Driving to Salida and Buena Vista reminded me again of my connection to the Upper Arkansas Valley; a land where I’ve never lived, never even stopped over for more than a four or five day camping trip, but as soon as I drop into the canyon of the Arkansas River and start melding into its curves, I know I am going home. It is the same sense I have when I return to Colorado from a road trip to North Carolina and turn onto Highway 86 just west of Limon driving into the high plains seeing the gentle rolling hills with the prairie grasses blowing in the wind. I watch in anticipation for my first glimpse of Pikes Peak—the blue mountain that stands guard duty over the high plains, the mountain with gentle shoulders that has watched over me like God since I was one-year old. The high plains are the home I’ve known all my life, but the Upper Arkansas River Valley is the home I’ve known in my soul, the home knit into my very being almost 150 years ago when my great-great-grandparents settled into its bosom.
What is it about the Upper Arkansas Valley that whispers to me? Is it the awe of walking over the same rocks and trails where the feet of my ancestors tread so many years ago? Is it their stories that have merged into my being and made me one with the land? Or is it simply my memories of riding in the backseat of an International Scout in my early childhood while my parents explored ghost towns and ancient trails as my Dad listened to the whispers of the valley in his soul?
No one place in the valley holds my heart captive. I feel the energy of the Arkansas River, the lifeline of the valley with its rushing waters that burst over rocks and flow unfettered to the plains of Colorado. Did its energy captivate my ancestors? In the center of this valley lie the meadows of Gas Creek, an oasis of cool, green grasses that refresh my soul. In places, the high desert is the front yard of the majestic mountains, a front yard where rocks and small boulders are scattered like marbles tossed by a child interspersed with clumps of native grasses. The rawness of this land stirs my individualism, my desire to be a person who can survive and thrive in this rugged land. The mountains are familiar. Mount Princeton towers like my Pikes Peak. Its shoulders are not quite as broad, but it still gives me the sense the mountain can envelope me in its arms and has the strength to carry my burdens. Looking at the mountain, I know the promise of cool mountain air scented with pine and I can almost hear the flutter of aspen leaves and the rushing waters of Cottonwood Creek.
While visiting last week, I had an overwhelming urge to put our house on the market and buy a house near Buena Vista. I wanted to view the vistas and draw strength from the land every morning. Feel the connection to my roots every day. Return to the sacred spaces of my ancestors. But then I drove home to Elbert and felt the familiar tugging in my heart when the tires of my truck hit the dirt roads and I saw the green pastures, Ponderosa Pine trees and Pikes Peak to the southwest. My home is as beautiful as the Upper Arkansas Valley. It’s the land of my heart, the home of my immediate family and the home of seven generations of my husband’s family. Someday, my great-great-grandchildren will visit Elbert, Colorado and know in their souls this is home. And then they may drive to the Upper Arkansas Valley, listen to the whispers of the valley, and know this home was knit into their being as well.