We found ourselves next on the Community Ditch trail, which followed what I can only assume was the Community Ditch. What the community does in this ditch remains unknown. It was obviously a popular place, and it was easy to imagine people tramping off the trails, squashing vegetation and creating dozens of new trails. In response, there seemed to be a little sign every fifty feet reminding you to please stay on the trail and not trample all the nature we've worked so hard to preserve here, thank you very much. I was hoping we'd make it to the big lake I'd seen on the trail maps, Marshall Lake, which I'd never been to before. I was hoping my love and I might have a romantic walk around it. As we drew near, the trail widened and was flanked by bright new wooden fence work (another measure to keep folks on the trail). The trail went up a small hill, and the lake began to come into view at last. Then the trail ended in a dead end. An old sign declared No Trespassing by order of the irrigation company that presumably created the lake. A newer looking sign declared No Trespassing by order of the Louisville Rod and Gun Club. A few trucks were parked down by the lake, where some men were no doubt having fun playing with their rods. Should you be able to own a lake like that? What harm would there be in just letting average people stroll around it? We were forced to turn back in defeat.
There was a mature cottonwood that seemed to be growing up straight from solid sandstone, and ponderosa pines that were growing in a cross-section created by the ditch, their roots stretching visibly down the layers of exposed rock. Whitney asked me if I had yet begun to think about my inevitable blog post about our walk. Of course I had. I thought about the debate over access versus preservation. There was an article in the paper a few days prior about how the majority of lands protected by conservation easements in Colorado don't allow any public access, and I thought, well, that's fine -- at least land is being protected, giving us the benefit of great views and less troublesome development. Besides, almost everywhere else is open to people, and the mere knowledge that some places will remain wild and free of development is itself comforting. Furthermore, not allowing humans into certain protected lands may very well be in accordance with conservation goals if they are meant to protect sensitive animals and plants from all of the molestation that recreating humans can bring. But being able to see Marshall Lake and yet not get close to it was annoying. And it can be argued that experiencing a place gives it more value in your mind than just seeing it or knowing that it's there, and that allowing people to recreate in a place makes them value open land more, and could likewise promote conservation efforts. I don't think people should be allowed everywhere... but a lot of places, certainly. Including Marshall Lake.
I lost my ear muffs. The grassland felt expansive, and you could almost believe you weren't surrounded by a major metropolitan area. To really appreciate a prairie, you need a lot of it -- its beauty comes through in its open, airy quality, when hills roll on and on and big blue sky meets grass all along the horizon. It makes you feel like you could run forever. A single misplaced structure on any of those horizons can really ruin that feeling and make shrinking prairies start to look like bare lots waiting to be built upon. Most of the world's prairies are long gone. I hope the little stretch that remains between the Front Range and Denver's suburbs survives.
That night, after an aborted attempt to eat at a Moroccan restaurant that had sadly apparently gone out of business, we at the Leaf, a boulder restaurant that might very well convert you to vegetarianism if you aren't already. It was beyond delicious. Flavors came in combinations that were new, unexpected, hearty and exciting. It was not a meal, it was an experience, like visiting a National Park, or a big museum, or a major theme park, but in my mouth. Somehow, they took blackened figs, and parmesan cheese, and bread, and true love's first kiss, and put it on a plate. Tempura plantains, sweet potatoes, and tofu. Jamaican jerk tempeh on forbidden black rice. Apple and cranberry pie with vanilla ice cream and creme brule (sp?). We wanted more and more, I ate myself painfully full, and then spent the next several days thinking about that meal, and how nothing else I've eaten compares to that. I'm pretty sure the ingredients also included children's laughter, unicorn tears, and hope for the future. It was that good. We fell asleep soon after returning home. She got me a 13 month Xbox Live subscription and I got her season 2 of Buffy, and we got each other the same card. That was a good Valentine's.