the sun rises
And the sun rises

As we’ve done for decades, we began with a chant we learned at the Boulder UU Church, “Morning Sun, Come My way.” I assumed the chant had a Navaho origin but it may come from the Pacific Northwest and the Salish peoples. Halfway through, the sun cleared the horizon. We’d done our job. Congratulations.

Our tradition is to then sing “Morning Is Broken,” written by Eleanor Farjeon (not Cat Stevens) to a traditional Scottish tune, “Bunessan.” “All Creatures of the Earth and Skies,” followed, words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, music adapted by Ralph Vaughn Williams from a 17th century Catholic source. We finished with “Alleluia” to Pacabel’s Canon. Beautiful. And then the women set the table.

The men are hungry and would like the women to hurry up
The men are hungry and would like the women to hurry up

Before feeding our faces we paused to sing the grace “From you I receive, to you I give, by this we are fed, by this we live” we’ve used for years. Then we ate. And ate. Ann passed around tasty warm tamales and fresh pico de gallo. Barb supplied coffee cake and quiche. All this in addition to Yvonne’s cowboy coffee cake and Tessa’s fruit. We talked about the way grace had visited us over the weekend. So much love and energy and enthusiasm. Ours is no caravan of despair.

Yvonne and I talked about looking forward to auditing classes at UW and our friends about classes they were auditing at CU. We talked about New Mexico, Chimayo and Santa Fe, and efforts by Regis Pecos, from Cochiti Pueblo, who found opportunity at Phillips Exeter, got degrees from Princeton and Cal Berkley, and returned to New Mexico and how he is contributing to better understanding between Native American and Mexican/Spanish cultures and the significantly different ways they look at the reentry of the Spanish into Santa Fe in 1692, years after the Pueblo peoples had driven them out, and its meaning for the Santa Fe Entrada pageant.

And then it was time to go. Tessa and Alan dropped us at the airport bus stop, we were at DIA shortly and back home in Ballard in a thrice.

Alan had written a poem for the occasion but had forgotten to bring it to our breakfast. He shared it later.

Fall Equinox

The zinnias haven’t faded 
But there is a chill in the morning air.
At noon the sun warmed my neck.
A crisp dry breeze brushed my ears and fingers. 
Two weeks ago the night was alive with crickets.
Tonight a single cricket chirps slowly, still hoping for a mate.  
There hangs a balance, like an egg standing on end, teetering in the space
    Between birth and death
    joy and sorrow
    action and reflection
    light and dark.
The world invites us to put things in order,
To set things aside,
To store the harvest,
And let the sweet juices of summer age and mellow
 into spirits to warm us in winter 

Alan Davis, September 23, 2019

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