Can You Hear Me Now? The Cicadas Are Calling!

Can You Hear Me Now?  The Cicadas Are Calling!

It is that time of year in the Foothills of Northern Colorado when some very interesting creatures take to the airwaves! The sound they make is strangely identical to the ‘tic-tic-tic’ an electronic igniter makes on gas stoves or propane grills.  This guy was in the middle of moltingMolting Putnam Cicada from his nymphal stage.  The nymphs spend between 2 and 5 years under ground living (harmlessly) off of tree root sap and shrub roots.  

Based on some quick research thanks to the Colorado State University Extension, I think these are the “Putnam’s Cicada” or Platypedia Putnami.  These guys are distinguished from their “Dog Day” cousins by that distinctive clicking sound I was talking about.  The “Dog Day” Cicadas or Tibicen dorsatus, T. dealbatus, are those ginormous bugs (2 inches or more) often mistakenly called locusts that have that grinding, whirring, sawing sound we all hear during the “Dog Days” of midsummer.  These are widely scattered across the plains and prefer Cottonwood and Maple trees to do their singing, eating, and mating.

As a fly-fisherman – I’ve seen the frenzy of hungry trout when cicadas come out in large numbers.  With a bug that big, a Adult Putnam Cicadatrout is willing to come out of hiding and leap out of the water to take one of these bugs that misses a branch and lands in the water.  Throwing one of those on the line and having a scrappy Rainbow steal line from the reel is well…. friggin’ exhilarating!!

Don’t worry, the ‘singing’ only lasts for a couple of weeks as the adults mate and then die shortly after the females lay their eggs.  For those of you on the plains – you’ve got a few more weeks before their bigger cousins come to life!!  Ahh, SUMMER is HERE!!

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Shut-Off and Shut-Out: Going Tech-Free For a Day

Shut-Off and Shut-Out:  Going Tech-Free For a Day

Shut Off and Shut Out

Have you considered how much of your life is defined by the technology you rely on every day?  During a recent power outage, I found out just how much mine is.

A couple of nights ago in Northern Colorado, we were gifted with a humongous spring storm that started as rain and ended with a foot and a half of snow on the ground.  Actually, snow in May is not all that uncommon here, but given that we had just had a couple of days in the 80’s – this arctic blast required a substantial shift in attitude.  What started out as a somewhat inconvenient weather event turned out to be an exercise in the re-discovery of life

We live outside of Fort Collins, CO in a canyon carved out by the Cache La Poudre river (pronounced locally as poo-der).  Living in a rural mountain area provides numerous upside features like gorgeous rocky mountain landscapes, fewer neighbors, wildlife in your front yard, and best of all, a river to fish in just across the road.  Some downsides of mountain living include the threat of forest fires, isolation from emergency services, and wildlife that can eat you (mountain lions and bears, oh my!).  We also rely on electricity to run the pump for our well so we can have running water, propane to fuel our furnace, and satellite dishes to provide internet and TV.  Being in a canyon eliminates cell coverage and so we have to use a land line for telephone service.  When all systems are “go”, it is wonderful and we absolutely love it here!

Shut Out and Shut OffHowever, when all systems are “stop” a whole new world opens up that we don’t very often have to live in.  That spring storm I was talking about snapped tree limbs and iced-up power lines which is a perfect combination for losing power.  At 3:30 a.m. our electricity went out and we were instantaneously shut out from the modern world.  No TV, no running water, no internet, no heat.  Our old fashioned touch-tone phone and line was the only communication tool to the rest of the world… and it went out at lunch time.  I thought, “Oh, this will be fun!  We can just hunker down and huddle under blankets and ‘rough-it’ for a few hours until the power comes back on.”  Hunker down we did.  Huddle under blankets – great.  But I hadn’t charged my iPad and the night before the internet had flickered and corrupted my not quite newly updated Kindle app so I couldn’t continue with the book I was right in the middle of reading.  I had to actually pull an actual book made of paper from the shelf and actually turn pages manually!! 

Not only did I find myself cut-off from the rest of the civilized world, I found myself cut-off from the minute-to-minute attention demands that being continuously plugged in provides (just to be clear, “attention demands” is a euphemism for distractions).  For the first time in more years than I care to count, I actually stared out the window and just watched it snow!  I watched the dark-eyed juncos forage all over the thistle and black-oil sunflower feeders.  I made sure the early arriving hummingbirds had fresh nectar to feed on throughout the day to keep their energy up to stave off the cold.  One of the numerous red foxes we see also stopped by looking for stray seed or more likely, a distracted bird.

Shut Off and Shut Out

I sat quietly alone with my own thoughts…. not the random, scroll-through-the-newsfeed thoughts that Facebook delivers.  I read over 100 pages of an amazing book called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek (thankfully, it wasn’t available as an e-book).  I scratched my dog, Cache behind the ears for longer than he thought was ever possible (and he still wanted more).  Best of all, my wife and I would look up from our books from time to time and have random conversations that weren’t interrupted by texts, TV commercials, email alerts, or phone calls.  I think I already mentioned the huddled up under the blankets part? 

Eventually the fearless linemen of our rural electric co-op restored power to our section of the canyon around 7 p.m.  The furnace roared to life; our microwave oven beeped, our fridge whirred back to life with the distinctive crash of a fresh batch of ice cubes falling into the bin.  While I was relieved we wouldn’t have to see how cold our cabin would get with an expected overnight low of 15 degrees, I found myself a little disappointed that the solitude and isolation to which I had resigned myself ended as abruptly as it began.  

