It was my 5th birthday. The previous winter my family had moved from the only home I had known, near the mountains, to someplace called 'back east', near 'the big city'. But now it was summer, and we were on vacation. This meant we were back in Colorado, in the mountains that I would always think of as home.
Sitting in my grandpa's front room on the tan leather couch with the wagonwheel arms and the horse's head on the seat back, I watched as a sleek, silver bird shuttered, crouched, and in a plume of dense white smoke leaped up, disappearing into the clear blue Florida sky. Apollo 11 set off on a journey from Florida to the moon. I turned and saw my grandpa's bald head shaking in wonder. And I, too, wondered that he, at my age, had left the only home he had ever known and moved across the country to this very valley in a covered wagon.
It is 11 years later and I am once again in my ancestral valley. I am holding down my first paying job, working for my uncle in the hay fields. Putting up hay is a long, complex process that requires several people and numerous machines. First, the mowers come into the field and cut down the hay. It is left to dry for a few days, and then the rakes come and gather the hay into long, spiraling rows. Then come the balers, which gather and compress the hay into 2 by 3 foot blocks, called bales. Next, the bale wagon comes and collects the bales and stacks them in a pen. Then, after all the other equipment has moved on to the next field, a lone rake is sent back into the field to collect the scatterings and broken bales. It is called the scatter rake.
I was just learning to drive and I think they were afraid I'd hit something... so it was that on my 16th birthday, I was alone in a long, narrow field in a small draw beside the Continental Divide. Along one edge of the field the slopes of Parkview Mountain rose. Along the opposite edge, across a small stream, rose a hogback ridge, covered in sagebrush and scrub. At the upper end of the field, beyond the fence were the ranch buildings, and beyond, the fields my coworkers had moved on to. At the opposite end, I could look out across the wide expanse of the valley, to Rabbit Ears Pass and the Mount Zirkel Range, where the Continental Divide turned north along the edge of the valley.
As I started the afternoon, circling the field with my rake I could see dark clouds slip over Rabbit Ears Pass. A few rounds of the field later, I could see purple sheets of rain in the distance, sweeping across the valley. As I neared the center field it became apparent that I was about to get soaked. When I turned the corner to make the final pass, through the center of the field, I watched in amazement as the storm entered the small draw. It split in two parts. The first hugged the mountainside. A hundred yards from me I could see the rain coming down in sheets, lightning striking the aspen trees on the slope. The second followed the hogback ridge. Water streamed down through the sagebrush into the creek at the foot of the ridge. But in the center of the field, I could still feel the warm sun on my burned face.
Twenty, perhaps thirty minutes passed, as I watched the storm pass through the draw. As the final sprinkles petered out, I completed my last pass of the field and began to prepare my tractor for the night. An old pickup truck bounced down the muddy road toward me, and lurched to a stop, a few yards away. Three drenched coworkers looked on in amazement as I gingerly slid onto the wet seat beside them.
It took Apollo 11 four days to travel from Florida to the moon. The following day, we left for the three day journey from Colorado back to New Jersey. On the final day, as we crossed the river into the state, my father switched on the car radio, and we heard the famous words, “The Eagle has landed”. As the car sped through those final miles the music of the Beatles and Smokey Robinson was interspersed with breathless reports of stabilizers and hatches. As the car screeched to a halt in the driveway, four doors simultaneously popped open. The family clambered up the stair as my mother fumbled with the key in the lock. Someone lunged across the living room to switch on the small black and white TV set.
At first, a tiny silver dot hovered in the center of the screen. Then, slowly, it yielded to a grainy, gray image. A giant insect. A ladder, protruding from its open belly. And on the ladder, a mummy crouched on the final rung, and with a little leap, touched the surface of another world.
Do you believe in magic... I do.