Map: Colorado, setting of “My Plateau” by Beth Bates
This is a guest post from Beth Bates who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Colorado. Enjoy!

My heart cracks a little when I allow it to revisit the scene where my teenagers are babies and I am a cattleman-turned-lawyer’s wife in southwest Colorado.

We’re living in a one-story house on a one-acre lot among farms and ranches postage-stamped on an irrigated mesa 6,000 feet above sea level. In the field behind our homestead near the Black Canyon, Grand Mesa, San Juan Mountains, and the Uncompahgre Plateau, an amber sea of barley undulates in the September sun. In alternating years the crop is corn. Nearby farms yield onions, the earthy scent of which wafts our way on windy days.

Winters, on the land behind our Spring Creek Mesa house, cows take up residence to munch down stalks left behind from harvest. Heavy bovine rustling noises of milling over rutted rows; mooing, calving, and weaning wails become the soundtrack to my simple life. For four years of days and nights and nap-times, I immerse myself in the livestock sounds like songs I need to learn by heart. I am rapt in views out my kitchen window, over the sink where I bathe my baby girl, soak dishes, bottles, and sippy cups.

One October Saturday, my babes and I play in our pumpkin patch between brittle vines. Over the fence Mr. Brown, my next-door neighbor who still holds hands with his WWII bride, probes out of curiosity born of wisdom. “Where is your husband?” and “When do you two have time to be married?” Indeed. My cattleman-turned-attorney husband seems often to be missing evenings and weekends. Planning commission and fair board meetings, required and optional, eat up certain weeknights. For fun he judges FFA heifers, killing time at cattle auctions at the fairgrounds.

I don’t suspect another woman, but retreating into activities that reconnect him to his ranching youth (where meaning springs from barrel racing, livestock shows, and fair queens) creates distance. On my own becomes the norm, but my little boy and his baby sister are always near; and to the west I sense my plateau as a kindly divine presence watching over his children.

For occasional Sunday outings, we four pile into Daddy’s pickup to climb the one-lane, 4-WD drive road up to Yankee Boy Basin, where we hike along Sneffels Creek among an orange, purple, and blue carpet of Indian paintbrush, lupine, and columbine. Or we might swim in Ouray’s hot springs pools, or head down to Ridgway, where John Wayne filmed “True Grit” near Ralph Lauren’s ranch. After wearing out the kids with play we mosey over to the True Grit Saloon for chicken fingers and burgers. My tall, lumbering spouse always walks the boy or holds the baby so I can finish my meal, I’ll give him that.

How we ever mated remains a mystery. When I met him in downtown Denver, ennui from a recent breakup had numbed me to the point of blindness to our differences. Living in a LoDo highrise in the trendy neighborhood now occupied by Coors Field, he passed for my type. He was wearing a suit. He was tall. If he were a house on the market it could be said that he showed well. As it turns out, he was a real cowboy, having grown up on a small Charolais operation near Golden. He was novel.

Novel does not a happy marriage make, but two angels and a plateau help.

Framed by my kitchen window the Uncompahgre, a Ute word meaning “rocks that make water red,” fills a 10-and-2 field of vision, rising to over 10,000 feet at Horsefly Peak. My plateau begins each day as vivid as the eye can bear: the morning sun illuminates distinct trees and detectable-yet-inscrutable cliffs and crannies of canyons with names like Tabeguache, Escalante, and Unaweep. For two weeks every fall, bright yellow puffs of aspen groves glow against an evergreen backdrop; in winter, spring, and summer its colors come in every shade of pine and umber. In the hour before dusk I watch my plateau swell black as a vast, elevated, shadowy sea behind which the sun slips to shine on Vegas, California, Hawaii, Japan . . .

And every morning the Uncompahgre greets me, its nuances manifest again and friendly, granting me another day in this stunning spot on the planet. “Enjoy me while you are given the privilege of living within my view,” it seems to say. I drink it in while it warms and breaks my heart, unaware that years from now I’ll pine for this vista as one longs for a lost love; ignorant to the fact that ten years hence I’ll look back on toads kissed and princes married, and nearly married, and understand this: the great love of my life was not a person but a place.

Beth is an ardent mother and wife; a reader who writes, a writer who edits, creative nonfictioner; fan of walking outdoors; lover of fresh air, grass, plants, dirt, sand, waves, mountains and, in some cases, the Oxford comma. Being paid to be creative makes her feel like a lottery winner. Her favorite thing is to help other writers shape up their own work. You should try her. She blogs at Lit Salad and Tweets @bethbates.

20 thoughts on “Guest post: My Plateau

  1. Very nice painting with words here!

    On long family road trips on highways winding through the mountains we often pass scenic vistas. They fill my heart will longing for the experience you’ve described: kitchen windows revealing views that almost stop your heart while sipping a mug of coffee, because the winters are harsher and colder than you bothered to imagine. Or, relaxing on a sofa with family and friends in a living room with enormous windows designed to take in the panoramic scenes. Thoughts like these are wistful and come unbidden before being forgotten upon my return to the real world.

    It sounds like you made the most of appreciate their gifts of their beauty while you were in the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very beautiful, piece with many thought-provoking layers. If I had a list of last lines that haunt me (maybe it’s time to start), yours would be there: “the great love of my life was not a person but a place.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “…behind which the sun slips to shine on Vegas, California, Hawaii, Japan . . .”

    Loved this line.

    I know that 4WD road up Yankee Boy Basin, I took it twice one year, once to scope it out and then again the very next day in the pitch blackness before dawn. I’m glad I knew about that scary rock overhang ahead of time. You know the one.

    I took that road so I could climb the 14ner Mt. Sneffels at its end. Sneffels scared me a little because it was the highest class mountain I had ever attempted solo. I almost didn’t go through with it but a few days before in Durango, I was a First Responder when a young local fire fighter was struck and nearly killed by a huge passing truck. It shook up my inner tensions like a snow globe and when everything came to rest inside, my decision was clear. I climbed Mt. Sneffels and broke four different personal records doing it.

    The aspens changed so fast in those two days that they went from yellow to orange in my before and after climbing photographs. Things sure can turn on a dime.


    Liked by 1 person

      1. Looking down from the summit, they didn’t seem possible. I remember being quite surprised.

        I talked with other climbers about them while I was up there but no one could give me a satisfying answer as to why they are that hue. I’ve seen the same liquid shade at different latitudes, longitudes, elevations, and mountain ranges.

        It must be one of those natural sweet spots in which Caribbean turquoise lives.


    1. …which means so much coming from a Coloradoan! I always loved peak tourist seasons; I’d pinch myself and say Wow, I live where people choose to spend their vacation time. Wow.


  4. The evocation of place is beautifully crafted. I like the way readers are left wondering what happened to the marriage, whether something of the plateau survives in the teenagers, what prompted the move off the plateau. The writing nicely resists going down these more commonplace alleys, and it is the better for leaving all that unsaid.

    Liked by 1 person

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