Brice Maiurro • October 7, 2017 • Lifestyle •
Just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park is Grand Lake, a beautiful and giant body of water surrounded by mountains of pine trees. During the summertime as a child, my family would go up to Grand Lake just to spend a day doing not much of anything. We’d sit on the edge of the dock, staring out on this giant palm of god turned upside down while it patiently collected rainwater. We spent lots of Sundays in churches in my childhood as well, but I have to say, there is a communion to toes dipped in rainwater. To look up and be engulfed in open cathedral. Millions of pine trees like patron saints of patience lining the green hills that swell up around the pulpit of water.
That, for me, was church. Watching the wind blow through the pine trees was a beautiful display of time, and a realization that we weren’t separated. We are not the breeze hitting the bending branches of one tree but the continuation of wind through all of them. We have painted our brushstrokes widely, and over time we have seen how they piece together. In the evening, the sun would set like it was rising for somewhere else.
And driving back down from Grand Lake, it always felt like abandonment to me, like leaving your grandparents house in the middle of a good story. But we did, meandering down numbered highways, 40, 25 and 70, into a city that following immersion into pure poetry read kind of like a math equation.
Not to say that there is not a beauty to math. As a grown man, I’ve made my home in the geometry of Denver, a point on the grid system of the city. I find myself traveling down lines of best fit to drink coffee with friends, to read books that have been read so many times you can almost see the fingerprints in the text. My street, South Broadway, is lined with bookstores. Jim Norris, who owns Mutiny Information Cafe in the neighborhood, calls it the Mile of the Lost Boys, a creative strip running from roughly Alameda to 1st Street, where if you don’t want to grow up you don’t have to.
I’ve always found the ability of people to find their tribes amazing. Tucked in the back of a bookstore telling stories late at night is the fire that we gather around. Other nights on South Broadway, maybe it was a rooftop patio where it’s a little too cold to be sitting outside, but that’s what the beer is for. Sipping at another obnoxious craft beer while staring at the skyline half eclipsing the mountains. The cash register building, such a fitting symbol for the wealth kept too high away from the homeless that rest at its feet.
On April 19, 1863, there was a burning in Denver that would later become known as The Great Fire of 1863. It’s said that all in all, the fire, starting at 15th and Blake, burned down 70 buildings. Over half of Denver’s goods were lost to the flames. These buildings, made from native pine, were extra susceptible to the fire due to the resin inside of them. The fire, occurring largely at night, left many people waking up to the ruins of the city they once knew.
Following the fire, new laws were placed mandating that buildings in Denver be made of brick. Afterward, there was scarcity and tough times but brick by brick we rebuilt. What we had when the ash settled was a city so red it was always on fire. Tough. The Queen City of the Plains. The city that I fell in love with.
The skyline now is being circled with cranes like vultures. The bricks keep stacking. Ten thousand people flock to Denver each month as many of the people who’ve made this city home for a long time are pushed out to the fringes. Crossroads Theater, one of the first venues I ever saw poetry at, is closed. Gypsy House Café, with its basement community, subterranean poets and artists speaking in safe spaces, is closed.
There is a little less mountains in the skyline every day. Part of why I love Denver is the friendly people, the do-it-yourself fuck-you attitude, pioneers, the continuing drums of beat poetry, green chili, the mountains and the city. Things like this are the reason why people are coming. We’ve had our green rush and our gold rush but where does the rush stop. Where will be when the smoke all settles?
Last summer, my family went back up to Grand Lake. The sides of the mountains once covered in pine trees grown desolate from beetle rot. Millions and millions of creatures constantly eating at the trees that spanned the fringes of the lake. The Earth holds its funerals slowly, especially here in this western Tibet, so close to the sun. My heart broke in half like a tree.
Someone stopped me at Grand Lake and told me how when the pines died, they left the right nutrients in the soil, and that what is beginning to grow in their place are aspen trees. White barked trees that shimmer with golden leaves growing on thin branches that move with gusto in the wind. They bend but never break.
I sat by the edge of the lake, my toes dipped in the water, imagining this graveyard of pines grown into an amphitheater of gold. It was overwhelming. The thing about aspen trees is they are not alone, but in fact part of a larger organism. Underground, aspen trees have a root system that interconnects all of them. This underground system has allowed groups of aspen trees to live for upwards of 80,000 years in some parts of the world.
I looked out on a burned down city, on a translucent lake surrounded by death, but all I could see was what might rise from the ashes, if only we keep speaking underground.