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Archive for the ‘Colorado experiences’ Category

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It was a very white start to Martin Luther King Day here at the Havens.  When I awoke, it was snowing, but the precipitation has stopped for now.   There was no water aerobics this morning, and I am not really excited about getting out on the roads.  While I cut my “driving teeth” in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado; and then developed them experiencing the roads of Alaska, I still stay off the roads if I don’t have to go out when the weather is like this.

Around here people get way excited when a couple of inches of snow fall and there is a light rime of ice on the roadways, conditions that would make a seasoned Alaskan or Colorado mountain driver simply slow down a bit.  Around here, they close school and the weather people have regular conniptions about how dangerous it all is.  I have no qualms about my ability to negotiate the highways here in the Ozarks.  It is the REST of the drivers that give me pause.  They are so unpredictable I am reluctant to put myself in their vicinity.  Many of them seem to believe that since they have four wheel drive they can still drive over the speed limit and also stop on a dime if they need to. (She shakes her head…)

So I am home, and wondering if I will have any clients this afternoon.  There are three scheduled, whether they will show up is another question entirely.  It makes earning a living very unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the view from my kitchen window is splendid.  The little birds surely did appreciate me filling the feeders this morning.  There was a huge crowd of them at breakfast time.  The hawk flew through and scattered them, afterwards the yard was devoid of birds (and squirrels) for a good half hour.   I did not go out and investigate, but usually that means that the Cooper’s hawk was able to secure her breakfast.  She seems to view the pond area as her dining room.

The petite prairie is looking quite fine, as you can see from my opening photo above.  I love to go out there and inspect the environs after a few hours of no snow fall.  That is when it becomes evident just how important that cover is to the residents of the yard.

There was a small flock of cardinals hanging around after the hawk scare ebbed.   Here is a shot of them I took from the porch.

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That is not all of them, several of them were availing themselves of the sunflower seeds while I was taking these images.

There are more of them in that bush than meets the casual eye.  Here is a closer shot of the same group.

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Aside from the trio of juncos there is one male cardinal and four females sharing this bush.

The male is very suspicious of me.  Even though I was a good 30 meters away when I took this shot, his demeanor tells me “I know you are there and you are probably up to no good.”

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“Just stay on your porch and everyone will be happy.”

 

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I walked the labyrinth last night, as I said I was going to.   As is my usual custom when there is no snow on the ground, I walked it barefoot.   It was pretty chilly last night, and the dew had fallen, so my feet got very cold.

This reminded me of an occasion oh so many years ago when I was 9 years old and Daddy took some of us kids (maybe all of us, I don’t really remember) on a hike up to Ouzel Falls in the Rocky Mountain National Park.   It was late May.  Now, where we lived, which was 8414 feet in elevation, pretty much all the snow had melted.   However, up at the trail head to Ouzel Falls it was quite a bit higher, and not all the snow had melted.  The farther we walked up the trail  the deeper the snow got, until we were trudging through aged, soft, wet drifts that soaked my boots.   It was tough going in the snow, which at times was almost to my knees.   I was having a hard time making way, getting very tired.  Finally Daddy told me to walk in his footprints so I would not be breaking through the snow.   He shortened his adult stride to make this feat possible, and we continued on for a while.

But finally, my feet got so cold I just couldn’t stand it.   I was not a whiny child, but my cold feet was making it very hard for me to function.   Finally I broke down in tears because  of the pain of my cold feet.   Right nearby there was an outcrop of rock that was all sunny, and it was also not snow covered.   Dad helped me up onto the rocks and made me take my wet boots off, plus my wet socks.   Miraculously, in his pack along with lunch and God knows what other emergency supplies, he had a pair of dry boot socks.  He held my feet in his warm hands until they started to get some circulation back, spread my wet socks out on the rock to dry, and had me put on his dry socks.   They were very large on my little girl feet.   Then he decided that we had probably proceeded far enough, that we would not try to hike all the way to the falls, and we had lunch.   After lunch, my socks were nowhere near dry, but we managed to get my boots on over the extremely large socks, walked back down the mountain and went home.

