“So many gifts have been opened today,” sang John Denver as I squinted through the driving snow and hot-canine-breath-befogged windshield for signs that the car was still on the road and not about to plunge into the North Fork South Platte River (this is actually a thing and, go figure, it largely runs east-west), “ours is the sky and the wide open range.”
The snow tapered by the time we hit the trail, and the morning air was as crisp and clean as Denver’s voice. I am an unapologetic John Denver fan. I used to be an apologetic one, but I no longer experience guilt at finding pleasure in his music. As a child, I loved the nature imagery in his songs, and the clarity and genuineness of his music, and I admired his association with the Muppets; I turned on him as a moody teenager who developed a taste for louder, hipper fare and remained dismissive of him as non-nourishing white bread until recently (though I secretly always enjoyed hearing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or “Rocky Mountain High”).
My better half beat the Christmas snowstorm to visit family out of state, leaving me alone with three nullifidian dogs who couldn’t care less about Jesus’s birthday but who do seem mindful of the annual injustice of humans placing a tree indoors while they are not allowed to bring so much as a stick inside. But as Denver and Steve Weisberg, who wrote “Christmas for Cowboys,” the song referenced above, understood, there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
The Denver streets enjoyed a rare respite from traffic—what a thrill to approach the speed limit! I felt a touch of melancholy and a twinge of envy as we passed holiday-lit houses, warm with families, then Miles blindly stabbed the back of my head with his snout and gave me a cordial slurp on the ear; I was still in good company.
A lazy flurry became a near whiteout as we ventured down an empty state highway into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. John Denver caroled, and Denver faded into the background:
“Back in the cities, they have different ways
“Football, and egg nog, and Christmas parades.
“I’ll take my blanket, I’ll take the reins
“It’s Christmas for cowboys, wide open plains.”