I’m leaving noise behind me, seeking quiet and reconnection in the mountains, and preparing to enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends in what has become an annual musical gathering in southern Colorado.
I’ve shopped at Natural Grocers, grabbed two chai lattes from Starbucks, and I’m westbound on Highway 50 from Canon City. In 45 minutes, I will be miles from a chain grocery store with no opportunities to grab a drive through chai latte. Hopefully the two chai lattes in the cup holders will get me through the weekend.
Highway 50 crosses the US from Ocean City, MD, to Sacramento, CA. In Colorado, Highway 50 leaves Pueblo, passes through Canon City, and ascends towards Salida and beyond. It crosses the southern part of the state until it eventually meets Utah west of Grand Junction.
West of Canon City is the land of the Royal Gorge, a 6 mile canyon that hosts rafters and features a suspension bridge almost 1000 feet above the Arkansas River below. Highway 50 twists and turns as it follows the Arkansas River. From the highway, I can see rafters skirting rocks and navigating little rapids on their way to take-out points.
In this country west of Pueblo, I begin to relax, releasing the anxiety of a hectic drive along southbound Interstate 25 from northern Colorado to get to this point on my route.
Between Canon City and Salida sits Cotopaxi, a small “blink and you’ll miss it” community. Here, I turn north on the county road that crosses the Arkansas River. Leaving Highway 50 behind, I cruise at 10 mph through the small Cotopaxi community with its school, post office, general store and storage facility. Leaving the little town in the rear view mirror, I continue along the paved county road, admiring the ranch acreages along the way.
The driving directions remind me to stay on the paved road for four miles after leaving Highway 50, and to turn off before the first cattle guard. Otherwise, I’ve gone too far and missed a turn, which I did once in a driving stupor while lost in thought.
I turn just before crossing the cattle guard and begin the uphill climb on gravel road, recognizing the familiar road names on signs to my right and left. The ruts beneath my tires cause the suitcase, groceries, and camping gear to shift. All my efforts of orderly packing dissolve.
No more blacktop road, Toto, and we’re certainly not in Kansas.
Peaks and Valleys Full of Quiet
As I drive, I become increasingly aware of the mountain peaks and the valley behind me where Cotopaxi sits. Without the noise of radio, the CD player, or the cell phone dings that beg my attention, the level of quiet increases.
Ten miles and 20 minutes later, I start up the rain-rutted driveway and arrive at my destination: a mountain cabin sitting in the tall pines at 9,000 feet altitude, overlooking the valley where Cotopaxi is located but is no longer visible.
Within moments, I’m sitting in my brother’s cabin. The skies are blue with a few white clouds, and the temperatures are in the mid-70s. I’m grateful for the respite from the 85-100 degree July temperatures that I left behind on the Colorado Front Range.
The cabin doors are open, screened with fly netting, and a gentle breeze moves from west to east through the main floor living area.
An occasional jet flies overhead, a car passes by on the gravel road below the cabin, and birds sing. Otherwise there is a welcome quiet that has replaced the noise of daily routines.
Cabin on the Mountain
The cabin is a contemporary structure with huge log construction. The broad deck on two sides offer views better than any travelogue video. Inside is a two story stone fireplace, wood floor planks, 5 foot windows with views of mountain landscapes, and a staircase that winds around a massive tree trunk extending from the first floor to the open loft above. There is wildlife art, photography, taxidermy and antlers. American Indian artifacts, rugs and blankets hang on the walls and drape across the antique furniture.
From the deck, I see the tops of pine trees that have resided on this hillside long before this cabin was built. Mountain ridges are framed with those white clouds. Pine cones are scattered beneath the towering trees.
The US flag billows above the cabin deck. A gentle ring tone sounds every time the cable hits the flag pole, like the sound of a text notification on my phone. Like Pavlov’s dog, I reach for the phone several times before realizing I’m hearing the flag pole instead.
With sporadic internet and cell service, email and texts appear in their own sweet time, regardless of any urgency. The land line phone rings at random moments, prompting a search for its location.
The Dr. Dangerous Medicine Show: Good Noise on the Mountain
The 8th Annual Dr. Dangerous Medicine Show is a potluck gathering of talented musicians, belly dancers, and occasional native American Indian dancers. The audience is comprised of friends and family, colleagues, former patients, clients, and acquaintances from other musical venues. They arrive from Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and “old” Mexico, and they are here for two nights of music in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
My brother and his wife have worked for weeks in anticipation of Medicine Show 2022. They manage food, schedule cooks, organize musicians and equipment, coordinate belly dancers and their performances, and replenish basic supplies to accommodate 60 – 80 guests in a 48 hour period.