This memory was much in my mind as I walked the labyrinth because right before I went out there I got a call from my mother.   His heart arrhythmia had overcome the drugs the cardiologist had prescribed, and he had another bad episode in the morning yesterday.  They traveled to their doctor’s office for a consultation.  This time his heart performed its “dance” right in the doctor’s office as he was hooked up to a monitor, where my mother reported that for a short time his heart rate was 8 beats per minute.

That’s right.   Eight.   The doctor called for an ambulance right that minute.

So, while I was walking with cold feet and remembering that other cold footed walk so many years ago with my young and strong daddy, my 85 year old, not so strong any longer father was lying in the hospital.   He is still there.   He’s supposed to get to come home on Friday.

Maybe you’ll get some fossils tomorrow.

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When I was seven years old, my father got a new job at the Bureau of Standards which required that we move from California to Colorado.  His show-up date was one week from the time he was hired.

To this day I do not understand why my folks decided that there was some huge rush about this.  Nowadays people with new jobs frequently go on ahead, scope out the scene, find a place for their families to reside while the other person gets the old house sold and packed up.  Then they meet at the new place.

My folks did not do it this way.   It seems impossible to contemplate in this housing market, but they got the house we were living in sold within three days.  The movers (“Let Lyon Guard Your Goods”) came and packed all our worldly possessions while my mother was frantically cleaning.  I’m not sure what we kids were doing; probably staying out of the way.  Then the dog and cat and sundry other things that could not be packed were loaded into the camper and my father drove that vehicle whilst my mother drove our 1955 Ford Sedan, which was loaded  with we four darling children.  As was their usual custom, we camped our way across country, using the camper as a combination hotel/restaurant.

They had not acquired lodging in Boulder, where we were headed, but decided that they would simply live in a motel with kitchenette until a suitable rental house could be found.  They were quite pleased on Saturday night when they had reached Colorado Springs.   They decided to stop and feed the starving hordes of children, have a break from driving, and then push on to Boulder after the meal.   Then they’d have all day Sunday to rest and reconnoiter before Daddy had to show up for work Monday morning.

Alas, it was not to be.   During the period after we stopped and before Mamma had gotten the first batch of water for dinner boiled or the charcoal well started for grilling the meat, my little sister approached me.

“I want to get on top of that post,” she whined, indicating a large wooden corner post on the fence that edged the wide spot in the road which had become our dining room for the evening.    “I want to be up there,” she continued.    “Help, me, Ellie, pleeeeessse?”  After a certain amount of demurral on my part, during which I indicated that she should try to climb up there by herself and she continued her whiny begging, I finally approached the post.   I tried lifting her over my head, but I wasn’t really that big and the post was pretty tall.   Eventually, I decided that if I had something to stand on, I would be able to lift her up there and then she would stop bugging me.

So I looked around for a suitable step stool, and lacking an actual ladder or step stool, my eyes lit on a nice metal bucket that was part of our camping accoutrements.   I decided it would make an admirable step, and toted it over to the post.   (My mother, busy with dinner preparations, did not notice this ill-conceived activity.  I have no idea what my father was doing at the time.)  Having turned  it upside down and situated it next to the post, I decided that it was just the ticket for my needs.  I climbed up on it, and turned to lift my three year old sister up to the top of the post.

Like many metal buckets of its ilk, this one had hemispherical tabs at either side which served as the attachment points for the bail.   These made the bucket a little tippy, especially since the soil of late summer southern Colorado was more like concrete than actual dirt, and the bail tabs did not penetrate it.  As I lifted my sister over my head while balanced precariously on the bucket, it tipped over and we both fell precipitously to the ground.   As it happened, when we landed I was on top of my sister with my left arm between her and the ground, and when we arose from the scene of the tumble, my sister was already demanding another trial, sure that a second attempt would succeed in her aims.

