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Independence Day

4 July 04

Lake City, Colorado

Come the dawn of Independence Day, we still didn't know how we were going to spend it. Part of any trip to Lake City ought to include at least one foray up over Engineer Pass, and down into Silverton and Ouray. There's still snow up there, and just below the snow Columbines are starting to bloom.

My brother recommended the 4th in Ouray. A hundred years ago, every wagon in town would gather up in the area of the Amphitheater Campground, festooned with colored lanterns, and after sunset they would all wind slowly down the serpentine highway, descending into town like stars from the night sky. Now they recreate that scene with jeeps and electric lights.

Though debased these days by a dearth of kerosene and horses, it still sounds like it might be worth seeing.

I consulted with our camp host, who has been here for time out of mind. He thought we ought to stay in Lake City.

"There's a pancake breakfast in the morning. Then a crafts fair at noon, and a street dance around 7 o'clock. And fireworks, of course."


"This is the first year for that. The Sheriff's Department is trying to raise money for radios. I don't really know if those guys can flip a flapjack, but it ought to be fun to watch them try. We're going."

I expressed some doubt that I wanted to eat anywhere the cooks might be armed. He assured me that lead poisoning was the least of my worries. "Unless you plan to rob the kitty..."

An arresting prospect.

In the end we decided in the usual way: by putting off all decision until it was too late. Indolence looked a lot like Independence to us, on this particular 4th of July. When pleasure is your only purpose, laziness is not the worst of guides. We stayed in camp all morning, cooked our own ham and eggs, held books in our laps, and watched the lake.

What, again? Yesss.

We did go into town around noon, to pick up a paper and a coconut custard pie from the City Bakery. On the way back we passed by a little crafts fair in the Veteran's Park, and got out to look. There was the usual produce of idle hands, or so I thought - photos of mountain scenes, stick built wood frames and calendar holders, T-shirts and light leather work. No belts, darn it. Janice stopped to look at the photos, and called me over.

What she'd found is something I'd never seen before: quilted photographs.

A photo is printed on fabric, and then contrast is heightened by the highs and lows of custom quilting. It is striking. I bought one for the trailer. A scene of Blue Mesa Pass from below, with the brilliant yellow of the fall cottonwoods puffed out, the blue river neatly delineated between its banks, and the pass itself indented into the distance. Linda Ramundo, the "fabric artist", also had a few photos of pets, and the quilting brought out distinctive features, like the long nose of a German Shepherd, and those upright ears.

It was just craft stuff, but the idea holds potential for fine art. I bought another, of a road through aspens with a snowy mountain in the offing, as a gift for my stepson stuck in the heat back in Austin. They were quite reasonable.

Walking around town afterward, we made a second find, in a shop inserted into the long narrow frame of an old carriage house. Here there were various kaleidoscopes, made locally from leaded glass.

One in particular made its patterns from dried alpine flowers pressed between bits of poured glass. Janice got it as a coffee table item. It looked like a bit like a miniature ferris wheel on the end of a telescope. It was pretty heavy.

I thought about getting one, but I swear I saw words hovering in the air above it. Like Constantine. Only instead of "In Hoc Signo Vinces", the words just said: "Go ahead, break me". You learn to pay attention to stuff like this when you live in a trailer, where things are apt to slide around.

Well. Two items worth having in a single afternoon. This is so much beyond my usual luck in shopping that we decided not to press it further, and sat down on a bench in front of the ice cream store, licking cones like a couple of kids.

Then we drove back to take another look at the lake. Yes, again.

About 7pm we went down to pick a spot to watch the fireworks, and set up chairs at the edge of the grass in the town park. To our left was the Bud concession, where they had an area roped off with orange webbing for the drinkers.

To our front an energetic but rather formless game involving a frisbee was taking place. Twenty-five or thirty people on each side, and they seemed to be trying to throw the thing from one end of the field to the other, without someone from the opposing side catching it. There were more young people here than could possibly be native to the town. I suspect a lot of the local temp help had gotten the afternoon off.

May even have been some Belarusskies in there. Hard to tell.

