After a year in Palm Springs, the UWP crew headed for Colorado. Our curiosity about Colorado had in part in part been aroused by reading a book by the astrologer, Linda Goodman. We were enchanted to read of L. G's life in the old mining town of Cripple Creek. We never did make it to Cripple Creek, but we did see the old mining towns of Black Hawk and Central City, near where we panned for gold. Beckoning opportunities slipped through our fingers in Colorado like so much Fool's Gold. Finally, on one snowy January night, we slide and swerved on the icy roads that were to lead us eventually back to California.
In Denver we were always planning trips, seeing where we could go in a day from our "rustic cottage" close to the university. One time we headed out for Kansas. In Nebraska, we stopped in a small agricultural town with its winding river, looming gray silos, and a growing hum of insects in the air. We had the place to ourselves except for a stolid farmer in blue denim overalls and his young daughter at a little diner that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Back in the car the road opened out like a ribbon before us and disappeared over the horizon. Deep cracks veined the road and rolling balls of tumbleweed lightly buffeted our speeding car, watched only by the gathering birds on the telegraph wire. In the late afternoon we crossed into the flatlands of Kansas and all we could see for miles were chequer-board fields of green and brown, water towers, red barns and distant farmhouses.
Evening was approaching and we realised, a little sadly, that we would have to make a start on the road back to Denver. What had it all been about? Kansas had elluded us just as surely as Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, opined, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more." That phrase occurred to us when we were still in back in Denver, and we laughed, instead, it turned prophetic. Kansas had seemed a magical place, but we just had no time. For one thing, Stephanie had a job to get back to, and Hart and I had better get on with Undiscovered Worlds Press business.
Somewhere, crossing Nebraska again, we heard a distant rumbling and dark gathering shadows on the horizon like a freight train rattling through the night. The clouds became charging warriors on the horizon and soon the dark sky was veined with silver arrows and spears of light. Our hearts were pounding as our car sped forward in the falling rain and the storm surrounding us on all sides.
We drove almost blindly on and came to our first town in this remote corner of Colorado. Driving through Wray, Colorado (as the town was called), we noticed that groups of people were standing on the sidewalk looking up into the sky, while others stood at garden gates also looking skyward. We thought that people were just looking at the spectacular lightning. Leaving the town on the main highway, we noticed a police car, lights all flashing coming in the opposite direction. Hart slowed down to a stop.
The police car pulled over and a policeman leaned out saying, "A tornado has been sighted about five miles away, and is coming down this road. If I were you, I'd head back to town and take shelter."
After a moment of consternation, Hart pulled the car around. The policeman did not follow to guide us to a shelter, leaving us to wonder where shelter was. As the policeman roars off, a debate briefly ensued about what to do. Stephanie was of the opinion that we should just go on, ignoring the warning. This was briefly debated, then overruled, as no one was really willing to go against the policeman. As we hadn't come very far, it was a small drive back into town, but the streets were already deserted. The atmosphere was murky, gray and strangely quiet. Finally, Hart stopped by a group of people standing outside a fire station and asked where the shelter was. They said we should head for the local community hospital. We found the hospital, and as we got out the car, we feel a high wind swoop down on us tugging at our clothing.
A siren wails from somewhere out there in the darkness, and the wind howls its own fretful, anxious echo. The next minute, we are hurrying down into a warren of tunnels in the hospital basement, guided on by nameless faces. We are carried along, where a nurse at the end of a corridor beckons us. As we pass into a well lit windowless room, she hands each of us a pillow and blanket.
"My God, do you think we will really need these?"
"Hard to say, we could be down here for hours or a day or two."
We see that the room is already crowded with people, young and old ranging in age from babies asleep in their carriers to the grandfatherly figure obviously Native American. We find a space by a wall and set up camp. As we lean back on our pillows, we observe a group of people hunched around a table listening to a radio. People with cowboy hats, in denim, solid, reliable people, who know about the price of feed and hay and who a take a rather dim view of the goings-on in California.
