Red, Red, Rocks.
You know that feeling — that feeling you would get in a certain place as a kid — that made it seem as though it were filled with magic and wonder and that it was somehow much bigger, really, than it actually was?
Grandma’s house was not just Grandma’s house, but a cozy cottage that smelled of Grandpa’s spicy pipe tobacco and Grandma’s famous pumpkin bars and where handfuls of Werther’s Originals could be snatched from the old crystal dish as I ran through the arched kitchen doorway to splay across the soft, brown shag living room carpet. The kitchen floors were beautiful, speckled brown and orange and green and I’d wait, sometimes, in rare moments of patient composure, for the bird to pop out of the coo coo clock to indicate the hour. The basement was scary and filled with adventure. Boxes of old toys and musty don’t-touch-thats and the home’s only shower but that was okay because baths were a novelty at Grandma’s house. I wove yarn tissue box covers and baked peanut butter pies and picked raspberries in the garden and chased squirrels from the bird feeders. These things I did at grandma’s house, which wasn’t just a house, but a world. I’d rub my cheek against Grandpa’s rough stubble and snuggle up to his warm flannel shirt. He used to tap his rings to his own tinny tune on the steering wheel when he drove as I slid around on the worn leather seats. His truck had a square orange pillow I liked to squeeze.
But then I grew. And the house became a house. An old one with ugly linoleum floors and creaky steps and I had to wash my hair in the sink and barely reach to touch the top of the archway as I passed beneath, the coo coo bird mocking each slow passing hour. And the magic wasn’t just lost for me, but lost for them. And then Grandpa was gone, and now, with just Grandma, it feels not like a house but a trap. Because I want more for her, you know, than lonely last years. I don’t know what happened to that faded orange pillow.
Time changes things, it’s true, and not always for the worse but sometimes for the better — though even the better, sometimes, can feel worse if you know what I mean.
Take, for example, the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs.
Stunning red rock sprung from unearthly ground against a backdrop of towering Rockies.
My family used to go there when I was still a kid and we were still a family.
I remember it being vast. Rugged. We couldn’t just drive to everything we wanted to see — we hiked. Of course, some of these memories could just be small worlds made big in the mind of a child, but on our most recent trip to Colorado, I saw that still it had changed. More roads. Easier access. More people. Less… magic.
On the one hand, simplified access to this free and natural wonder is fantastic. People who might never have bothered can now behold, but sometimes I think. I think those who mightn’t bother if access were more difficult are those who throw the trash. Those who scream and shout. Those who just want to go, go, go and not stop, for a second, to see if the magic is still there.
Wide, paved paths.
So tempting to leave the trail…
Fortunately, I was with Justin’s family. They came out to visit while we were staying with my mom to say goodbye before he left for Afghanistan and, despite my disappointment with the throngs of people with whom we had to share the Red Rocks, exploring the park and the nearby town of Manitou Springs with them was a wonderful way to spend the day.
Gard family. There’s only 547 of us. From left to right: Hannah (Justin’s sister), Andrew (Justin’s brother), Becca (Justin’s sister), Ashley (Justin’s sister — are we sensing a pattern?), Jack (Justin’s nephew), Jon (Ashley’s husband), Me, Justin, Justin’s mom and dad. (Thanks, Aunt Lori for taking the photo!)
Travel tip: Explore with fun people who wear bright shoes. Seriously. They’re way better than boring people with boring shoes.
Tip: Travel in packs. Other tourists will get scared and you’ll have the whole place to yourselves.
Tip: If you’re going to climb, don’t photograph the evidence.
Climbing? We’re not climbing. (This is Brad. Remember Becca and Brad from our trip to Spain?)
Pegg! (Sign: “If you are not a technical climber using proper gear and a permit, stay on the sidewalk!”) Seriously. “Progress” makes the park safer and less fun.
The Gard Men are RIPPED. (Photo by Hannah Gard.)
Even little Jack was a champ.
Late lunch in the adorable town of Manitou Springs was the perfect way to relax after the park.
It turns out the improvements made to Garden of the Gods over the years are what made it possible for us to see it as a family.
And in the end, I guess that’s not such a bad thing.
After all, time does change things.
It always will.
My family has grown exponentially. It laughs. It plays. I miss them sometimes.
And the future, to me, doesn’t look so bad.