I’ve lived many places in my life, but seven years ago I moved somewhere I had never thought of living. I’d heard of Colorado, driven through Colorado, even camped in Colorado, but I never once thought about living here. The funny thing is that of all the places I have lived, Fort Collins has turned out to be my favorite. As great as the town is, I know the real draw for me is the prairie. Here’s some of the reasons why (in no particular order):
1) Raptors: I enjoy watching birds of all kinds, but raptors have a special appeal. I see them daily, flying overhead or perched high above a field. Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels are the most common in my neighborhood. Bald eagles, a bird I’d never seen in the wild before, fly right over my house, and I am always thrilled when I catch sight of them.
2) Sky: We just have more of it here. The drama is endless. A giant storm can be raging away and yet seem remote. I can watch it drift across the plains, pouring onto houses or fields, from miles away. I’m constantly astonished by the beauty and variety of the clouds here.
3) Mountains: We have a clear view of the foothills and the Rocky Mountains from roads and trails all over town. The mountains stretch along our western horizon from north to south and add yet another layer to the weather we can observe. Mountains wrapped in cloud emerge covered with snow, while the sun shines continuously down on the flatlands.
4) Sunshine: Because of our higher altitude (5000 feet) and our low humidity, the sun we get is more intense, brighter and stronger than the sun I grew up with. You can feel it. And the majority of days are sunny, even in the winter, which helps make the bitter days a lot easier to bear.
5) Grasslands: Our community protects the prairie with 36,000 acres of designated natural area. We can hike in many of these open spaces, surrounded by acres of wild grasses and enjoying the landscape and wildlife of the prairie.
6) Elbow room: I’m uncomfortable in crowds, so the emptiness of the prairie appeals to me. I look around and I am in the middle of a vast space, able to see for miles. I know long before they arrive if someone is coming.
7) Prairie dogs: Although they are often treated as pests, small colonies of these spunky animals survive in the margins along roads or in parts of the natural areas. They bark with indignation at my approach, a squeaky staccato warning to their buddies, while their black tails quiver with annoyance. They make me laugh.
8) Coyotes: On clear nights, when the moon is bright, we hear the yipping coyote chorus all around our house. It brings home the fact that I live in the West and that it is at least to some degree still wild.
9) Summer mornings: On certain days, the early morning air is dry and clear, yet you can feel the heat of the day to come. I used to get the exact same feeling when I visited my grandparents in eastern South Dakota, so these magical mornings take me right back to the joys of childhood and summer vacation.
10) Timelessness: The prairie landscape is like the ocean, a landscape caught up in the events of the moment. The grass bows to the wind; clouds tumble over the mountains and stretch out over the prairie. Everything changes so quickly, so radically, that you can only be sure of this instant.
The prairie reminds me to enjoy the present, whatever it may be, and what better reason can I have to love it than that?