Guests bring side dishes and help cook the food. They pitch in to move musical equipment from the outside stage to the cabin when it rains. Their photos and videos are shared on social media, and they help with kitchen clean up when meals are done. When the music is over, they stick around to gather trash and break down the stage.
Some sleep in tents on the property, or throw their sleeping bags on the outdoor stage. Some sleep in RVs, and others stay at nearby AirBnB properties or motels along Highway 50.
They come to listen to acoustic music against a backdrop of mountain peaks and blue skies. They come to hear amplified rock and roll with talented musicians who may not have played together previously. Sometime they sing along and sometimes they dance. Often they remember the days when these songs were played on the radio and at concerts featuring their favorite bands.
They come to share life stories with new friends and swap memories of Medicine Shows past.
I believe they come to leave the noise behind, to establish reconnection, and to enjoy quiet time on the mountain.
My brother has been appropriately designated as Dr. Dangerous. His mantra is “suck the marrow” of life. The Dr Dangerous name originated from his motorcycle riding wanderlust throughout the western US and Mexico. More than half a century ago, while growing up in eastern Kansas, he discovered dirt bike riding and competed in local motocross events.
His passion to bring people together to hear classic rock and roll music is the “less dangerous” part of his persona. He and our oldest brother both consecrated their affinity for rock and roll music, and guitars, when they saw the Beatles in their 1964 Kansas City concert.
I was not invited to join them, and I’m still pissed.
Two young teens shared the experience of seeing the Beatles. Years later, they were both inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. Their musical talents complement each other at the Medicine Show. Not bad for a doctor and an art teacher.
What is a Medicine Show, you ask?
We think perhaps the neighbors believe this to be some kind of drug induced cult event among a group of crazies, as our directional road signs sometimes disappear during the weekend. Could this be sabotage?
Instead, think back to television and movies that depicted an ensemble of entertainers that traveled from town to town in the late 1800s sharing their theatrics and peddling miracle cures.
However, the Dr. Dangerous Medicine Show happens in the same location year after year. There is no organized peddling of elixirs. There is a variety of entertainment for the pleasure of those who travel up the mountain to gather. Perhaps the miracle elixir is replaced with getting high on life in the Colorado mountains. How cliche, right?
I have arrived before the show to help prepare for the event. Regardless, the slower pace allows me to watch tree branches swaying slightly, squirrels searching for snacks, and birds visiting one tree after another. I release the noise of daily routines in favor of the quiet in nature.
In about 24 hours, these hills will be alive with the sound of music, in a venue that features horizontal tree trunks for seating, boulders for acoustics, and a stage backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Noise and Quiet
I’ve left the four walls of my office behind. I feel revitalized by conversations with family and friends who have made the trek up the hill from Cotopaxi. Here, we catch up, share memories, laugh, meet first timers, and promise to stay in touch more often.
I slow down. I stop grabbing the cell phone every ten seconds to check for text messages or phone calls. In the mornings, I awake to a quiet without road noise, sirens, car doors slamming, or voices of unknown neighbors. Instead, I hear birdsong and leaves rustling in the breeze. This a quiet and silence that I rarely experience in my noise-filled daily life.
In spite of the outer quiet, my mind continues to generate thought noise. Internally, these thoughts form a circular repetitive pattern, creating a constant noise even when the world around me is mostly quiet. As I reconnect with nature on the mountain, this noise diminishes.
Reconnection That Draws Us Together
What is it that draws us from the plains of Colorado, and surrounding states, to this mountain location for two nights of music, food and reconnection?
We reconnect with extended family, including second cousins, children, and grandchildren. I’ve known some of our guests since grade school in Kansas. Others are friends of friends who got arm-twisted into joining the fun. A few are recent acquaintances who took a leap of faith to see what a Medicine Show is all about and soon become devoted fans.
Everyone connects with someone they didn’t know before they came. They stand together in line for brisket or burgers, meet on the deck for dinner, and share a rock or log seat during the music.
What part does being in nature play in this experience of reconnection?
I wouldn’t equate the Medicine Show to a Burning Man experience. However, Medicine Show moments are musical treasures that replace daily noise. Soulful reconnections are made with people and nature, and the quiet silence of the mountain.
How do you bring more quiet and reconnection into your world?
•Change a routine.
•Find a place where the quiet is deafening.
•Slow your pace to a point where you never want to return to the faster pace of day to day schedules.
•Allow yourself moments to disconnect from technology.
•Take in the world around you by visiting a mountain stream, a neighborhood park, or your own backyard.
•Discover Forest Bathing.
•Notice the critters and creatures you meet along your journey.
•Admire what nature creates.
Here are ideas to help you create more silence and quiet in your life.