1996 - 1998
A Home in the Mountains
“All through the night, I’ll be awake and I’ll be with you
All through the night, this precious time, when time is new.”
All Through The Night ~ Cyndi Lauper
Dan invited me to his ranch for Thanksgiving. He was going to have a few friends over and he wanted them to meet me. I got off work early that Wednesday and we headed to Pagosa Springs for the long weekend in the huge white truck Dan and his ranch manager had dubbed “The Antichrist,” for its constant, costly breakdowns. It was loud and smelly and, worst of all, something about the way the seat and the hood were configured made me extra carsick.
I had struggled with motion sickness my whole life, but I’d never before had a problem while sitting in the front seat of a vehicle and traveling on straight roads. Our trips from my apartment into town hadn’t been too bad, but the three-hour drive on Highway 84 that day was miserable.
“Welcome to Colorado,” the sign read, and the rolling red hills and short round piñons of New Mexico were replaced with majestic snow-capped mountains and towering evergreens. Dan pointed out landmarks and towns as we passed them. I hadn’t been to this part of Colorado before and it was truly stunning, but by the time we’d traveled the 146 miles from Santa Fe to the basin road, I was already dreading the return trip on Sunday.
Over the years I’d learned that the only way to avoid getting sick was to lie down and close my eyes at the first twinge. If I hadn’t been so ashamed of my affliction, and so afraid of disappointing Dan, I could have laid the seat back and saved myself days of lingering nausea. Instead, I used every trick I’d ever learned, other than getting horizontal, to keep from barfing in the Antichrist.
Those first two and a half hours had been paved highway; the final half hour was ten miles of dusty, pot-holed dirt road that wound its way alongside a creek before climbing into the mountains.
We turned right at a fork in the road and arrived at an unimposing metal gate. Dan pressed a remote on his visor and the gate swung open onto a steep one-lane road surrounded on both sides by evergreens and aspen trees. After crossing a couple of cattle guards, we emerged from the trees. Up ahead to the left of the road I could see a large house of dark wood and varying roof lines. We drove right past it, then past a redwood barn and a large pond, also on the left. As we passed the pond, I could see a gigantic barn on the right and, perched on the hill ahead of us, a beautiful Victorian mansion, complete with cone-topped turrets and scalloped gingerbread shingles.
The sun was casting long shadows when we pulled up in front of the three-car garage and I was never so happy to arrive somewhere. I slid slowly from the passenger seat and breathed deeply of the brisk, high mountain air, so grateful to have my feet on solid ground. The ranch was at 8,711 feet, which could be challenging for guests coming from low altitudes, but after living at 7,000 feet in Santa Fe for eight years, the thin air wasn’t an issue for me.
We walked up some weathered wooden steps to a covered breezeway that ran from the garage, on the right, to the kitchen on the left. The door to the kitchen would always be the “front door” to me, even though the formal front door was further down on the house. The kitchen was warm and inviting, with honey-colored oak beams crisscrossing the ceiling and matching oak cabinets with stained glass fronts surrounding the room. All of the counters were worn butcher block and there was a large white country sink in front of a tall window.
In the center of the room was an island that was half stovetop and half butcher block bar with two stools under it. Suspended over the island was a brass fixture with four green, cone-shaped lights. There was a large old-fashioned wood-burning stove to the left of the front door, and a turret with a built-in table and bench seats. Tall windows looked out on the barns, pond and mountains.
It felt like I’d just walked into the kitchen of the favorite granny I never had, and when Dan’s Maine Coon Cat, Buckaroo, wandered in to greet us, the scene was complete.
Too embarrassed to admit how sick I felt, I told Dan I was “a little queasy” from the drive, and asked if he had ginger ale, or something fizzy. He got a champagne flute and a bag of frozen grapes from the freezer drawer. Dropping a grape in the frosty glass, he retrieved a bottle of Verve Cliquot Champagne from the fridge and opened it. Tilting the flute, he slowly poured the champagne. When it hit the grape it burst into a bubbly foam that threatened to spill from the flute, but Dan expertly regulated the flow until the glass was almost full. I’d had sparkling wine before, and didn’t really care for it, but I desperately wanted something to make me burp, to relieve the pressure in my poor stomach, so I tried it.
Champagne - oo la freaking la! It went down icy cold, then spread out warm. I sighed and nodded. “Oh man, that’s good.” Dan smiled, very pleased with himself. The Eagles had turned him on to fine wines when he was a young pup they called “Junior,” and he was happy to do the same for me.
