Things were going to be different when we bought our home on the Western Slope of Colorado. That was the whole idea. There’s not a single stoplight in the whole county, and good luck with cellphone reception. But there are compensations. Magpies chatter away in the aspens; marmots sunbathe on the rocks; and there’s elk poop in our driveway. Sometimes the elk themselves block the road to the house.
We hoped, out here in the woods, to maintain the best things in life — like family traditions, dog romps, and, yes, virtual connectedness, while avoiding the hassles of city life.
Driving is easy here. No rush-hour traffic. The sky can be pure steel blue and the next minute clouds are doing the two-step over mountain peaks. Lightning and thunder really do inspire awe. I’ve never taken so many pictures in my life, but it’s hard to cram majesty onto my little iPhone.
It was mid-summer when I reserved our Thanksgiving turkey — 16 to 18 pounds, please — from Jeff Downs at the charming farmers market in San Miguel County. Jeff is tall and rangy, usually halfway to a beard and, unlike my farmer stereotype, he’s young (he graduated high school in 2000) and funny. “Fur Sale,” says the listing for bulk meat, laid across a big pelt.
“This costs too much,” Jeff said when I bought a ham hock, and he gave me a discount. Except for the fact that he always runs out of eggs, I can’t say enough nice things about Jeff and all the grass-fed goodies from Kinikin Heights.
“This bacon is magic!” said a friend, Linda. I’d saved it for her visit and the lovely bacon — super lean and just sweet enough, just smoky enough — enlivened our whole morning. The next day, after we had Jeff’s filets for dinner (wowza!), Linda and her husband re-jiggered their departure so they could personally export some of their own Colorado meat to California.
Kinikin Heights is 90 minutes away, in the lonely hills above Montrose. Finding it, I was both proud and confused. There was Jeff’s big black pickup. Here was the silo. There were the green-carpeted fields, the cows, and the farmhouse, and even Jeff’s dogs.
But where was Jeff?
A whisper of cell service and there was the familiar voice, though with a frosting of embarrassment. Having forgotten our appointment, Jeff was out of town.
“Do you mind doing a self-service?”
I agreed, wondering what self-service means in the turkey department. Fortunately, there were no two- legged gobblers clucking about.
He told me where he hid the key to his storage building. Inside was an anteroom with two inner doors. The left door was the freezer entrance. My turkey would be in the back.
The enormous cold shocked the system. Checking to make sure I wouldn’t be locked in, I found my turkey. The bird itself was so cold it was painful to touch, so I held it by the loose plastic.
Outside, my glasses instantly fogged up. Cellphone reception disappeared in the apartment-sized freezer, so I had to call Jeff again.
“Do you also want the neck and giblets?”
“Grandma always said you can’t make gravy without the giblets.”
Midway back in the freezer was a pasteboard box filled with bags of necks and giblets. I plucked one out, then repeated the in-and-out procedure a dozen times, looking for pork chops, lamb shanks and, of course, the magic bacon.
Halfway through the freezer dance, I was relaxed enough to notice an inviting freezer suit heaped on the floor.
It was like dressing up in a huge down comforter with legs and sleeves, zippers and buckles. And even Jolly Green Giant gloves.
Then it was back into the freezer for my last requests. I wanted to stock up , since I wasn’t going to be doing this again anytime soon.
“Jeff, I found some of the ground sausage!” Feeling like an expert now, I described the packaging to him.
“Sorry,” he said. “That’s dog food.” Sigh.
I weighed the turkey, and totaled everything up, leaving a check and the key under his scale. I was smiling and proud, but a good bit prematurely.
Cooking dinner at 9,500 feet elevation was a challenge yet to come.
I’m still scrubbing my disastrous pecan pie attempt from the bottom of the oven.
This week, we are getting to revisit holiday favorites. This piece was originally published in The Denver Post, Thanksgiving Day, 2010.