1996 - 1998
“He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see.”
Rocky Mountain High ~ John Denver
I woke before Dan and walked down the carpeted hall to the guest room to get dressed. Tiptoeing barefoot down to the kitchen, I saw Buckaroo waiting at the bottom of the oak stairs. He watched as I made toast and tea as quietly as possible. There was acorn squash on the counter next to the toaster for Thanksgiving dinner. An hour or so later I heard Dan coming down the hall and my heart leapt, as it would at the sound of his approach for the next eleven years. He walked in to find me sitting in the turret sipping tea from a Waechtersbach mug, and Buckaroo perched on the table in front of me.
Dan made coffee and joined us, yawning and doing the I can't believe I'm up so early big-eye blink. It was 10a.m. He suggested we go for a walk so he could show me around the ranch.
In 1979 Dan was looking for land in Colorado. Many of his friends and colleagues had properties in Vail, Aspen and Telluride. Dan liked skiing and partying in those towns, but he wanted to build a home in a more remote location, where he could live and create surrounded by nature. He first saw the land in Pagosa Springs in the winter. He and the real estate agent had to park at the main road and get up the two miles of narrow dirt drive on snowmobiles.
When he saw the big clearing surrounded by trees and the San Juan Mountain range of the Rocky Mountains, he loved it right away. He wasn’t yet the accomplished skier he would later become; he loved the location for its majesty and raw beauty. He bought it, as well as a couple of adjacent properties, and combined them to create Mountain Bird Ranch. The name derived from the Swedish origins of Fogelberg: vogel (bird) and berg (mountain.)
He visited the construction site when he could, sleeping in the teepee, roaming the property, and hanging with the crew, a great group of talented carpenters and fun-loving guys.
Once construction was well underway the real estate agent who sold Dan the property began stopping by with clients who were looking at other properties in the area. He was justifiably proud to have sold a large parcel to such a big celebrity, and he wanted to show off. But privacy had been the whole point for Dan, and he asked the agent to stop bringing people up. If he came by while Dan was away the crew would shoo him off, but he kept coming back. They put up No Trespassing signs, and still he returned.
One fine summer day the real estate agent drove up with a car full of clients and one of the crew had finally had enough. As the car pulled up to the job site, the tan, lanky carpenter walked out to greet them. Hiking boots firmly planted, thumbs in his tool belt, he asked, “Can I help you?” With the exception of the boots and the belt, he was completely naked. The real estate agent never returned.
The moving trucks arrived in August of 1982 and Dan and his girlfriend Maggie moved in. Dan had been shopping for furniture and antiques for a couple of years. Each time he made a purchase he’d take a polaroid and write down the room it was meant for on the bottom of the photo. He’d visualized it all before the house was even framed.
Dan met Maggie in Nashville, during the winter of 1975. His career was in full swing so he was recording and traveling a lot. When he was in town he would hang out with his friends at the The Gold Rush, a bar across from Exit/In, the infamous music venue. Maggie was a Southern belle from a wealthy Tennessee family. Her given name was Margaret, but everyone called her Peggy. A ballerina with thick brown hair, bedroom eyes and full lips, she was a free spirit who wasn’t interested in settling down with one person.
She introduced herself to Dan at The Gold Rush one night and he was intrigued. A musician Dan knew had dated her, and he told Dan about this amazing thing she did, with candles around the bathtub. To a young man from Peoria that was pretty exotic stuff. Dan fell madly in love with her and called her Maggie, derived from Magnolia. He wrote a lot of great songs about her, including Beggar’s Game and Sweet Magnolia.
I saw her first in a beggar's game
Her eyes were wild but her laugh was tame.
Those people knew her by another name.
I knew that she'd be mine,
I knew that she'd be mine.
She took me in on a winter's night
The air was brittle and the moon was bright.
My heart was heavy but her touch was light.
Deep in the dance we wandered,
Deep in my heart she fell.
The candles glistened and the water gleamed.
She drew a bath and the windows steamed;
She looked like every woman ever dreamed,
In the heart of a lonely man,
In the heart of a lonely man
She took my blindness and she led me through
As night retreated and the daylight grew
And with the first rays of the sun I knew
Love had another captive
Love had another fool
The spell is broken and the chains fall free
Finally my heart has come home to me
It seems I've waited an eternity
(Repeat First Verse)
(Repeat Second Verse And Chorus)
Dan was a huge Beatles fan and the line “those people knew her by another name” was a tip of the hat to their song, Rocky Raccoon, which also featured a gunslinger named Dan:
Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil,
But everyone knew her as Nancy
Now, she and her man, who called himself Dan,
Were in the next room at the hoe-down
Rocky burst in, and grinning a grin
He said, "Danny boy, this is a showdown"
But Daniel was hot, he drew first and shot
And Rocky collapsed in the corner
Sweet Magnolia (And the Traveling Salesman)
Two hearts, throwing off sparks
Young and in love with our freedom
Moonlight, those soft Southern nights
We were both ripe to fall
Well, I was out on my own
Playing for all who would listen
And you were as free as a bird
Flying from nest to nest
But somewhere our eyes met
And our hands reached out
And we felt a kindred spirit
And as our faces touched
I could feel the fire
And needed so to just be near it
Oh, Lord, those moments we soared
Borne on the wings of our passion
It seemed then like they'd never end
But times like that always must
'Cause then one day I flew far away from you
I never knew how I'd regret
My sweet Magnolia belle, you know I've loved you well
Even if I never said it
Magnolia, now I see
That freedom isn't free
And love's the only true redeemer
And when this journey's through
I'll be coming back for you
If you'll have this foolish dreamer
I spend a night now and then
Passing through town on my travels
But someday I'm gonna come back to stay
Magnolia, I'm coming home
A knee injury forced Maggie to give up ballet. It was a devastating loss for her, but she turned her focus to her other passion: horses. She wasn’t crazy about the remoteness of the ranch so Dan had built a heated equestrian barn, complete with riding arena, to make her want to stay.
