Once, driving across the state of Nebraska, a friend and I stopped at Lake McConaughy, a huge and popular reservoir for boaters and swimmers. We visited a nearby gift shop, and the owner, a friendly woman named Betty, told us we had to check out the view from the top of the dam, of the Platte River that unfolded in the valley below us. In her words, it was one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Now, few people would consider anyplace in Nebraska beautiful, but I’ve come to learn the truth of her words. When you get to know a place really well, learn to love it, it becomes more beautiful with every day that passes.
Part of my routine at the cabin came to be taking a break from my work in the afternoon and going for a walk around the “neighborhood.” It was an exploration of sorts, and on every walk I discovered something new, gradually enlarging my view of this place.
My favorite route is to follow the main road (known as 82) around the edges of the valley, as it winds east. I pass other cabins, tucked into the woods, along the creek, or perched on the hillside. After the road crosses a small creek known as Cabin Creek, the valley opens up, with fields of grasses and willow bushes, with views in every direction of mountains and hillsides. Every time I take it, there’s something new to see: a flicker’s nest in the hole in the aspen trunk, a hillside of columbine, horses in the field, clouds streaking above the Twin Sisters Peak to the north. And when I turn around and start back, there’s Mount Meeker, looming above the valley.
Gradually, the blank spaces on my mind’s map of this place started filling in. I learned that there were two creeks in this valley: Cabin Creek and Tahosa, which come together in the valley bottom. And on the slight hill above the creeks’ joining was a bristlecone pine, the most ancient tree in our forests. One day, on my usual route, I discovered a slight path going off into the field among stands of aspens which led to the creek, bordered by more aspens and rounded granite cliffs on the other side. It’s one of my favorite landscapes, and, once I discovered this place, I had a hard time leaving, even when work and deadlines tugged at me. I always found excuses to dawdle, to watch the water run over the red and brown rocks or the shadows on the rocks from the aspen trees.
That’s my favorite walk but sometimes, for a change, I’ll head north and west on what is known as Big Owl Road. It’s a different landscape than my meadow walk, more hilly with more skinny lodgepole pines and fewer ponderosa. Because of the dense forest, there’s fewer views, but occasionally a cut in the road affords close-up views to the west of the line of hills and Mount Meeker, which always takes my breath away. Numerous roads and driveways snake off in each direction from the road, whetting my curiosity. Where did they go? What interesting cabins are back there? There’s a whole world to discover, hidden throughout these woods, cabins of every shapes and size, aspen groves and waterfalls.
There are plenty of other trails around Allenspark that I could take, but I don’t want to go anyplace else but this valley. I want to keep enlarging my sense of this place, put all the pieces of the puzzle into place. This is how life should be lived, getting a deeper knowledge of your surroundings. I read a story in a magazine recently about how the computer is changing our brains: All that time spent surfing the Web, doing a lot of things fast, has gradually given us a vaster but more superficial view of the world. But I’m taking the opposite tack: slowing down and getting to know one place well.