He carried my overnight bag upstairs to the guest suite and I followed, sipping and quietly burping. He set the suitcase in the large window seat and asked if I’d like to see the house. Would I!
The main house was basically a Victorian mansion in structure, but some rooms felt more like a log cabin ski lodge because of the Indian blankets and large river rock fireplaces. The effect was a beautiful combination of Victorian elegance and southwestern warmth. A 6,000 square foot house on 600 acres could easily have felt like a millionaire’s manor, but it didn’t; it felt like a home in the mountains.
On the second floor a hallway ran between the master bedroom and a large guest suite at opposite ends of the house. Two small bedrooms opened off the hallway between.
In the master bedroom, a huge rustic wood beam crossed the fifteen-foot ceiling. Intersecting beams were held in place with black steel gussets and large bolts. The walls were covered in a thin wale corduroy of dark forest green. A large four poster brass bed sat next to an antique marble and wood fireplace and the carpet was a plush soft cream color. At the foot of the bed, two antique doors with oval cut-glass windows opened out onto a balcony with a view of the basin that could cause momentary vertigo.
A valley of lush meadows and evergreen trees hugged the river and then rose to barren, jagged snow-capped peaks that reached 13,794 feet. Square Top Mountain, the closest peak to the house, looked like a stone fortress in the clouds.
In the bathroom, a cedar-lined walk-in closet was opposite a black marble sink. Just beyond that was a shower lined with pale yellow tiles with hand-painted green bird designs, and a rectangular jacuzzi tub built for two.
Jutting out from the bedroom was a turret with Irish lace curtains on the tall windows and a chaise lounge. You could climb a built-in ladder up to a trap door in the ceiling, which opened into a duplicate, empty, turret room. There used to be a grand piano here, and how they ever got it through that trap door I can’t imagine. This was the tallest point in the house and the views were almost 360º.
Outside the bedroom door and overlooking the great room was a landing with floor to ceiling shelves packed with books. From there, a staircase skirted a rock lined wall down to the great room. A rock hearth and fireplace rose all the way to the top of the 40-foot ceiling and a deer’s head that Dan had found in a Tennessee antique store was mounted in a wood niche in the rock. He would never have killed an animal for sport or ornament, but it gave the room the lodge feel he wanted and it was just collecting dust in the store, so he bought it.
The carpet was forest green and a couch and two chairs gathered around a small coffee table in front of the fireplace. Dan had loved the forest green and gold wood combination he’d seen in a Durango hotel, and had used it in a few rooms and the music studio.
On the south side, the great room opened out into a glass greenhouse with a gurgling fountain and all manner of plants. On the north side it led to a sunken entertainment room paneled in dark rustic wood with a big television, stereo equipment, shelves upon shelves of albums, and two large windows looking out on that incredible basin.
On the west side of the great room was Dan’s music room, which had the same tall cathedral ceiling and stone fireplace, as well as a grand piano and gold and platinum records mounted high on the apricot-colored walls.
Heading back toward the kitchen, we passed through the dining room. The walls were painted fuchsia and an antique Tree of Life Persian rug covered the wood floor. In the center of the ceiling an antique chandelier hung from a recessed dome directly over a long oak table surrounded by carved oak chairs. An antique hutch with carved gargoyle faces and cut-glass panel doors held an assortment of wine glasses and china. On the opposite wall, two windows with Irish lace curtains looked out on the large barn and basin.
In the basement Dan showed me the pool room, the gym, and his recording studio with its separate enclosed sound rooms full of drums and guitars and another grand piano.
Dan had put his heart and soul into that house. He worked closely with the architect to create a home inspired by his favorite Colorado hotels, and books on Victorian homes. He had purchased the land and built the structures with a loan from Sony and then he worked hard, paying it off in a few years. When he could be there, during the two years it took to complete construction, he stayed in a teepee on the hill overlooking the pond.
I’d never known a man who was so comfortable and accomplished in the kitchen. He discovered a penchant for cooking when he began living in the remote places that inspired him. There were no restaurants nearby so he’d learned to cook, from the women in his life and cookbooks, and found that he loved it. His recipes were written on stained cards and pieces of paper and stuck in notebooks and recipe books. They rarely listed measurements for spices and herbs - Dan liked winging it. When adding brandy or other liquors to a sauce, he always used the cap of the bottle to measure the liquid.
