Biff America: Sanguine or cynical — easy choice
January 18, 2014
Sara Little Bird had her way with me in the “love shack” in the winter of 1974.
I was 20 years old and she was an older woman of 30-something.
Despite her fondness for silver armbands, wool serapes and Indian adages, I didn’t believe Sara was Native American or even that “Little Bird” was her real name. Like me she had an East Coast accent, blue eyes and looked more Swedish than Indian.
Breckenridge, at that time, was a far cry from the mega-resort it is today. Many of the streets were unpaved, the sidewalks were wooden and with an altitude of close to 10,000 feet there were as many available women as palm trees.
My buddy and I picked up Sara hitchhiking while we were driving back from Leadville. She was heading home to Black Hawk — then an old mining town filled with hippies, now a gambling town filled with smokers. A storm was brewing and we invited her to spend the night with the offer to take her back to the interstate the next morning.
Though I was new to the mountains I was already getting tired of resort skiing and had just purchased my first cross-country ski gear. When Sara saw my Bonna wooden skis and leather Alfa boots inside the door she became more interested. It wasn’t until later in the evening, after a meal of sloppy joes and a dessert of tequila, that I closed the deal.
Sara X/C skied for recreation and transportation. She lived outside of Black Hawk in an old mining cabin miles from the nearest plowed road and would ski in and out daily. Our relationship lasted less than a month; we met after Thanksgiving and she dumped me before New Year’s.
But during that time span we did a lot of ski touring (and whatever else she wanted). I would hitch down to Gilpin County and we would ski around her cabin and on the nearby gentle slopes. She was short and plump and had a trace of a mustache. There was an air of confidence about her and when I think back — she never told me her age — she might have been closer to 40 than 30. She said she liked me because I was “young, dumb and pretty.”
She called me at work one night and told me to come the next day and to bring a sleeping bag; we were going to the “love shack.”
We got a ride to a trailhead just outside of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. After a few hours we came to the love shack. It was a small, well-built and -maintained log hut painted with murals and new age motif. When I asked who owned it Sara offered some sort of hippie explanation like, “Mother Earth. She lets us borrow it if we come in peace.”
Sara suggested I wait outside while she asked the empty cabin’s permission for us to spend the night. Even at my young age I thought that silly, but since there were few palm trees in the mountains, I held my tongue. I could hear her chanting through the door and when she finally invited me in there was a fire going and incense burning.
The cabin was not yet warm but looked to be cozy. There was a swing hanging from a beam and ad hoc artwork and new age mantras written in bright paint on the walls. Sara showed me the sleeping loft, which had constellations depicted on the ceiling with fluorescent stars. She asked me to keep my voice down until the building was comfortable with us. I was amazed — it was free and cleaner than my own home.
We spent the next few days enjoying the skiing and each other’s company.
While we walked back to the paved road Sara told me her boyfriend was returning to Colorado and she and I wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore; my pleading only made things worse.
In the 30-plus years since then, I have wondered if the love shack was still standing. I don’t often get to that part of Colorado.
Last winter my mate and I decided to check out the area. We made some turns off a nearby peak and on the way back to our hotel we parked at the trailhead where Sara broke my heart.
With our modern gear — compared with my old wooden skis of yore — we were able to fly up the trail. It was shorter than I remembered. I grew anxious with anticipation the closer we got; it was like visiting an old friend. I knew I had changed over the years; I assumed the hut had as well. But I was not prepared for how much.
The windows were gone, the walls had bullet holes and there was glass, trash and garbage everywhere. The mattress had been chewed by critters and vulgar graffiti had replaced the art and hippie slogans.
Ellen said, “This place is a dump,” then added, “Are you crying?”
Certainly I was crying over the senseless destruction of a beautiful place. But mostly I was bawling with gratitude that I was there when it was still enchanted with a person who believed in magic.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.