Monday, October 2, 2017

At home on the range

My town is growing fast—a bit too fast for me. Years ago the Colorado State University Bull Farm, just down the road from my house, was replaced by university housing for people, not bulls. And since then more apartments have sprung up in the area and a whole new set of them are on the drawing boards, eliminating a small church, a favorite pizza spot and several other small businesses in the one-time bull farm area.

An adjacent street has become so busy that an underpass now allows walkers, cyclists and skateboarders to cross to and from the CSU campus safely, though traffic is heavy even there and users have to watch out for speeding cyclists and skateboarders around a couple of blind curves in the underpass.

Now it is important to plan extra time for a trip across town or to a neighboring community. Big city folks laugh when we complain about increasing traffic, but it’s way more than we’re used to and we’re having a bit of trouble adjusting.

That’s why, when I was invited to display my handmade notecards and bookmarks at a fundraiser to be held on a ranch outside Nunn, Colorado, I looked forward to the experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

We set off early on a cloudy Saturday afternoon and in less than half an hour of travel north and east onto the Colorado High Plains, we found ourselves on a dirt road surrounded by nothing but sky and dry grass prairie. I breathed a happy sigh. I’m so glad it’s possible to reach this nothingness so quickly, I thought. I’ve always had a thing about seeing lots of sky. Whenever I travel east across the country and the trees begin to close in, I start to feel enclosed.  On the trip home when the sky begins to open up somewhere in Iowa, I’m relieved.

It turns out that the Gillespie-Wagner Ranch isn’t really in Nunn at all.  It’s a dozen or so miles north of the little town that boasted a population of 471 in the 2000 census, but it’s the closest spot around that boasts a post office and is therefore their address.

More than 100 people showed up for “a day at the ranch” to support a non-profit organization that provides funds to help low income people complete end-of-life plans. There was a silent auction, generous pulled-pork, hamburger and all the trimmings meal provided outdoors at long tables where you had a good view of the high country to the west. Nearby, in a three-walled barn, a woodworkers, a potter, a couple of jewelry makers and clothing vendors displayed their wares and donated part of their proceeds to the fund.

I had a chance to wander around the ranch. I saw an impressive rock formation behind the homestead that surely blocks some of the wind, a constant companion on the plains. I watched cattle being herded by border collie sheep dogs and I thought about what it would be like to live out here, literally in the middle of nowhere.

The city folk from Fort Collins and Greeley took in the scenery, satisfied their appetites and opened up their pocketbooks to support rancher Dr. Jan Gillespie-Wagner’s favorite cause.

I came home happy to have spent a few hours out on the Colorado prairie. Photo courtesy of Jeff Berger.

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