Road trip

Carousel of Happiness

Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.

One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.

It lives in a modest, unassuming building.

But inside is a world of whimsy!

The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.

There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.

During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.

The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.

In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.

Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!

I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.

Chillin’ with Harambe.

When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.

The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.

A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.

Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.

So many birds everywhere!

Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.

Hello frog!

Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.

This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.

Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”

The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.

Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Family, Life, Music, Road trip, Travel, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Thankful, 2020

In June of 2019 I was apartment hunting in Austin, Texas, trying to find something affordable closer to the Tech Ridge area where Luke and I were working. Our lease was set to expire in mid-August and we wanted to upgrade to a nicer neighborhood, something that wasn’t right next to a noisy freeway. When I couldn’t find anything in the price range I was looking for, I reached out to an apartment-finder service.

The agent I spoke to took down our information…and then advised us to stay where we were. It was at that moment I realized that not only did I not want to stay in our current apartment, I did not even want to stay in Texas.

Our general situation at the time was stable and upwardly mobile. Luke and I had found decent-paying jobs with plenty of opportunity for advancement. Elizabeth was content with her service industry gig. With three incomes and frugal habits, money wasn’t really a concern. But we had never found our community – our interests and lifestyle did not mesh well with the Texas zeitgeist, even in blue Austin.

I suggested to Luke and Elizabeth that we renew our current apartment lease for one more year and start making plans to move to a different state. They were instantly on board; the only debate was about where to go. The finalists were Colorado or somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Colorado won out, because it was closer and because I like sunshine.

We made a list of things we wanted to do and see in Texas before we left. These are the kinds of things that are more fun with a group of friends, but since we had no adventure-sharing friends there, we just did them by ourselves. We explored Palo Duro Canyon, summited Guadalupe Peak, and took a three-day road trip along the Gulf Coast. Our last year in Texas turned out to be the most enjoyable, but it also reinforced our desire to live someplace more compatible with our interests and values.

The kids would not commit to any city without seeing it firsthand, so in May we drove up along the front range of the Rockies to choose our Colorado destination. Our rough-draft plan was to look for a nice neighborhood in the Boulder area. The arrival of Covid was a complication, but we were very careful and wore masks and socially distanced from the locals. Our first stop was in Pueblo, which we liked more than we thought we would. Then we stopped in Colorado Springs, which we liked even better. Then we stopped in Denver, and absolutely fell in love. Then we continued on to Boulder, and to our surprise we didn’t like it at all. Too rich for our working-class blood. Our unanimous and enthusiastic vote was for Denver.

Covid complicated everything. Our Austin jobs were essential and fairly secure, but we couldn’t be sure of finding work in Colorado. We applied for jobs, but no one wanted to look at resumes with an out-of-state address in the middle of a pandemic. The best we got was a few “Get in touch after you get here and we’ll see if we have anything for you” offers. But apartment managers want to see an existing job or a solid job offer before they will offer a lease. It looked like we might have to go the AirBnB route just to get a Denver address so we could find local work.

We reached out to a couple of Denver apartment-finder services. One said they couldn’t help us. The other found a couple of apartment options that do not verify income. On the income line we all put our current Austin incomes, and that was good enough. We opted to sign a short three-month lease on a one-bedroom apartment and then find a better place after we found work.

I’d never in my adult life quit a job without having another job lined up. In July 2020 all three of us did just that. It was one of the leapiest, faithiest leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. In August 2020 we packed our belongings into a UHaul and left Texas behind.

And it all worked out. The apartment was comically tiny for three adults, but otherwise nice. Luke and I found work right away. Elizabeth decided to wait until we’d found a long-term rental and live off her savings in the meantime. Then I found a better job, got Mahogany shipped out, and we nabbed a good deal on a bigger apartment in a better location. We love Denver. It’s a very welcoming culture, full of interesting and friendly people. I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to do here.

2020 has been an objectively terrible year. But for us it was a marvelous year, full of good changes and adventures. From Elizabeth’s trip to Nepal in January to this first Thanksgiving in Colorado, 2020 has been generous with its blessings. In an apocalyptic year of plague and economic unraveling, we are very thankful to be where we are.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may there be better years ahead.

Categories: Celebrations, environment, Family, Holidays, Life, Road trip, Travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

Weekly Sketch: Elk

Back in May, the kids and I took an exploratory road trip to Colorado, in order to make a final decision about whether to move here and to decide which front-range city we preferred. While we were in Denver, up near Genesee Park, we saw a majestic herd of elk walking alongside the highway. A bit farther on, I stopped to let a big graceful doe amble across the road. I was enchanted by the idea of living in a city where elk wander freely amongst the humans.

Alas, I haven’t seen a single elk in the week and a half since we moved here. I suspect it was the Covid shutdown that had emboldened them to roam so near the city.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Covid-19, environment, Family, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weekly Sketch, Wildlife | Tags: | Leave a comment

Weekly Sketch: Still in Progress

I’ve been playing around with different art styles for this guy. This is an (unfinished) “coloring book” style, depicting the zebra exactly as he was painted in real life with minimal highlights and shading. I haven’t gotten all of his tack and jewels colored in yet.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Road trip, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Weekly Sketch: Carousel Zebra (Work in Progress)

We saw this guy on a boardwalk carousel on the Gulf coast just south of Houston. I like his face and his tack. I’m going to color him in, but I think he looks pretty cool as a line drawing too.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Family, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

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