Old Stompin’ Grounds

There are times I miss the wide open spaces and expansive views of the West, like this one along the Arkansas River (if you pronounce it “Arkansaw” I won’t hold it against you), just south of Cañon City, Colorado. Cactus and cottonwoods have a certain appeal, especially when there are trout nearby.

Did I wet a line? No, I did not. I caught fish, though, at least in my head, but they were mostly ghosts of memories from days gone by, sweetly bitter like sage brush and cholla.

Contemplation was enough this time around, so I watched and guessed, making mental casts to fish that might have been mirages but sure seemed real enough, especially a big Brown that flashed every minute or so as it darted into the current from its lair among the roots of a fallen cottonwood.

In the days of my youth that fish would have woven my leader through those roots and broken it off but as I sat there, older and wiser, I saw nothing but success. Experience shows, even with imaginary casts. Where once I would have cursed and flailed until the sun went down, it was enough now to envision the drift, the take, and the steady hand guiding that fish into the main current, away from the roots to the near bank to be netted and released. As a man with a gray beard I can do that again and again, especially in my sleep. Maybe I will go back some day and get that fish for real, but whatever it would prove would be only to myself.

It seems harder and harder these days to escape the hand of man but, where the Arkansas River meets the concrete and steel of a small city, there are at least some interesting photos to be had.

In Vermont I live among scenery, when I lived in Colorado I had views, some of them downright iconic.

More and larger houses creep further up the foothills, strategically built for everyone else to look at. I found it disturbing all those years ago but now it strikes me as profane. What I think doesn’t matter, though, and there is not much to be done about it. Wealth and politics are pretty much in your face where I grew up, and what I remembered was very much at odds with what it has become.

While the mountains may slow growth to the west, out east, on the plains, development spreads like wildfire. It’s all for sale and thousands of identical houses sprawl beyond the horizon.

There wasn’t enough water for everyone way back when, and there ain’t enough now, but little things like that can’t stand in the way of progress. Abandoned malls and shopping centers stand empty, but for every closed “big box” two more go in just to the east and if you miss the turn for one crappy, mass produced burger (or pizza, taco, or doughnut), have no fear — another is available just ahead, as dusty cow paths have a way of becoming eight lanes of asphalt.

Colorado Springs may seem to have modeled its growth policy after that of a tumor, but some things I remember are still there, maybe a little worse for wear, but still there none the less.

I have hoisted a schooner of one of the same two kinds of warm beer at Murphy’s in each of the last four decades, whatever that says, and the Hogan roadhouse just won’t go away.

These old places have real neon signs instead of back-lit plastic and were once on the edge of town because that’s where bars and taverns were supposed to be, instead of all over the darn place. We didn’t have drunken scarecrows passed out in the gutters back in the old days.

Personally, I don’t think growth for the sake of growth is a good thing, but what do I know? I moved away long ago and hadn’t been back in quite a while, so it was a bit of a surprise to see my former hometown so frantic, angry, and parched — just the opposite of what I grew up to be — but just like that fish in the roots, most of my old friends and some of the old haunts will always be there, at least in my head.

Like visiting with a familiar stranger, it was not an entirely unpleasant experience but I am glad to be back in the place I choose to call home and now, if you’ll excuse me, I just flew 2,000 miles. Boy, are my arms tired.

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Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Old Stompin’ Grounds

  1. You’re talking my country here and I love it. You described it perfectly Quill. If you ever feel homesick, I’ll send you some pictures.

  2. Was just looking at a job ad in Colorado that I would stand a chance to get. Being from Illinois, it would be a dramatic change. Only, I’m afraid, the high thin air would probably kill my wife. Next week I’m off to check out Missouri and a Thanksgiving dinner with a father-in-law I’ve only met once in 6 years.

    I can do Missouri. Unlike Illinois, rumor is they have some trout about. I can do trout.

  3. Scenery and views…I too have the former. Great piece, Quill.

  4. This depresses me (though, admittedly, that’s not a hard thing to accomplish). Cut it out.

  5. I moved out here last year from Minnesota, where I had spent the previous 13 years. MN was like where you live now, full of scenery, Colorado has, as you pointed out, views (great views). I drive up and down Interstate 25 between Denver and Fort Collins quite often, and it seems that there isn’t a stretch where you don’t see something developed…it’s unfortunate that we need to water so much imported grass.

    …The drunkin scarecrows have not found their way to Fort Collins yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

  6. Woolybugah

    Feel your pain. I grew up here on the East coast and places I hunted & fished as a kid are now covered with asphalt or houses.

  7. Nancy Spivey

    I hate the whole “construction for it’s own sake” thing. Abandon an old structure, build a new. All those empty places are blight, and the new ones are often not much better.

    But your photos are beautiful, and that’s a good thing!

  8. Just finally got around to reading this post, Quill. I must say I lament with you every step of the way. A really touching commentary on the state of our life and where we are headed. Wish there were a time capsule to go back in time!

  9. Friend Ken G. introduced me to your blog today and I’ve enjoyed this series of posts, esp. the above with its melancholic realism. I, too, am concerned about the trends of “progress” in the West, but as a native trout nut living in the East, I’ve got plenty of stuff to chew my nails over (Marcellus Shale drilling, etc.). In addition to my hours on the stream, writing a new blog, Rivertop Rambles, helps me in the mental health department. Thanks for the excellent reflections. Walt Franklin

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