My left arm, however, had suddenly developed a secondary elbow about halfway between the original elbow and the wrist, and was hanging off at a rather alarming angle.   It also hurt like hell, although that was not a word that was firmly in my lexicon at the time.   I left my sister complaining bitterly behind me, already looking for another elevator, and trotted off towards my unsuspecting mother, sort of waving my arm and crying “Mommy, it hurts!”

“I’ll bet it does,” was her composed reply when I got  close enough to get her attention.   She immediately turned the gas off under the water and hurried to the camper, where she  acquired one of our down sleeping bags.   My father rushed to assist her as they provided a soft splint for the obviously broken arm.   The charcoal was poured out of the grill onto the ground, the almost hot water poured on top of it to put it out, and all the dinner preparations either left for the local coyotes or packed quickly back into the kitchen box, depending on whether they were partially cooked food items or cooking equipment.

They loaded us kids up, rounded up the dog, and headed into Colorado Springs in search of a hospital.   Because they felt I might need a little more room than was available in the car, I was put into the cab of the truck, where my extremely stressed-out father proceeded to yell at me and lecture me all the way into town.  I was stupid and irresponsible.  I should have known better than to try such a bone-headed thing, especially since “I knew” my sister had been told that if she couldn’t make it up on that post by herself she shouldn’t be up there.   (This latest instruction had been issued while I was at the other end of the road cut finding a private spot to pee, but no matter.   I should have known this.)  Etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum infinitum.

Our experience at the local hospital, once we found it, which was a non-profit organization run by the Catholic church, has not endeared such institutions to me.   They treated my folks like migrant workers, and despite the fact that they did have Blue Cross, were adamantly refusing to provide any care to the little blonde ragamuffin slowly going into shock in their emergency room.  There was some sort of nonsense about permanent address, proof of insurance, and I don’t know what all else.   Eventually they decided that they could provide care, but not before that care had become complicated by the fact that now, in addition to having a broken arm, I had gone into deep shock.

I awoke from anaesthesia the following morning in an unfamiliar hospital room with my arm in a cast, unattended by staff, and quite thirsty.  When I finally found and pushed the call button for the nurse, she entered the room after quite a delay.  When I told her I was thirsty and hungry, she nastily informed me that I had missed breakfast, and there was water “Right there” (on the bedside table to my left).  Having delivered this information, she exited the room immediately.   I remained breakfastless and thirsty, since my left arm was in a cast and I couldn’t reach the pitcher, which was out of my reach anyway due to the safety rails that surrounded me.

I didn’t know where I was, and I figured that I had been left there for good because I was such a rotten no-good and completely inconvenient child.  When my parents finally showed up to retrieve me and continue the journey to Boulder, I was mightily relieved despite still being thirsty and hungry.   I was given some water to drink, but everyone had already had breakfast, so I was basically told to suck it up until we got to Boulder, when we would all be having lunch.

This is how I broke my arm.    It is also how I was imprinted with the (false) impression that I was stupid and irresponsible and unloveable.  However, I (mostly) got over that early imprinting due to the influence of college friends, two good husbands and an excellent therapist.

My arm healed also.

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I just mentioned in “Snakes Alive” that at one time I had in my possession a couple of pet snakes which I purchased at a party.   In all fairness, I believe that my older sister contributed to the purchase at the time.   What I was throwing into the pot was my baby sitting money, she her earnings as a waitress at a local restaurant.  

Neither one of us had the slightest clue as to how one took care of snakes, but we thought they would make a cool pet.   The guy who sold us the outfit was a Vietnam veteran who was getting ready to move, and live snakes was proving too big an encumbrance to that activity.   He had already found a home for his large Burmese python.   He blithely told us it was easy to take care of snakes, informed us that you just fed them live mice.   Really?   We were fascinated.   Where do you get the mice?   Oh you can raise them yourselves or just buy them at the pet store.   At the pet store!   How amazing.

