Life is so fragile, so fleetingly temporary, yet I live it as though it would never end. If I woke up one morning knowing that it would be my last, all of the complexities of life would be boiled down, reduced to two simple choices. Would I choose to spend the time that I have left filled with Fear or with Love? Would I choose to spend my final moments on Earth remorseful about the mistakes that I’ve made and angry that I don’t have more time to make amends or would I choose to celebrate the fact that I am alive and present in this moment, thankful for the fullness of Life? It is so easy to predict that I would choose the latter, yet in truth the gravity of habit would likely make the choice for me.
As made apparent in my latest posts, the theme so far for the month of June has been “chasing clouds”. The last stop on our recent mini-adventure in Kansas was found at the intersection of an oncoming storm cluster and Dodge City Kansas. As it goes in cloud chasing, we simply went where the fair wind blew. The towering cloud formations were impressive all day and as we raced toward the setting sun they transformed into pillowy curtains of warm pastels. We arrived in Dodge City as darkness fell and we hunkered down in a hotel for a long night of rain and lightning.
After breakfast the following foggy and blustery morning, we set off into town, not to trace the footsteps of gunslingers on Boot Hill, but those of my own Kin. On June 2, 1931 my Grandfather (Hollis) was likely granted a day off from setting copy for the Dodge City Daily Globe where he operated the Tele-Type machine. On that day, he and my Grandmother (Dorothy) would proudly welcome their first child into this world and give him the name of Stanley Richard, a son who would grow up to become my own Father. Where did Hollis work? Where did they live and where did my Dad spend his first three or four years? I wanted to see for myself and the wind had laid the opportunity right at my feet. Time to pound the pavement.
Our first stop was the Dodge City Daily Globe building near the corner of Second and Spruce. A helpful staff confirmed that indeed the paper had used this same location since the late 1800’s and they even pointed out where the old Tele-Type had been located until the 1970’s. For archives of old editions, they directed me to the Dodge City Heritage Center which was located a few blocks away on the second floor of the old high school. In no time at all, two helpful researchers had us scouring the microfiche of the Daily Globe. We printed the entire June 2nd edition as well as Dad’s birth announcement which was published the following Saturday. Hollis’ home address of 310 W. Spruce was located in the town directory. Now we were getting somewhere.
310 W. Spruce is now a vacant lot located two doors away from the Globe Building and directly adjacent to the old library building that was built by the publisher of the newspaper, J.C. Denious. Denious had ambitions that would lead him into the state Senate and on to become the 29th Lt. Governor of Kansas but in 1931, he was simply my Grandfather’s employer. 310 W. Spruce was located only a couple of blocks behind the fabled Front Street of the old west and the railroad tracks just beyond. The picture was becoming quite clear now that this was the spot where my Dad would watch the trains go by while having his haircut, some of his earliest memories.
The June 2nd edition of the Dodge City Daily Globe was not only created by the hands of my very own Grandfather, it brings so many trivial facts of my Father’s Birthday to light. Temperatures were in the high 80’s and the skies were partly cloudy. A front page feature story informed readers that railroads of the future would have 100 mile per hour trains that would rival airplanes. Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Conoco Motor Oil and JC Penney’s bought up ad space and local gossip and trivia was plentiful.
You’ve heard the saying that “It’s time to get out of Dodge”. I suppose I owe my very existence to the fact that Hollis and Dorothy did just that and took their family west to Denver where my Dad’s stars would eventually align with my Mother’s. For me on that blustery morning last week it was mission accomplished. It was my time to get out of Dodge and follow the fair wind home.
A week ago yesterday I found myself following a cloud through the high prairie of Eastern Colorado, drawn East by something more than a storm chasing bug. As soon as my wife and I got home from that outing we began making plans for another push into the Plains. By Tuesday the car was packed and we headed east to await the arrival of the remnants of the recent Pacific Hurricanes, a recipe for more beautiful spring skies. As predicted, we would see some some incredible skies and the photo expedition was a success but the unexpected twists and turns are what made the journey memorable. Hollers and Insects and Turtles, oh My!
