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Creede Cats and Woodcarvers

13 July 04

Lake San Cristobal

After the 4th, we really got lazy. Things settled down into a routine of reading, eating out, napping, watching the lake, napping, building a fire, napping, feeding the chipmunks, napping, etc. We did take one long walk in there somewhere. Gasp. We drove over the Alpine loop, a circuit including both Engineer and Cinnamon passes, on moderate 4wd mining roads, with stops in Animas Forks, Silverton, and Ouray. I threatened once or twice to take the kayak out on the lake, but they were empty threats. I could see the whole lake from my campsite. What was there to explore?

I did figure out how to check my email over the pay phone at the Phillips station. I saw a poster about a Woodcarvers Convention in Creede on the 12th. Well, it didn't require any real effort beyond climbing in the truck, and we HAD been burning through a lot of firewood. Our sole hint of excessive exuberance. The sawmill was in Creede. Why not?

When we got to Creede, we decided to take a tour of Main Street before going up the canyon to the woodcarvers. Right away, as luck would have it, we found a sporting goods store. It was crowded, with most of the crowd traveling in a counter-clockwise direction. I joined the parade. I found a couple of hats that didn't fit me, and then stood lost in admiration before a dog kerchief that said: "If sniffing you is wrong, I don't want to be right."

I really wanted that thing. Problem is, I don't have a dog.

Janice tapped me on the shoulder. "Look there. Now that's Colorado." Sure enough. Somebody had set up a wedding gift registry in the sporting goods store. What a great idea.

Creede has almost fully embraced its reincarnation from blue collar mining town into tourist destination. T-shirt and sandwich shops galore. Expresso machines steaming up a storm. All they really lack is a taffy emporium. O yeah, and fudge. Both may be in there somewhere. I admit my eyes glazed over, there for a while.

We were attracted to the one door that advertised books. I finally found a few, after winding my way through about 60 feet of heavy brush - key chains, post cards, crystals, blown glass hummingbirds, fools gold earrings, faux indian jewelry, and the like. I lost Janice somewhere amongst a thicket of dresses, but I figured she'd show up eventually. She likes books more than I do. They had maybe a hundred of them, mostly Colorado stuff.

There were even a couple of hardbacks, and one was called something like "The Big Book of Cowboy Poetry". Simple stuff, sing-song in rhyme and meter. A few of the longer comic pieces were entertaining, mostly of the "rustic shows up the dude" variety. I must 've been getting into it more than I thought, though. When I was trying to make my way out, through a tangle of coathangers and handbags, and wishing I'd brought the machete, I heard a lady back over in there somewhere complaining about her husband wandering off. I started to yell over the hedge and ask which way he went, since "off" was exactly where I wanted to be. But then I sensed the plumb poetic quality of her lament, and the bard in me just jumped right out there:

"I thought he was my husband.
I thought he was my pard.
But now he's gone and left me here
Without a credit card."

Ah, yesss. It's timeless troubles that inspire true Art.

Speaking of timeless, I ran into an old friend down the street in an antique store, and he flat snubbed me. The store is called "Rare Things", and it's kind of interesting. Well above average. My friend was out cold, draped across a display case. He's a big orange cat called Frio.

It's unlikely anyone will remember this without prompting, but just about the first of these random reports I ever wrote concerned this cat. Back in the fall of '01, he was just called the Town Cat. My God, has it been that long? You can read about it here:


I finally got Frio's full story from the girls at the counter. It was the winter of '96. A black night. 20 below zero. Nancy, the gallery manager, was returning home with friends. Just as she crossed the Rio Grande, she saw something off to the side. Urk. She slid to a stop. Backed up. And there he was, managing to look pitiful and maybe a little scary at the same time. Who knows how he got there. They tried to pick him up, but his tail and left hind leg were frozen solid to the bridge. Being girls, of course, they didn't have any tools with them. His ears were solid ice, and his foot was all bloody where he'd tried to chew it free.

He was a real mess, and not long for this world.

Gradually, they worked him loose. He lost a little hair. They woke up a vet, and he stayed in hospital for a month. Then he moved into the Rare Things Gallery, though he wanders around town a lot. He's very popular, but aloof. They call him Frio, because he was found Frozen on the Rio.

He was still limping when I first saw him back in '01. I thought then that his leg was bloody, but finally figured out it was some kind of medicine. I don't know if he still limps. He wouldn't get up from the counter for the likes of me. Just another tourist, messing with nap time. The girls say they all work for him now. He's fat and sassy. Not a bit chastened, that you can tell. Nary a whimper in his sleep. He didn't even notice when I took his picture. Forget about autographs.

Yeah, you're a celebrity now, big guy. But I knew you back when.

After the Creede Cat, the woodcarvers were something of a letdown. The get-together was in the convention center, which was underground, having been carved out of the mountain by miners. Same with the fire station next door. This wasn't an art exhibit, but a craft and hobby convention, with classes. Lots of people with their heads down, concentrating on not cutting themselves. Piles of shavings. Some were doing pretty well with an old jackknife. Others had enough little specialty knives to outfit a surgery, or a medieval torture chamber, but didn't seem to be doing any better. I guess it's sort of like fishing that way.

There were some carvings for sale, if you like trolls, wrinkled old cowboys, rickety outhouses, or walking sticks. One guy had some intricate, sturdy looking toys - trains, automobiles, and earth movers. I joked that he must have some lucky grandkids. He said they've got the toys, but they don't play with them. Their parents put'em up so they wouldn't get broken.

Well. What a shame.

I bought what in other circumstances might have been called a gimme hat. There weren't any carvings I wanted, and I could see that lessons would be wasted on a slacker like me. I might be able to work up a half decent troll, after a year or two. We went on up the canyon to take a few pictures, but got hit by some pretty good sized hail and turned back.

We stopped at the sawmill on the way out of town and got another pickup load of firewood. Different guy in charge this time, so it cost five dollars.

Hell of a thing, inflation.


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