Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sometimes, It Really Is a Wonderful World

In the last couple of weeks, it's been slowly dawning on me why our part of Colorado feels more like the American West than anywhere we've lived. We moved here from Portland, OR, to Portland from San Francisco (with a ten-year hiatus in Eugene, OR), and to San Francisco from Reno, NV. These places are further west than Colorado, and in the case of Reno--at 4,700 feet or so, where the High Desert meets the Sierra Nevada range--geologically similar to Denver.

Denver is a big city.
Really big, in fact, with all the characteristics of big American cities: Terrific restaurants, many with overpriced entrees you have a hard time pronouncing, let alone eat; colliding street grids that can be very confusing; abominable traffic; seedy, scary neighborhoods; fantastic amenities for people, such as a Philharmonic, traditional to avant garde theater, entertainment venues galore, a zoo, a natural history museum, and gorgeous parks; neighborhoods from kicky to trendy to soothing;
a sophisticated population; public transportation that satisfies and fails; and professional sports teams with outstanding facilities.

Arvada's population is about 108,000, and like all Denver suburbs, it's spread out, a Miracle Mile maze of strip malls, Wal Marts, McDonalds, supermarkets, four- and six-lane boulevards and distances. No one ever anticipated an energy shortage. It's the best and worst of suburban America.

Our Arvada home, a refuge in the middle of the suburban jungle, is in a 1970s-era subdivision sited on a 30-acre pond, with a view of the Front Range of the Rockies. And it's here, a scant fifteen or twenty minutes from downtown, that The West reveals itself.

Begin at sunrise, when the golden light of dawn lays over the mirror-like pond reflecting the sky, the trees, silhouettes of buildings and circling waterfowl. Only a leaping bass disturbs the bronze silence. I try to quit staring and get on with it, but I can't pull myself away, as though I'm a shadow of the serenity and can't leave until it dissipates.

About a week ago, I noticed what looked like boiling near the shoreline. At first, I assumed it was a couple of drakes battling over a hen. They've been pairing off for a few weeks. But no ducks were there.

I went for a closer look and discovered a frenzy of fish! Bass, actually.
At various places all around the pond, schools of bass numbering between four or so and more than I could count were beaching themselves, flopping back into the water, leaping over the tree roots at the shoreline, smashing themselves into one another. I've never seen anything like it. These golden creatures are at least fourteen inches long, many even bigger, and the jump and flail and flee with reckless abandon. My guess is that they're spawning. Or mating. Or both.

But their activity has brought in another couple of pelicans. We had one resident pelican,
who moved in maybe six weeks ago. I'd never before seen a pelican in the wild, and, in fact didn't know they lived in this part of the world. Pelicans are, shall we say, huge. As in really enormous. We've seen our guy with a fish sticking out of his mouth,and he spends his day patrolling the pond, scaring away the ducks. 

But he apparently alerted some friends about the bass, and we had a total of three pelicans for a while. Sometimes they come back. They do seem to prefer weekends. When they fly, they put on an air show that beats the Blue Angels, lumbering out of the water and gliding into slow loops around the pond, gaining altitude and finally disappearing over the treetops.

Over the winter, a bald eagle moved in for a few days. The pond iced over, and a Canadian Honker had somehow gotten stuck in the ice. I don't know if it died alone or if the eagle killed it, but in any event the eagle moved in and ate the goose.

The eagle's airshow was every bit as good as the pelicans' that came later, except the eagle's has a scariness to it. You feel that he's watching you out of the corner of his eye. He pretty much left when the ice melted, except for one day when I looked out our picture window and saw him dive out of the sky and come up with a fish. That I should deserve to see such an event is unbelievable, and if I ever get over it, call the mortuary.

The sky is on fire at sundown, particularly now, when the thunderclouds linger over the Front Range. The trees look like shadows in the salmon light, and the scent of rain on earth lingers in the air.

I'd forgotten what stars look like. On a clear night, you can get a glimpse of the Milky Way, but most of the time,the constellations are strewn across the inkblack sky like crystal shards. I used to love watching the Dippers, Andromeda and Orion as well as the North Star and all the planets, and I love becoming reacquainted with them all, gazing into them and beyond and wondering what's there.

That's what the West should be. That it still exists is stunning enough, and that it emerges through the din and haze of an urban area is surprising. But that I get to see it, touch it, wrap myself in it every day is wondrous.


  1. You got good pictures of the pelicans! Ender doesn't think they're scary but I do.

  2. I so cheated. Our pelican kept paddling away when I tried to photograph him, so I ripped these off. For all I know, though, the pelican in the photograph may be ours.

  3. His beak holds more than his belly can! Yes, your world sounds much like mine. Hugs.