Dan loved the Rocky Mountain lifestyle; he would ride his horse into the mountains, alone or with friends, and camp overnight. He’d hike Square Top Mountain to the base of the natural rock castle and look down on his own new realm. Eventually he’d have horses, llamas and dogs, but the dogs wouldn’t stop killing the chickens and doing damage on neighboring properties, so they had to go.
He didn’t consider himself a cat person, but one day Maggie brought home a little black kitten who stole his heart. That was Merlin, who would grow into a well-loved member of the family.
Dan and Maggie were married at the ranch in 1982, the same year Dan’s father died. A few years later Maggie left and “the divorce album,” Exiles, was begun. While recording in Hawaii, Dan asked her to join him there. He was hoping they could rekindle their love, but it didn’t work; she and her high school sweetheart had reconnected and she realized she was in love with him. Dan drove her back to the airport and then he turned the plane into a train in the song Seeing You Again.
Seeing You Again
Seeing you again
Was like meeting for the first time
In a foggy dream so many years ago.
Strangers in an airport
Searching for a word to break the ice.
Holding you again
Even for the briefest moment
Made me realize how much I love you still
Wanting you to want me
Still not knowing if you ever will.
Seeing you again, seeing you again
Was the sweetest torture I may ever know.
Seeing you again, seeing you again
Made me wish I'd never let you go.
Seeing you again
Running free along the beaches
Where our shadows first
Began to intertwine
Listening to your laughter
Wishing that your love could still be mine.
Did you only come to say
Or give it one more try?
Or did you only need to see
There was nothing left for me
Inside worth saving?
Running for your train
You smiled back through the doorway
Like you used to when our hearts still beat as one
And as I turned away
I knew the lonely days had just begun.
One day in 1986, Dan’s ranch manager went to find him and said, “Boss, I’m sorry, I know you said not to let strangers in the house, but this woman said she knows you.” Dan hurried to find out who was in his house and sitting there in the kitchen was a woman he had met a few times at parties on the road. She was very pretty, with wavy light brown hair and green eyes. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t remember her name. It was Anastasia.
She said she had been in the area so she thought she’d drop by and say hello to him and Maggie. Dan told her he and Maggie had split up and she acted surprised. He saw through the ruse but he was lonely, and she was lovely. She was a Southern belle as well, from Louisiana, and she was currently living in Santa Fe. Before long she was living at the ranch and Dan went from Lonely in Love to Anastasia’s Eyes.
Merlin had lived a good long life. Everyone who came to the house knew him by name, and he was a treasured companion. One afternoon he wandered out the kitchen door, laid down on the breezeway for a nap, and didn’t wake up. He was buried in the garden next to the garage and a small wooden cross was gently pushed into the soil over him. Dan was devastated and mourned Merlin for a long time.
Dan finished his coffee so we donned our jackets and went for that walk. It was a beautiful sunny morning; the grass was still green, the air was brisk, and there was snow on those massive peaks surrounding the basin. I breathed deeply, happy to be feeling much better. We held hands as Dan showed me the huge equestrian barn with its long rows of stalls and an indoor riding arena that looked big enough to play baseball in.
We walked down the road to the smaller barn, with its workshop for welding and repairing ranch vehicles and equipment. Across from that barn was an open shed with fuel pumps for the cars and tractors.
On our way back to the house we stood on the small dock overlooking the pond and Dan explained that the pond was the water source for the house, guest house, gardens, lawns, and outdoor fire hoses.
Back in the kitchen, Dan turned on the oven. He put flour in a cooking bag and shook it, then asked me to hold the bag open while he put a sixteen-pound turkey inside and twist-tied the bag shut. Setting it in a large pan which he slid into the oven, he turned the dial on the oven timer. He did this all without reading any instructions; he’d done it many times before.
We took mugs of hot cider into the great room and sat on the couch. We’d been talking for a while, when he looked like he wanted to say something. “What?” I asked.
He apologized for the previous night and I, in all sincerity, asked him to please not think about it for another minute; it would happen eventually. What I meant was, it would happen when it happened. But my use of the word eventually made him think I was teasing him. Next thing I knew, I was running up the stairs with Dan close at my heels.
Laughing, and breathing hard from the stairs, we fumbled with shoes, buttons and zippers and fell into the big handmade brass bed. Together we managed to get the condom on without too much trouble.
It was totally worth the wait. I’m so glad this playful romp ended up being our first time, instead of the night before, when I was queasy and we were both tired and tipsy.
Afterward, wrapped around each other, it would have been easy to doze, but we couldn’t linger; the guests would be arriving in a few hours and we still had much to do. Dan went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He stood there waiting for the hot water to make its way from the water heater in the garage on the other side of the house. I sat up, holding the thick goose down comforter around me and watching him. His body was lean and taut from skiing and working out, and he had the cutest butt I’d ever seen. I said, “You have the cutest butt I’ve ever seen.” He looked over his shoulder at me and smiled, then he turned off the water. This time, we got the condom on right away.