Imagine a lover who never nagged, never lied, never tried to manipulate you, and who was always there for you. She resides nearby on the western edge of Denver, entirely surrounded by suburbs, just beneath the Front Range of Colorado. She rises just over 700 feet above Clear Creek and the city of Golden (think Coors beer), and she spreads her skirts just over three square miles.
She possesses none of those qualities that might turn your head or elevate your blood pressure. Being a mesa, her top is flat; it is partly encumbered by a state police driving course. A federal agency has intruded upon her moderately sloped southern flank. Though her wardrobe is basic—grasslands, two modest riparian corridors, and shrubs (mostly rabbitbrush, skunkbrush, mountain mahogany, wild plum)—it is often striking, and it varies with the seasons. Picturesque cliffs define her edges.
Why do I love her? Intimacy: for over twenty years we have shared nearly 200 private encounters. We have been together through the silence of winter, the fecundity of spring, the abundance but desperate dryness of summer, and the colorful collapse of autumn. Trust: gradually she has revealed to me the nest of green-tailed towhees, the den of a coyote family, the roost of a great horned owl, and a hidden colony of prairie dogs. Uniqueness: her children include over 120 resident or visiting bird species, 380 plants (only eighty-nine of which are introduced weeds), a slice of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (think dinosaurs!), volcanic tuff interbedded by three flows of latite resting on Paleozoic sandstones, and pockets of unimagined solitude. Character: though no longer pristine, because of historic cattle grazing, rock quarrying, and a tourist facility (all now vanished), her resilience has restored her integrity and beauty.
Because she demands nothing of me, I feel the more obliged to her. I do what I can: explore, observe, catalog, and write—all the while admiring and connecting, always in awe of the nourishing energy she provides her fauna, her flora, and me.