Dinner that night was a simple pasta dish with olive oil, garlic, and diced tomatoes, topped with fresh basil. He put on a CD of soft classical music then turned the dining room lights down and lit a couple of tapered candles. I asked if I could help, but he told me to sit and he would serve me. He brought in dishes of pasta and salad, and a basket of warm crusty bread. It all smelled heavenly, and it was delicious.
The fuchsia walls and candlelight gave everything a gorgeous warm glow. Dan looked so handsome and it was crazy sexy to finally see him here in this magnificent environment of his own making.
He poured a red merlot into big round wine glasses that were so fine they felt as though they’d shatter with a light squeeze. He raised his glass in a toast and said, “Welcome to the ranch.” We clinked glasses and I thanked him for inviting me and said it was incredible. The wine was rich and grape-y, but I only had a couple of sips; I had a nice buzz going from the champagne and didn’t want to put my slowly recovering stomach at risk by mixing.
After dinner we did the dishes then moved into the living room to sit on the couch in front of the fire. It had been a very long day, and we were both tired. There would be a lot to do the following day for the dinner party, so at midnight we decided to make an early night of it.
Dan told me I could sleep wherever I wanted. I could have acted demure, and chosen to sleep in the guest suite, but hell, I’d worn a leotard and high-heeled boots on our first date and there was no putting that cat back in the bag. I said, “I want to sleep in your room.”
As I washed my face and brushed my teeth in the guest suite bathroom, he walked through the house locking doors, turning out lights, and lowering thermostats. It was a big house with lots of windows, and keeping it warm all night would have been a massive waste of energy. By the time he got upstairs I was in his bed wearing my long cotton nightgown. I hadn’t known what to expect so I’d packed for comfort, and it fit right in with the Victorian decor.
He brushed his teeth and got into bed. One thing led to another, and we were this close to making whoopee when Dan stopped and said, “I bought some condoms, but they’re in the kitchen.” I had just assumed he would have some in the bedside table. “Go get them,” I gasped, and he leapt off the bed.
He hurried downstairs in the cooling house, naked, to retrieve the condoms he had purchased earlier in the week and then stuffed into the kitchen everything-drawer by the door. Pharmacy bag in hand, he came back to the bedroom, got the box open, unwrapped a condom packet, and tried to get the darned thing on. He hadn’t needed protection in nine years, and was out of practice. It had been a very long day; the house was chilly; and he was naked in front of me for the first time. No pressure. After abstaining for an excruciating month the dreamed-of moment had finally arrived and now, for the first time in his life, he experienced a lover man’s worst nightmare.
I was disappointed, sure, but I was happy just to be there with him. He could have been a castrato and I still would have been mad for him. Dan, though, was very disappointed and embarrassed.
Coaxing him back under the warm down comforter, I told him I was still feeling a bit queasy anyway. He murmured “I’m sorry, I don’t know…this has never happened…” and I did my best to soothe him. I told him that we had hugged enough for me to know that this was an anomaly, and it would be better for me when I felt a hundred percent. We talked for a little while longer and then, exhausted, he fell asleep. A few minutes later Buckaroo hopped up on the foot of the bed and stared at me as he kneaded the comforter with his sharp claws.
I turned out the table lamp on my side of the bed and pulled the comforter up to my chin. Then I lay there, listening to Dan’s steady breathing and waiting for my eyes to adjust. The complete darkness and quiet of the mountain wilderness was unsettling. Now and then the forced air heating would kick on for a few minutes, whining softly and sending a dusty-smelling warm gust to settle over the bed. Elks bugled in the pastures and packs of coyotes wandering past the house barked and sang together, which is pretty freaky the first time you hear it. Otherwise it was utterly black and silent, the kind of silence that makes you hear a ringing in your ears that you hadn’t noticed before.
When Buckaroo had finished his fluffing, I patted the bed next to me and he snuggled up against my thigh as Dan began to snore softly. I was used to sleeping alone and tossing and turning to get comfortable, but I didn’t want to disturb Dan so I kept as still as possible. I could have crept down the hall to the guest suite but it was a strange new house and, if Dan had woken to find me gone, he would have assumed the worst.
I loved feeling Buckaroo’s warm little body against mine and I scratched his head in the cavernous darkness until he began to purr. The waning gibbous moon was shrouded in clouds and there was no illuminated alarm clock in the room. I waved my hand in front of my face and couldn’t see it. It felt like hours before sleep came and it probably was.