A person who wanders out of familiar surroundings to make erroneous observations and stupid comments is commonly known as a Tourist. “What time of year do the Deer become Elk” is one we here in Colorado all the time. So as we travelled through Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri we engaged in the most entertaining discussion of the landscape. Is this a Holler? Is that a Holler? Do they even have Hollers this far North? What the Hell is a Holler anyway? I’ve now had the benefit of researching Hollers and Hollows on the internet and I still have no idea how to identify one.
As we got closer to the Missouri River we couldn’t help but notice a loud roar coming from the trees, even as we sped down the highway with windows closed. “Are they Locusts or Chiggers?” (more stupid tourist questions). It turns out, every seventeen years bugs called Cicadas emerge from eggs planted in the soil seventeen years earlier. For several weeks they make one hell of a racket, mate and lay more eggs in the ground that will emerge seventeen years later. Ounce for Decibel, these little flying insects must be the loudest creatures on earth.
So we were driving down a back road in Eastern Colorado, keeping our eyes peeled for Antelope when Tammy alerted me, “Stop! There is a Turtle in the middle of the road”. Thinking she was just making a stupid tourist comment, it took my a few seconds to process that she was dead serious. “Hurry before someone runs over it”. Never in a million years would I expect to see a sizable turtle walking along a country road in my own state of Colorado, yet there he (or she) was, plain as day. The next thing you know we have a bedding of grass and a three pound Painted Turtle in our cooler and we are trying to figure out where to take him. Can they jump? Do they bite? ah here we go again. As it turns out, Painted Turtles thrive in the water of the plains and this little guy was probably washed from his home in the recent torrential rains. We named him (or her) Ralph and released him along the banks of Kiowa Creek.
Last Friday was a normal day for all intents and purposes. I was working on updating a Ranch Video for a client in Southern Colorado. It felt good to be working with beautiful landscape images, especially the ones with the pretty summer clouds. This particular ranch sits on the gentle slopes of one of the most scenic mountain valleys you can imagine. The Cuchara River Valley is flanked by the massive Sangre De Cristo range to the West, and to the East, the two Spanish Peaks stand alone and literally tower over the Great Plains. As I worked on the final edits of the video I daydreamed about getting out and shooting landscapes. I had no idea that by the end of the following day my Wife and I would be far out on those great plains shooting landscapes and following clouds. I had no idea that we would soon become STORM CHASERS.
Storm Chasers in these parts are a crazy and diverse type who intentionally want to get close to the action as the clouds of Spring roll off the front range and build in intensity as they float East over the Plains. Out for a Saturday drive, we chose to drive in the opposite direction as the dark clouds and rain that were engulfing the foothills, we chose to drive east. By the time we reached the small town of Elizabeth we became somewhat mesmerized by the beauty of the day. At one point, we stopped to shoot some pictures of a group of horses with Foals taking naps in the cool grass. One particular cloud was passing by that I couldn’t take my eyes off of, it was a very “pretty” cloud. We followed.
As we drove “a little farther East”, a couple of Vans passed us. They had some kind of electronic contraptions mounted on their roofs and one had a cyclone bumper sticker, they were Storm Chasers! Under the spell of the exact same beautiful and growing cloud, we found ourselves driving through Kiowa, Agate and we stopped in Limon to get fuel. At Limon, more storm chasers were driving east quickly and with clear intent. They were following our cloud. We zoomed further east through Genoa, Bovina, Arriba and Flagler then exited I-70 at Seibert and turned north. Wonder of Wonders, I always carry a Colorado Gazetteer and Atlas in the car but rarely use it. That map became our guide through the maze of roads that followed, taking us quickly closer to that amazing cloud as it began to quietly rotate.
We weren’t alone out there, not at all. Chasers were zigging and zagging through those country roads, stopping to film and photograph the descending formation. Some of them were even driving way too fast on those dirt roads ;), probably had their wife in the car telling them to go FASTER! The process of watching that “pretty” cloud morph into a massive, powerful funnel was fascinating and exciting. For us, the end of the road came just across the Kansas State Line as we silently watched our cloud turn north and disintegrate into a simple summer rain storm, a climactic end to a very long day.