I feel for a moment as if I have been swept back in time and I am now in a London bomb shelter during the Blitz, wondering what was happening upstairs and if our old familiar world was holding together—and waiting anxiously for the All Clear. After awhile, a few of us creep upstairs to see if we can see what is going on. We stand by a door and hear the wind shriek and cry, whistling through holes and trying to uproot and fly off with us. Maybe like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the tornado will uproot this building and send us all, lock, stock and barrel, twisting and reeling through the starry waste. A blast of hail sends some who had ventured too far forward, scurrying back. We flinch at the fate of the car, hail can do real damage to a car. But shortly after returning to our underground shelter, word has come that the tornado and all its attendant dangers has passed us by; and you can feel the sighs of relief and we all tumble out with smiling faces into the peaceful night,"Good night, good night"—everyone relieved and relaxed, beginning to stroll homeward.
The three of us are relieved that the world is as we left it, and our car safe and unharmed. Within minutes we are barreling down the highway and in a few hours we are back on the familiar streets of Denver. But though I am thankful for our deliverance, I cannot help wondering that if we had spent more time in that shelter, lifelong friendships would have been forged and forever after our mantelpiece would have been decked with Christmas cards from families in America's farmlands.
Rachman and Stephanie Hopwood
For further information on tornadoes in the U.S.A see:
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
I decided earlier this week to put up the little piece called Kansas Highway—a momento really of our time in Denver, Colorado, some 17 years ago. While working on the computer I was startled to hear on the news that a massive tornado had more or less destroyed a small town in Kansas called Greensburg. Greensburg had a population of around 1300 people. 9 people were killed (almost certainly more bodies will be found later in the ruined town) and it looks as if the whole population is now homeless. All over this weekend there have been warnings of tornadoes throughout America's heartland—South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas.
Well, it was about this time 16 years ago that we left Colorado. Latest news is that another storm (the 3rd) is expected over this coming weekend. Some of the ranches in Colorado have thousands of acres of land on which the cattle roam. Cattle have been dying in large numbers because farmers have not been able to reach large areas of their farms. This week the National Guard have started to help these farmers by dropping bales of hay near stranded cattle who have not eaten for days.
The winter we were in Denver, I think we were snowbound for about one day when we couldn't use the car. We trudged through the snow up to the local supermarket our breath almost freezing in the air.
A day or so before the beginning of the Christmas holidays 2006 a snow storm swept over Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, spreading more 3 feet of snow in some areas. In Denver, traffic stopped on the highways and for a time Denver international airport closed down, stranding hundreds of holiday travellers. On the plains, cattle have been dying of hunger and cold where farmers have been unable to reach their livestock with food supplies. Today, 3rd January, the National Guard are dropping hay bales at places where farmers cannot reach their cattle because of their snow.
The crew of the Undiscovered Worlds Press had spent a year in Denver in the early 1990's. Coming to Denver after a year in Palm Springs desert living was a shock. We entered the city at nightfall passing the vast hulking outline of the Gates Rubber factory—it was as if we had been swept back into the 1950's. Gradually, we began to feel at home in Denver and after a month or so we found a house in the university area. Winter was coming on and you could hear the mice rustling behind walls and under the eaves.
Mas Prio Hartono (the fourth partner of Undiscovered Worlds Press) stayed with us a number of times in Denver. During his last visit we produced 12 hand-made copies of his book, The Mystical World of Java. Prior to Mas Prio's arrival H had ordered book making supplies. We printed off the book on our printer and had 12 copies run off at a local photocopy shop. We then stitched up the signatures with a sewing machine and H made the book covers, binding and slip sleeves. It took us about two weeks to finish everything.
Prio Hartono took 9 copies with him to Indonesia (I wonder where those copies are now?), we sold one copy and two copies are still in our possession. Though one copy was badly damaged when we were nearly flooded out one year in California.
Denver is a large sprawling city, with a European feeling and somehow more down to earth than California. Perhaps it's the vast icy presence of the Rockies, its eastern side—the so called Front Range—which dominate the area that cools everything down?
Related stories concerning Denver, Colorado
The Undiscovered Worlds crew catch the eternal questing spirit while living in Denver, Colorado, in the early 1990's.
Letter to Peter Hale
Our letter to Peter Hale, somehow catches the spirit of our time in Denver.