Written by Laura Heim
Images by Sarah Ann Noel
I gazed out the window and watched as the river wound its way tightly against the side of the highway. Brilliant golden aspen stood tall along its banks, their leaves fluttering in the alpenglow. Hopes of a simpler life filled with peaches in the backyard and neighbors you know by name were propelling me toward Denver. I pulled on to the side of the road to take my first breaths of Colorado air, crisp and electrifying like an apple in November. It felt ceremonial, the way it smelled of wild sage, the ponderosa pines contributing sweet vanilla and butterscotch. The wind blew through my fingers and for a moment, time ceased.
There is something intrinsically sacred about the Colorado landscape. Having grown up in Northern California, the Sierra Nevada was just a short drive away. But the wide ridges and shallow valleys of the Colorado Rockies rolled on in endless waves that prompted a sense of fear and humility I'd not experienced before. I ventured off the road and onto a nearby trail that took me along a roaring creek, through a thick grove of silver spruce, and ended in a short climb up a rolling mountainside. Within moments of leaving a highway lined with ski resorts and tourists, I was in complete solitude. I sat down against a fallen log to rest and watched the sun melt into the meadow below.
In silence and wonder, I returned to my car and continued my journey. I made one final stop for dinner at a local taqueria where I was greeted warmly by the music of Johnny Cash. My waitress, Alice, wore a bright purple t-shirt with two wolves howling at the moon. Her hair was pulled back loosely which exposed her turquoise earrings. Alice was born in Walsenburg, Colorado, and said with enthusiasm that she had been stuck in Eden since birth. For generations, Alice’s family had climbed the peaks and toiled the land. Alice pulled up a wooden stool and squatted down at the end of the worn table. She told me that if I wanted to know this place I should traverse it on foot. She urged me to learn every crevice of the mountains, plains, and plateaus.
My entrance into Colorado was just the beginning of what this place has become to me: A culture that lends itself to time for slow conversation and to sit in silence as the sun goes to sleep behind the hills. Familiarity has been earned with the passing of seasons: but the community and landscape of Colorado provided an almost instantaneous sense of belonging. I adopted the blemishes and resources, what it is and what it could become. In doing so, I had the privilege of seeing a dream realized as I sat beneath the first harvest of my peach tree and let the syrup drip down my arm. Perhaps this is what it is to migrate — to carry our memoirs while we begin to participate in the story of the local terrain.
A California native, Laura Heim completed a Master of Arts in English at California State University, Long Beach. She now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and is an avid reader and writer.