October in Gothic

Aspen trees show their bones beneath the austere buttresses of Gothic Mountain, and elk wander among green spruce and grey willow. Light and warmth fade from day as the season slowly arcs along its eternal circle. All things tire and bend towards death. Winter approaches.



I returned to Gothic, CO on the last day of September. The aspen trees were just past peak turn, and the field station was still home to a handful of scientists and staff. Alas, my portly marmot friends had already retreated underground. October has passed quickly, largely thanks to a long stretch of sunny days following my arrival. The town population is down to two, excluding wildlife. Unfortunately, the clear days are now few and far between, leading me to devote more time to reading books and stacking firewood in quiet defiance of the gloom. In the mornings, I make a fire in my wood stove and then read for several hours before finally mustering the motivation to go on a cold and usually wet run.

But the cold gloom brings pretty white stuff, and it first fell in Gothic just over a week ago. I am told this was a late first snow, but whether it portends a heavy or low snow year I know not. For now, I am content hunting for the hidden magic of autumn that is too often clouded by daydreams of powder skiing.


I’ve found it in the amber stare of a bold fox and in the curiously cocked head of a weasel at my front porch. I’ve felt it in the river’s icy flow and in the trout’s hungry pull on my fishing line. I’ve heard it in the golden susurration of aspen leaves soon to fall. It’s in the darkening coat of the deer and in the plants all around, stems standing dead but confident in the seeds they’ve set. In summer, the bright colors of wildflowers make obvious the tremendous plant diversity found across the hillsides. In autumn, this wonder is hidden by the unassuming shade of brown as plants abandon life above ground for a state of winter-acclimated dormancy.



Copper Creek Trail, October 10th.


The diamond slab of Avery Peak, as seen from the top of Washington Gulch trail 403. If you follow the right ridge line of Avery all the way down to the valley bottom, that is the approximate location of Gothic.


Heed the call on a glorious day such as this. Looking northeast from East Maroon Pass.


Always watching, never telling.


Richard finds his flow on one of the large boulders that hide among the aspens beneath Mt Crested Butte. This is Skyland.


South of Gothic, past a large waterfall, the East River flattens out and bends this way and that, offering great fishing throughout. We call this section “The Meanders.”


I fished every day for a week or so, when the weather was nice. Ten minutes from my cabin the East River is full of small, feisty brook trout like this one.


Chipmunks are among the last small mammals to remain aboveground in the fall, as the seeds the cache for winter are more abundant during this time.


Scarlet gilia (ipomopsis aggregata), one of the last individual flowers to hang on through autumn in Gothic. This flower didn’t senesce until October 27th.


Leave my bones for a white burial. Do not fear the silence. When your frozen tears melt, I’ll return to you. (cow parsnip, Heracleum maximus)



Of course, there is magic in the season’s first snowfall on a cold, windless morning. My heart and mind alight in the meeting of autumn and winter, when I watch snowflakes float slowly to the brown earth. There is magic in the cold blanket mother nature lays down upon herself. I know this because her cold blanket is warm for my spirit.

First snow in Gothic, October 22nd







So it begins.

Category: Adventures, Travel, & Writing



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