Nearly every weekend of my childhood in grade-school days found my sister and me (and sometimes a passel of playmates) bouncing around in the back of our family’s rusting white Jeep Cherokee, choking through the midsummer dust from the washer-board road on our way up the Silver Lakes in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado.
One of these pals told me recently that she and her husband chose their mountain home-on-the-lake because of what she remembers about our cabin, which catapulted me back into my own memories of spending the Fourth of July at Sliver Lakes.
The recollections I have about Silver Lakes are tinged with joy, wonder, surprise, and sometimes even terror:
… clambering around on moss-covered boulders at lake’s edge to pick tiny sweet wild raspberries from the prickly bushes.
… running down the narrow two-track road on the high side of Lake 2 to the ancient tire swing that hanged from a huge Ponderosa pine out from the precipice of the road. Tripping on my feet and going down hard, gouging both knees on the hard sharp pointed edges of the gray-white shale placed on the road to keep it from washing away.
… skirting the edge of the lake to reach the almost impossibly tall log, polished from years of our scooting across it to avoid the trek through the marshy muddy part of the shore on the creepy end of Lake 2 – the small shallow end that turned away from the cabins to hide its ankle-clutching weeds and mossy murky surface – to arrive safely on the other side.
… tubing in the winter down the open slope beside our cabin, first trudging up through snow tall as the tops of our windows, then flying down inside big squishy inner tubes with our black Lab flailing along beside us, barking and biting at our boots and hats, and who once lashed onto my streaming hair and dragged me shrieking out onto the frozen lake in all her flopping gangling Labrador triumph.
… venturing down to Lake 4, where there were no boats, no fishing docks, no cabins, and virtually no trail, where fringed creaking pines hung over the lake with branches extended into the darkened water, and deadfall — silent as the dawn — monitored our tentative progress. Unknown and unseen creatures rustled in the heavily wooded sides of the trail, sending us scrambling over menacing roots and through the brambly thickets back up to the familiar safety of Lake 3, where we arrived gasping with burning lungs and proud of our efforts.
I visited my friend’s mountain home last summer, writing quietly on her dock as she walked her own black Lab beside the lake. I remembered catching my first fish from a dock not unlike that one, dragging up onto the shore a sparkling rainbow trout so big the entire yellow-reed fishing pole I was holding high above my head for a photo was completely bent in its own arch so the tip of the pole touched the ground.
For me, the Fourth of July – a celebration of our nation’s birth – is also a celebration of place, a celebration of memories, and a celebration of childhood in the mountains of Colorado.