Another question popped into my head:  Do you think there’s an iPad app that can create 24 hour power outages and vehicle failures on demand?  I hope so…  I really, really hope so.

High Park Fire Update in Northern Colorado – A Distraction

High Park Fire Update in Northern Colorado – A DistractionLittle House on the Poudre

Tonight marks the 7th day since we were evacuated from our Little House on the Poudre due to the High Park fire in Northern Colorado.  To call this a distraction is an understatement of phenomenal proportion.  We were able to leave our home with our dog, his toys and kennel, our portable electronics, some clothes, official documents, a few sentimental items, my fishing gear, and some power tools (we had much of this already gathered from an evacuation order 3 weeks prior).  

We knew the fire had been advancing quickly but it didn’t seem anyone knew just how fast.  By 10:30 Saturday night the fire had been devouring timber at a rate better than a mile an hour and was closing in on our section of the canyon.  Just before 11 p.m. our power flickered – then went out.  Several minutes later, our old-style phone rang* with a reverse 911 call notifying us that the fire was advancing rapidly in our area and that we should leave immediately.  In pitch blackness, we scrambled to find our flashlights, lit some candles, and set about loading our vehicles and preparing to leave.  In 30 minutes we left our little log home with the ominous glow of the fire just beyond the ridge of the canyon.Firefighter

Once we reached Ted’s Place (a local landmark just beyond the mouth of the canyon and just 7 miles from our house).  We parked there along with many other evacuees to look back at the foothills and watched that eerie glow of the fire increase in intensity until we saw it crest the 2nd ridge and engulf everything in flames that were likely 200 feet high.  I shot this video with my iPhone and is a composite of how the fire advanced in the span of just 15 minutes.  We knew our home was just below that inferno and watched silently as it continued to burn brightly.  We made phone calls to immediate family members to let them know we were okay, looked one last time back toward the canyon aglow with fire and drove into town not sure what we would find the next time we came back.

We have been trying to live our lives as normally as possible but amidst the regular email updates from the Sheriff’s department, live news reports, endless Facebook posts, and the texts and voicemails of concerned friends, family, and colleagues, the distractions mount to the point where normal productivity comes to a slow crawl.  Amazingly, my wife and I were able to put one of our listings under contract, negotiate an offer on a 2nd listing, and showed property to clients we’ve been working with for several weeks.  After all, as independent contractors, it’s not like we can take personal time and still expect to get paid.  But that’s not the only reason we have continued to work at our real estate practice every day.  Industry and busy-ness keeps worry and anxiety safely at arm’s length. 

For 6 days we didn’t know if our house was still standing or not.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  We love our place up the canyon but we are also super pragmatic and well-insured.  If it burns down – we’ll rebuild, no question (it has been kind of fun to think about how and what we’d rebuild).  If the place escapes relatively unscathed – we’ll move back in, no question.  The most taxing aspect of this whole process is dealing with uncertainty.  Is the house a pile of ashes?  Worse, is it still standing but so smoke-damaged as to be unlivable?   Is it just fine and as soon as power is restored and the fire around us extinguished we’ll just move back in?  I’ve tried desperately to set these questions aside and just ‘keep calm and carry on’ as the phrase goes.  Hot Shot Crew

Last night, a bedraggled and weary fire chief, still in his soot-stained yellow & green hot-shot garb, entered the evacuee briefing room to a standing ovation.  The physical and emotional toll of the last 6 days spoke volumes as he worked to maintain his composure to speak to the small crowd of evacuees from the district his department serves.  His job was to notify anxious inhabitants about the status of their homes.  The chief, Carl Solley, lives in the lower Poudre and many of the expectant faces in this crowd are his neighbors and friends.  All in all, 17 homes were destroyed by the fire in just our area alone – most of which were lost in the first hour and a half after the evacuation order.  As he went through the list of addresses identifying them as burned/not burned, one gentleman stood up with a look of complete vacancy and wandered out of the room.  His house had been completely destroyed. 

High Park FireAnother tiny, elderly widow named Yoko, who has lived in the canyon for the last 10 years (5 of them all alone), has a home in one of the most remote areas of the lower Poudre.  The chief (who called her out by name) informed her that, by sheer miracle, her house was untouched.  The chief even mentioned that it was too dangerous to send his crews to try and save it but by some fluke, the flames avoided it. 

On and on, structure by structure, each person learned the fate of their house.  At one point, choking back emotion, the chief talked about the efforts of his volunteer crew that risked their lives to save properties and lives in a fire that he said in 35 years of firefighting is the most aggressive and intense he has ever seen.  Following another standing ovation, the chief finished his report and my wife and I were relieved to learn that our house is still standing and was entirely spared by the brunt of the flames.  It will likely be days or even weeks before we may be allowed back in to survey our property and the destruction around us.  Yes, to call this disastrous fire a distraction is a tremendous understatement.

*old style phones run off the low-voltage electricity in the phone line itself, therefore when power goes out, you may still have phone service.  A good reason to have at least one phone in the house of this variety. 

Click here for a link to a news story talking about my brave neighbors who are volunteer firefighters in our area of the canyon.