These guys were earnest. One of them made a dramatic leaping catch practically in our laps, picked himself up with an oof and a rueful grin. "I may be old, but I still got it," he says. He might be 27.

I got up in disgust and went over to the truck to get the computer and check my email. As I passed by the Bud sign I heard a commotion, and some woman said "Well, I guess it ain't a holiday unless there's a fight." I didn't pay much attention. I couldn't see past the fence.

I went to the pay phone at the Phillips 66 station and got my mail. It didn't take long on the phone card. Then I locked the laptop up in the car. When I cleared the back of the beer concession again, I saw 4 or 5 people sitting on a stocky bearded guy, almost holding him to the ground. He was squirming and cussing. They were all rolling back and forth on the ground. He was a handful.

"Let me up! I can whip all you pissants!"

"Sure you can, Luke. You could whip us all. But then what would you do for friends?"

"Luke! Calm down! He's gone now. You wanta spend another night in jail?"

"$&%$#!!" says Luke, or something like that. Then he started crying. Four guys held his arms and legs, and a woman sort of straddled him and tried to sweet talk him.

"Luke, you be nice now, honey. You be nice and we'll let you up."

I cocked an eye at Janice, who looked a little pale. All this was going on about 30 feet away.

"I can't leave for a minute without all hell breaking loose, can I?" I said lightly.

She failed to smile. From what she could tell me, it seems Luke had gotten in an argument with his Dad, and they both threw a few wild punches. Then Luke knocked the old man down, and somebody grabbed Luke from behind and both of them went to the ground. Dad disappeared, and more people piled on Luke. It was amazingly bloodless, and they all seemed to know each other. I figured the thing was under control, and none of my business anyway. Bunch of drunks.

There had been some Sheriff's deputies around earlier, and what looked like a plain clothes constable, but they were nowhere in sight now. After a bit Luke seemed to calm down, and they let him up. We had a front row seat for the bleary but tense reconciliation. The woman seemed flush with a few beers herself, and came right up to Luke.

"You okay, Honey?" Luke shoved her back, and she staggered. One of the men came between them, and said "Nadine, you stay away, he's too violent for you. Nadine. " Nadine came on anyway, and then the guy grabbed her.

"Go on home, Luke, before you end up in jail."

So Luke thinks it over, or maybe he's just trying to stand up straight, and then he starts walking. When he gets right in front of Janice, maybe 20 feet away, he turns, leans over, and screams right at her.


Here comes the Posse again, one of them looking straight at me and saying "Keep cool, keep cool." Then the woman turned on Luke:

"Luke, that's enough! Go home! You're drunk!"

Duh. But sure enough, Luke shambled off, stumbling into the street, not to be seen again.

We moved over in front of the ice cream shop. Less dangerous than beer. The band was playing, and pretty soon those frisbee flingers over there forgot their game and gathered up in front, and before you know it a line dance was rolling back and forth in full swing. The pavement was none too smooth, and scattered with gravel, but it didn't seem to slow 'em down any.

Backed off a bit, even little kids got into it. There is a delight in watching the delight of children. It doesn't take much to start it, and it lasts a long time.

Jan got some pictures. I'd left my camera at the lake.

Gradually more and more people were showing up. All shapes and ages. Flowing in. It was really getting dark. Twilight can last for an hour up here, but finally it does end. The street began to fill up with lawn chairs, and we joined them. With everybody talking, kids chasing each other around with their sneakers sparkling, dogs watching carefully, with strained politeness, as food passed over their heads from hand to hand, the band sorta receded into the background. Then there was a commotion up front, and quiet spreading out from it, heads turning, and the faint strains of a familiar tune. Then a wave of people rising, a rustle as they fumbled for forgotten hats, and everyone was singing.

"What so proudly we hailed..."

And there, at the end of the street, in the twilight's last gleaming, the first rockets started up, streaming sparks, from the hill behind the water tank - thoomp, thoomp, thoomp - and a long breath later the black and star-strewn sky above Lake City filled completely up with red, and white, and blue.


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