Neither one of us thought about the fact that we lived in a town that not only had no pet store, it also had no doctor, dentist, movie theatre, fast food, or any place to buy shoes or clothing.   We also didn’t really have a steady income sufficient for buying mice from the pet stores down in the Big City where our parents worked.

No matter, we loaded up both cages and the snakes and toted them home, much to the dismay and astonishment of my mother.   I have to give my parents credit though.  We had pet cats that got food bought for them, ditto the dog.   My folks added the snakes to the list of pets and willingly purchased live mice (and later hamsters) from the pet store down in the Big City.   Interestinly enough, when you bought mice as snake food rather than pets, they were quite a bit cheaper.   Forever after that our friends were terrified by the idea of coming to visit us as we had Snakes! in our living room.  

Horace was the boa constrictor.   He looked exactly like the snake in the photo on that link.   Too bad the poster didn’t identify the variety of boa.   The other snake we brought home that night was named Herman, whom we lated learned through the auspices of a herpetologist was actually a Hermanetta, was a bull snake.   They lived in a large terrarium situated right next to the stairs in our living room.   In the winter they were provided with a heating pad under one end of their enclosure.   They used to curl up on the rock that was right over that pad, and just bask in the warmth.

Horace absolutely loved to hang around my neck.  I believe he liked the warmth.   He would find a button on my blouse and wrap his tail around it.  That acted like an anchor for him.   It was really very cool to feel the muscles flexing in his sides when he finally got warm and active enough to cantilever off my shoulder towards the person sitting next to me, tongue flicking experimentally as he tasted the air and headed towards that infra-red source.  

He truly was a very silky and smooth snake, unlike Herman, whose scales were much larger and had ridges on them.  Herman was also much less mellow than Horace.   People used to ask me if I wasn’t afraid of the snake hanging around my neck.  I would laugh at them, explain sincerely that they really weren’t big enough to kill me.  

I was wearing Herman around my neck one day when our dog bounced into the living room unexpectedly.   Herman wound himself tightly around my neck in a defensive position, and proceeded to inhale deeply and hold his breath in an attempt to look as large and threatening to the dog as possible.   The dog was just happy to be inside with his people, and was completely oblivious to the snake.   I started to feel lightheaded because the constriction had seriously cut off the blood supply to my brain.    Herman was not going to unwind willingly, he was safe where he was, and it took three of us pulling on him to finally get him to release his grip.   After that, I wore Herman as a bracelet rather than a necklace. 

Horace never acted like that, though.   One day, because he was so calm and would ride around my neck just like a beautiful living scarf, I decided to wear him to school.   This was partially motivated by the fact that the children of my parents’ friends, who were our friends except when at school when the pressures of society made them collaborators with our tormentors, had been telling people that we had Snakes! in our living room and nobody believed it.   I had been taking a lot of bullshit about this subject, and I decided that I was going to show them that we did indeed have snakes at our house.   I also naively believed that if I could introduce people to this lovely, mellow, soft, intelligent snake they would lose their fear and loathing of snakes.  Silly me.

One fine late-winter morning I draped Horace around my neck, put on my coat and boarded the bus to school.  I did not discuss this harebrained plan with my parents, knowing full well that they would not approve.  My siblings were too busy getting their lunches together to notice my choice of attire, and my folks were already long gone on their commute to the Big City where they both had jobs, chiefly so that they could feed us and the zoological collection.

It was a pretty cool morning, so it took Horace a long time to wake up.   It wasn’t until third period, during chemistry class, that he finally started feeling like he might want to explore his environment.   There were about 14 of us in this science class.  

