Red Sky

sunset downtown 0219

Just moments ago (hours by the time I get around to posting this), the sunrise turned the entire sky, including the horizon to the west, all pink and purple. In the manner of the sun, it was beautiful — and ephemeral.

Generally speaking, sunrise is not my thing. In college, I took a photo of the one sunrise I was awake for. It was a glorious red-hued sprawl, but even that was not enough to make me want to shift my schedule to take in more of them.

But sunsets . .  . those I am awake for. And we have been having some spectacular ones the last couple weeks. I usually am at work, and notice them as I look up from the computer. And every time I do this, I think of my friend Roger.

Roger is no longer of this world, sadly, felled too early by lung cancer, despite never smoking. He lived his last years in Libby, Montana, which is home to a lot of asbestos mines — and a high incidence of lung cancer.

Roger came here to be the editor of the Gunnison Country Times, and he brought his wife Heidi and son Christopher, who was 3 at the time. This is my favorite Chris story: the four of us were at a Gunnison High School baseball game, and Chris was hungry. He looked at his mom with big eyes and assured her, “If you give me a cookie I’ll be happy.”

That could be a truism today, even though Chris must be well into his 30s, and, last I knew, was sporting a huge beard and traveling to such far-flung places as Antarctica. If someone gives me a cookie, I’m happy.

[Na Ki’o is in full form today: I  have typed this with one hand, because he is firmly tucked into my right elbow, and he keeps trying to stick his wet nose into the crook of my left.]

I can’t remember what year the Morris family arrived, nor what year they left, but Roger and I worked together for several years. The first editor I worked for really didn’t deserve that title, but Roger had a solid journalism background and taught me several things about being a reporter.

Early on, he took to calling me “Toots,” which I loathed, so I called him “Princess.” Both names lasted the duration of our association.

The Times had a sister/kid publication called the Mt. Crested Butte Mountain Sun, which was a failed attempt to compete against the real Crested Butte paper, which has undergone various name changes and sturdier challenges from other publications until two of them merged and are now the CB News.

The Times rarely staffed the Sun very well — in fact, as I’m typing this, maybe that was Roger’s first assignment, to edit the Sun, and later down the road he became the editor of the Times. (I might be really scary if my memory worked at all.) I don’t know if it’s still true, but back then town councils for CB and Mt. CB met on the same night, and Roger wasn’t quite talented enough to be in two places at once, so I got drafted to go to the Mt. CB meetings.

We would ride up to Crested Butte in Roger’s small pick-up, and I would then drive it the three uphill miles to Mt. CB, going down the steepest road/driveway in the world to get to Town Hall. After the meeting I would reverse course and meet Roger at what was then the Grubstake, and we would head back to Gunnison.

Crested Butte was a lot sleepier in those days, and the side street where I’d park would be in complete darkness — and there was always this little moment of peace as I headed toward the light spilling out of the front of the bar, and it was very easy to picture the Crested Butte of a hundred years earlier. That I remember, and still cherish.

At some point, because Heidi found work in the town clerk’s office in Crested Butte, the Morrises moved from Gunnison (where they lived in the house previously owned by Bill Yanaki) to Crested Butte. Roger then became a weekly — guest isn’t the right word, because I wasn’t really hosting — fixture at my house on the nights he needed to work late in Gunnison.

I remember Friday (maybe) breakfasts with staff members from the Times at Cattlemen’s [everything in this post is now gone — I didn’t mean to be depressing], and regular nights of Trivial Pursuit, but when I really think of Roger is when I see a breathtaking sunset that should perhaps be marred by the buildings and wires of downtown Gunnison.

The Times building is one block over from my current work location, and standing between it and the sunset is a two-story building that now belongs to the county but was then Blackstock Elementary. It took up most of the view to the west. But that never stopped Roger from poking his head around the corner and pssting at me on chromo-fantastic evenings.

I would get up from my typewriter, and the two of us would sit in the two chairs by the front door and just take in the sunset across the top of Blackstock’s. We didn’t talk; we just watched the sunset and, after awhile as the colors faded, would go back to our respective desks and return to work.

At some point, in the manner of many journalists, Roger got restless feet and decided to move on. Maybe there were forces in play I wasn’t aware of; after they left Gunnison, I got a note from Heidi saying she and Roger had split up. All I knew was that he found a new job (I can’t remember if he went straight to Libby, or if there was an interim posting), put in his notice, and on the day the Morrises left the valley, I came home to find Mrs. Beasley on my front porch.

She was their dressmaker’s dummy, even though I don’t think anyone sewed, and she’d made many moves with them — until she came to live me. The only functional use she saw during her time as my roommate was when my friend Tina borrowed her to make her wedding dress. Eventually Mrs. Beasley and I parted ways, when I found someone who appreciated her for who she really was, but for a long time she was a steady reminder of my time with the Morrises.

Even if Mrs. Beasley is gone, I still have sunsets to remind me. And as Gilly and I took in a particularly enthralling one last week (I was so admiring of it that by the time I thought to document it, it was gone), it brought Roger to mind once again. The sunsets have continued their vibrancy into this week, and in honor of Roger, who taught me some of the important things in life, I’m going to encourage you all to take a small moment of your day and watch the sun go down. You’ll be glad you did.

sunset riverwalk 0219

Here’s the sunset Lynn and Oz took in last night. Lynn’s looking forward to the day we can watch these from our Some Day house. And if you’re ever casting about for a good read, I highly recommend Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning.


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