Buffalo Bill’s Grave, Victorian Quilts, and TC Boyle’s Story of the Channel Islands ... in Colorado

Having left the South, its Civil War battlefields, and the Spanish colonialism of the Gulf, I find myself in Golden, Colorado, and back with the Bosun. I’ve missed him. It’s cooler here, of course, and higher ... the air thinner. Darkness falls earlier and looks quite pretty with Denver’s lights sparkling below Golden in the night.

But those lights mean something more than glitter in the evening. They mean sprawl. They mean smog. They mean traffic, and pressure on resources, and maybe, maybe more minds to create solutions to environmental conundrums. They mean a lot of different things, things T.C. Boyle explores in his When the Killing’s Done, a beautifully written novel that asks some hard environmental questions and focuses on California’s Channel Islands. (I really want to dive those islands.)

With Colorado’s rock-climbing tradition (we walked past the American Mountaineering Center today), these questions came to mind in the context of climbing. I couldn’t help but remember climbing as a kid in the early and mid-‘90s—back when one could just climb and boulder in now-popular places ... without the approved guides currently required in locations like Hueco Tanks, where numerous pressures mean such guides are just another aspect of the landscape. Boyle’s story asks hard questions and offers no easy answers—and I don’t mean to do even that here. I mean only to comment on thoughts that popped into my head as the Bosun and I took in the view from Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife lie in perpetual sleep. (We last saw Buffalo Bill with Annie Oakley at Galveston’s Bryan Museum—in an exhibit on Wild West shows). The Wild West evaporated even as those shaping it watched, even as Libbie Custer talked about it disappearing just as she lost George Armstrong at the Little Bighorn. The world of the bison, of nomadic horsemen, of mountain men and vast untamed lands and drinkable rivers is irreplaceably gone.

It seems even the open, wild climbing I knew in the ‘90s is gone, replaced by pay-to-play traffic in a lot of places. As Boyle implies in Killing, though, the world as a whole keeps breathing, changing, shifting.... Keeps maintaining resilience. Keeps defying doom.

On a lighter note, the afternoon produced a visit to the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. Nestled in a modest strip mall, the museum houses gorgeous Victorian crazy quilts adorned with Grand Army of the Republic fabric pieces, 1880s skating-party ribbons, embroidered flowers, and hand-crocheted borders. One even celebrates an 1880s America’s Cup-winning sailboat. Modern quilts feature family-heirloom materials and rich personal stories caught in satin. I couldn’t take pictures to share here, but any pictures wouldn’t do these works of textile art justice anyway.

A geology trail boasting intricate fossil patterns, nineteenth-century cabins along the river that runs through town, and the purchase of an independent-press book on the “fallen girls” of the Wild West rounded out the day.

(Keeping the Bosun on the straight and narrow—and off this bison—took some effort! 😜)

But really, the best part was being back with the Bosun.

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