Please bear in mind that this was an extremely small school.   Our science teacher was notable for his habit of being “sick” on days when there was fresh powder on the ski slopes, which were only about 5 miles from town.   I am still unsure of how he got the job of teaching us science, but I think it was because he was a biology major.  Unfortunately, this also made him responsible for general science, chemistry, and physics as well, none of which he had the slightest clue about.   He was really too lazy to try to keep ahead of us in the textbook too.   So that particular day we were having a study hall rather than a chemistry lesson.   From my advanced perspective I believe he may have been nursing a hangover that day.

Anyway, my partner at my table for chemistry class was a young man who didn’t usually tease me too much.   He was innocently studying when Horace finally extended himself across space to his shoulder.   The kids who sat behind me had already noticed the snake stretching out towards Sam, and a certain amount of buzz was already going through the classroom.  They were gasping and giggling and waiting (along with me) to see what was going to happen.   Sam remained oblivious until Horace glided gently onto his shoulder and breathed out heavily.

I was used to this sibilant exhalation, but Sam was not.   He turned his head to see what the noise was just in time for Horace to flick his tongue out to taste this new human he was meeting.   As soon as he realized what he was looking at, Sam’s eyes popped, he threw himself away from me and Horace out of his chair towards the wall, and let out a yell that caused our teacher to flinch and knock both his coffee cup and the book he was sleeping at on the floor.   I really wish I had a picture of it all, really.

I burst out laughing and pulled Horace back towards me as Sam batted at him.   “Don’t hurt him!   He is just curious!”   I told Sam as I protected the snake’s head from his waving arms.

Once the excitement had died down, and people had stopped being nervous and afraid, everybody in class was fascinated.  That is, everybody but our teacher, who had an as-yet-undisclosed extreme fear of snakes.   He was backed up into the corner of the classroom, a full 15 feet from the snake, gasping, and pointing, and white as the snow he loved to ski on.    “Get that snake out of here!” was the only thing he could manage to say.    After a moment of heavy breathing he pulled himself together and with the full power of his instructoral authority shouted, “Go to the principal’s office!”

Poor Mr. B.  As principal of our little world, he rarely had to deal with anything more distressing than scheduling a subsitute for our science teacher.   I was the quintessential Good Girl, never in trouble, always getting straight A’s.   He really didn’t know what to do with me.  There wasn’t a section in the dress code prohibiting young girls from wearing their boa constrictors  as scarves.  He was pretty freaked out by the snake too, but eventually the problem was solved by sending me home from school because I had disrupted classes.   I was banned for the rest of the day with instructions to never do such a thing ever again. 

Poor man, since there was no one else available, he was the one one who had to drive me and Horace home, nervously watching the snake to make sure it wasn’t going to attack him.  Horace was fully warm by that time, cantilevering himself merrily off into space towards every surface of the vehicle, tasting tasting tasting.

 I love snakes.

  

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I mentioned previously that while we were in Colorado we had a magical experience watching a marmot family interacting.   I have finally received the photo files from my brother that included this episode.   Here for your delight is a selection of the many wonderful photos he took.  Did I mention I covet his camera?   I think I may have.   I do. 

First, we have Papa marmot, who is on sentinel duty.  Many of the marmots we saw on this trip were shedding, or looked like they had mange, or had bare spots.   This fellow is quite handsome, really in quite good coat.  Life must be good at this rock pile.  

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Next we have a series of pictures of his mate and the kids.   This was taken as the youngster was soliciting a snack from his mother. 

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After he had eaten, he got quite rambunctious.   This shot was taken right before he pounced on his mother.   Unfortunately, we did not get a shot of the cuffing and chase that ensued after he jumped her.

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However, after things settled down, she proceeded to show him how to graze and what was edible.

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He went off adventuring on his own, which caused Papa marmot to move his sentinel post down the rock pile about 50 feet.   Then another youngster showed up to hang out with Mom.   Seems to be saying, “I see you seeing me.”

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We also saw a pica, very close up.

