Was it really only four afternoons ago that I left work to take a brisk walk through Boulder's icy streets towards dusk? It was my last as a resident. Coated, capped and gloved, I set out up Spruce St, in the chill of fading light, with the intention of savouring all the sounds, sights and smells of a place I'd grown to love, wanting to absorb the essence of Boulder and bring it back to Australia.
The moon was low in the eastern sky after an early rise. Cleanly picked carcasses of trees stood starkly silhouetted against the starry background glow across the eastern prairies. The ravages of winter had denuded the golds and reds of Fall foliage, leaving only skeletons. Boulder’s streets were busy with the crunching of homebound commuters' tyres on icy roads; headlights captured tailpipes spewing the condensation created when warm gases meet chilled air. It matched my own breath. The lights of Boulder twinkled as a backdrop. I was in a reflective mood, and the whole experience was bittersweet because I knew I'd never recapture it. Your town, by stealth, gradually became our town. Sure, I'll probably return in the future, but as a visitor rather than an active participant in the community.
Don’t let our absence impact regular Monday Club “meetings” at the Trilogy Wine Bar. We need to sense your presence there even from half a world away. Our last outing, less than a week ago, was a classic. Geeeeshhh it was freezing when we all stumbled out into the darkness of evening onto a snow-laden 13th Street in downtown Boulder. Sue, our Subaru, had been sulking impatiently in falling snow, eager to be off and up the Jamestown Canyon, to tackle the deeper snowdrifts of our home's higher altitude. But wait.... I was unlocking Sue's doors, when thwackkk... thwackkk!! Sue was unceremoniously struck broadside by great balls of snow from the other side of 13th. You lot hysterically swept fresh snow from the roofs of patrons’ vehicles and launched frenzied salvos. I’d foolishly draped myself against our car, goading you, when inevitably my macho posturing failed me. A missile exploded from the darkness.... whackkk!! Unceremoniously wiping debris from my crotch, and forcing back tears, I’d squealed to my wife in castrato tones, "Get in the car!" Yeah, thanks for that unforgettable send-off.
That night it was -20C up at our mountain home at 9600 feet in the Rockies. During the day the maximum hadn't reached zero. Creeks and lakes were icing over again, just as they were when we arrived a year ago; seasons had almost gone full circle for us. Despite the severity of the climate, I became so attached to our mountain home and small acreage 50 minutes above Boulder that I sent down roots. A part of me remains in Boulder. I love the place... its beauty, culture, politics, social rhetoric, the Rockies and our Coloradan friends.
But I’m currently reclining against the stained timber wall of a humble beachside cabin on Kealakekua Bay to the south of Kona on the big island in Hawaii; we’re staging our return to Australia with a week-long stopover enroute. I’m reflecting on heart-felt memories and experiencing frustration at my ham-fisted attempts to translate nuances into words on my laptop. Somehow, words are inadequate, and shades of my experience are depleted in translation.
As I tap at my keyboard, two luminous green geckos skip across the wall above my head. They’re amusing, but don’t match a year of observing the crazy antics of mountain squirrels and fat-cheeked chipmunks. I’ve also noticed a pair of mongooses lurking outside my cabin. These pests, introduced to Hawaii, are a poor substitute for the mule-deer, coyotes, mountain lions and black bears which visited our home in the Rockies in the past twelve months. And through my window is a sparkling bay, bordered by fecund hillsides of coffee plantations. They’re visual treats, but can’t compete with Colorado’s smorgasbord of pine and fir forests blanketed in winter coats of heavy snow, and shimmering aspen stands which had been an integral part of our mountain environment.
And the mountains and volcanoes behind my Hawaiian cabin are remarkable and deservedly merit their own paragraphs. Yet I’m drawn to recall a chilly night in the Rockies when a conga-line of twelve or more inebriated revellers, wine glasses in hand, giggled our way upwards through the ceiling manhole, and onto the second storey rooftop of a neighbour’s home. Basking under the full moon, we’d laughed at our folly, then were awed into silence by the vista of the Continental Divide just to the west of us. The whole range, many peaks surpassing 14,000 feet, was snow covered and glowed an eerie, almost luminous, white under the full moon. It was a surreal experience, and a personal vignette that I know is indelibly imprinted.
But in fairness to Hawaii, I’ll snap briefly from my reverie to acknowledge the beauty and history of my current setting where Captain James Cook was killed over 240 years ago. Yesterday my wife and I kayaked across the bay to snorkel amongst colourful reef fish at the marker stone identifying the exact place Cook met his demise. As an Australian, it has historical meaning and relevance. It was a profound experience, but Hawaii’s beauty is again unfairly subsumed by the melancholy of my currently uprooted life.
I know our friendships will transcend distance. However, I’m feeling quite torn as I type to you all. In a week’s time, my mountain life will have been replaced by the roar of lawn mowers and cicadas, the heady smell of fresh cut lawns, the splatter of fat tropical raindrops, a pall of humid, salt laden air, and the suck and thrust of a hungry surf. The Rockies will be 20,000 km away from Coffs Harbour, but please know that huge chunks of my emotional DNA remain there.