September’s always been my tense month. I suppose it’s because change is on the horizon, and there’s too much to do. But I also always end up loving autumn and the way transformation happens so visually outside as well as so quietly within.
This weekend is the pinnacle of autumn’s vibrant makeover in Colorado when the aspen trees all seem to turn overnight from blend-in green to outspoken gold. Thousands of families wound their way up rocky canyons and over Colorado mountains today to witness nature’s dazzling display.
My family was one of them.
We traveled scenic highway 7 from Lyons to Estes Park, stopping along the way for a snack/throw-rocks-in-the-creek/pee break for the kids. We oohed and aahed over the golden groves punctuating the evergreen mountainsides and valleys.
Greg remarked how he could feel the fall in the air and how daylight itself had recently changed with the season. I knew what he meant, and I started to relax.
The morning had been tumultuous, as I think it is nearly every time we leave the house as a family. For complicated reasons, we stress out and communicate poorly when we are about to go anywhere. It’s been that way as long as I remember, and it hurts. I often find myself sitting in the passenger seat fuming over how long it took and how difficult it is to leave the house to spend time together. I wonder, what’s wrong with us and how are we ever going to be happy?
Today, everyone calmed the further we climbed on the highway.
After more potty breaks and a picnic lunch at lovely Lily Lake, we finally began our hike. If you hike with small children, you know it’s really a series of stops to look at every duck, bridge, stick, rock, bug, and twig you didn’t even know were there.
Not even a quarter of the way around the lake, we had to stop for a trailside four-hander. A four-hander, in case you’re wondering, is a diaper change that requires two adults – one set of hands to hold baby’s arms and legs away from the danger area and the other two hands to use every last wipe to get baby’s bum barely clean enough. In the middle of that rodeo ride today, thunder began rolling across the ridge. It was time to turn back.
No matter really. We’d had a fun time.
By the time we packed the car with boys and dampened gear (and stopped for another bathroom break), the rain was already subsiding. Grey skies quieted our energy, and the children fell asleep in their car seats as we zigzagged back toward home.
It was late afternoon, and suddenly the atmosphere shifted as sunlight filled the sky from the west with such warm intensity that I felt the air all around had weight and scent and sound. If it really had a sound it would be laughter. Radiance permeated every molecule in the forest. All around, shivering aspen leaves began to glow as if from within. Magic.
We had just passed Wild Basin – where Greg and I had married in a meadow eight years ago – when we came upon an enormous gilded grove of aspen trees beckoning us in that dense laughing sunshine.
I asked Greg to pull over. I wanted to capture the two of us along the roadside surrounded by luminous foliage in that epic movie-landscape lighting. I figured we’d just jump out, leave the sleeping boys in the car, set the self timer, and then be on our way.
But he didn’t stop. As we rounded the next bend, the sun sank in a freshly clouded up sky. My disappointment felt as heavy as the sunlight’s brilliance had seemed just moments before.
As we drove on quietly, we kept a look out to recapture that amazing setting, that ephemeral light. But the moment was gone. And that’s OK.
I thought about what was lost. Ecstasy can come out of nowhere and disappear before it can be contained. One cannot hold onto being in the present. Life’s finer moments cannot be saved for later; they linger in memory with bitter sweetness for their flightiness.
I know I can’t store the fleeting. Even if we could have taken a photo of that incredible scene this afternoon, it would never truly re-create the experience.
I got lost in my thoughts and started to drift off.
We decided to “deviate,” as Elijah (our four-year-old) would say, from our planned route and allow the children their rightful nap. Greg turned toward the funky moutain town of Nederland to take the long way, and I suggested we stop later at the aptly named Carousel of Happiness.
Elijah asked for a second ride the instant the colorful carousel fish he was riding slid down its pole to a stop. The ride seemed to give Elijah a bit of the wonder and thrill that the sunlit moment on the road had given me.
Raphael? Not so much. The overzealous music, exquisitely painted animals (not just horses), and dizzying movement seemed to overwhelm him. He skipped a second helping.
Next door to the carousel was a set of beautiful old train cars turned coffee shop/candy store. Brilliant! Of course, we went there. Elijah got an English toffee lollipop about the size of his head that smelled heavenly next to my Americano.
We decided to stay out longer than we should (and spend more money than we should), and we headed to a grungy local pub. To be honest, I had counted on being out all day and getting a weekend reprieve from kitchen duty; I had packed PJs, toothbrushes, and Raphael’s night time medicines in the trunk.
I’m not sure if it was the joy of an extemporaneous day, a delightful two-year-old on my lap, or just major hunger, but my $10 (really) burger was delicious. Greg’s fish and chips and even Elijah’s corn dog (yuck) looked good, too.
Raphael ate several French fries, which, of course, thrilled us because who cares what it is? The boy fed himself SOLID food!
Now that is a moment to celebrate. A transition to revel in.
I suppose even when there is evidence of trouble at home or in life, all of us really just live for those small, everyday flashes of joy that spur us on. And when there are enough of those, as in a day filled with special moments like today, we can absorb the whole day, the entire series of events, as proof of a happy, ever changing life.