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And there were elk out and about, antlers still in velvet.

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A chipmunk finds a supply of calcium to augment its diet.

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Back in camp, a very bold ground squirrel investigates the dinner pot.

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Nope, nobody clapped the lid on the pot and made soup. 

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I’m one of those kinds of people who like to know the names of the flowers I am looking at.   I am not perfect at this, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a pretty good handle on it.   I’ve been studying for a while.

When I was a little girl, there was a standing family joke which had entered our lexicon courtesy of a Park Ranger somewhere in the mists of history.   He was a geologist, and he was charged with enlightening the curiosity of people who wanted to know what sort of rock they were looking at.   Generally, he would identify the mineral, but every once in a while he would reply to a query, “Oh, that is an FRDK.”   After hearing this term a few times, my mother finally got up enough courage to ask this expert what FRDK meant.

“It means, Funny Rock Don’t Know.”  For ever after, when one of us children would ask her what kind of flower we were looking at, usually we would be told the name or directed to look in the “Flower book.”  But every once in a while, the identity would be “PFDK”.  (Pretty Flower Don’t Know). 

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This flower is a complete mystery to me.   I have done everything I can think of on the internet short of ordering a book of “Flowers of the Rocky Mountains”.   I am reluctant to do this because I know how flower books are.   Generally speaking, if there is ONE particular flower you are trying to identify, that is the one that is not in the book.

Anyway, this flower was growing on a rocky east facing slope at about 9000 feet in a forest of pines and spruces.   Nearby there were mertensia in a little brook, there were also currants and elderberries in the area.   The total height of this plant from soil to flower is about 3 inches.

At first I thought it might be a member of the primrose family, but the flower form is not right.   It also could be a member of the mountain laurels (Kalmia sp.) as well.   But I just don’t know, and Google has not been forthcoming.

If anyone has any ideas, or an alpine flower book to look it up it, PLEASE!  DO!   And let me know.

Pretty, isn’t it?

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”                              Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I am home from my Colorado adventure.   If you were paying attention, and I know you were, you will realize that I am home considerably earlier than planned.   I can’t talk about it right now, mostly because I don’t know what to say.   But, I have images.  

I will let them talk for me.

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This is an image of Meeker Peak and Longs Peak taken from the top of Estes Cone.  Meeker is on the left, Longs on the right.   To get to this view, we hiked up 4.8 km that gained 606 m, after which we climbed a “stairmaster” that was 1.1 km long and rose 212 m in that distance.   My heart rate was, well, aerobic.

Along the way, I was captivated by the wood grain in the stumps of the bristlecone pines that were along the “trail.”

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The day after we made that hike, we motored over Trail Ridge Road.   There are wonderful images from that; all of them are in my brother’s camera because I stupidly forgot mine.   I will be posting some of them later.   There were elk, and a Mama and Papa marmot with three Child marmots.

The next day we drove up Mt. Evans.   Along the way, we saw Little Pink Elephants.   And no, we were not drunk.  Neither are you.

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Up on top, we found the rock garden of the Master Gardener.

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The little blue patches are Alpine Forget-me-nots.   I had Dad put his finger next to patch to give them some scale.  They smell deliciously of almond extract if you get right down close to them.

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Up at the summit parking lot we experienced a visitation by a group of three Mountain Goats.   There was a park ranger there to sort of facilitate the experience.   According to him, the goats visit the summit parking area on a daily basis because it happens to be their natural salt lick.  We were lucky; they were there in the afternoon and there were no dogs around to make them uncomfortable.   This is the dominant billy of the herd on Mount Evans.

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In the picture below, the gentleman in the red vest and hat to the far right of the image is my father.   As I was taking this picture, I mused as to which was truly the dominant old goat.

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Finally, a cone flower with bumble bee, taken in the meadow near Lily Lake after we descended from Estes Cone.

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Maybe tomorrow I will write more.  Maybe not.

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