NOTIONS: A travel dispatch from somewhere over the rainbow

September 4, 2006

The sun is setting, the pavement damp, and dark clouds dance across the San Juan Mountains as we turn onto U.S. Highway 550 and drive north toward Durango.

As if there weren't enough beauty in this peak-filled paradise, Nature's earlyevening sideshow features a fully arced double rainbow, quite the welcome sign to a late-summer vacation.

I suppose you could write off a double rainbow as a mere meteorological phenomenon. I suppose I could, too. But it's more fun to wonder whether someone, somewhere is toying with you.

A long time ago, when my wife Pam was ailing with cancer, we were forced to discuss things couples loathe discussing. Like funerals.

So one Sunday afternoon, I asked Pam if she had to have a funeral someday, what she'd want included. And she said she'd want our friend Steven to sing. And I asked her what she'd want him to sing. And she said, "You know."

So Steven sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at Pam's funeral.

A few months later, I was anxious about my impending trip to Cape Cod to scatter Pam's ashes at Wellfleet. One morning, in the midst of that mood, I climbed into the car for the short drive to work. As is my wont, I turned on the radio. It was set to a '70s station, and the Eagles were singing "Desperados," a song I'd learned while working a summer job at a Colorado guest ranch.

On the radio, the first lines I heard were these:

It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you

You better let somebody love you, before it's too late.

When I got to work, I e-mailed my friend Cheri to tell her about the song and the synchronicity.

Days before my trip east, there was a thunderstorm in Indianapolis. As the clouds passed, the sun broke out. Cheri's friend Chris snapped a photograph from the IUPUI campus. It shows a big rainbow stretching over the downtown skyline.

Knowing that I was watching the same rainbow and remembering, Cheri emailed the picture to me with a note that said: "A rainbow for you ... a remembrance of what is past, a good omen for the days ahead, and a promise of what is to come."

Five seasons later, Cheri and I pull into the drive of the Colorado home we'd rented for the week, climb out of the car and stand, arm-in-arm, gazing at a double rainbow over the Rockies.

With all due respect to the Weather Channel, how can you attribute a thing like that to meteorology?

During our week at the other end of the rainbow, Cheri and I strolled through a downtown Durango art fair and listened to a new-age band. We hiked to 12,000 feet and fished in a mountain lake.

One day, we woke early and rode the narrow-gauge train from Durango to Silverton.

On another, we drove the San Juan Skyway, our rental Pontiac perched precariously on winding mountain roads fraught with switchbacks and S-shaped curves, but rarely a guardrail.

At Mesa Verde National Park, rangers showed us cave dwellings and kivas cleverly constructed by ancient Puebloans.

A few miles away, along the desolate, hell-on-earth, lunar-like landscape surrounding U.S. Highway 160 near the Four Corners Monument, we saw miles of shattered glass-remnants of booze bottles tossed onto useless acres relegated to the Navajo Nation.

And we learned that, while natives and tourists trash the environment and their livers on reservation land, folks a short drive away in Telluride toast property values as high as their ski slopes.

Here's a sample low-end listing from a Telluride real estate brochure: 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, 1,397 square feet, "excellent remodel opportunity": $1,750,000.

Here's a sample high-end listing: 7 suites, 7 full baths, 3 half baths, 14,147 square feet, 1.11 acre, ski-in/ski-out access, breathtaking views, theater, bar, wine room, spas, library, garden-level heated garage, auto court, luxurious finishes throughout, master suite on top level; guest house currently under construction: $14,900,000.

It's enough to make a leprechaun leap. No one knows for sure why the ancient Puebloans abandoned Mesa Verde, though it probably had something to do with a shortage of food and water.

I don't know for sure why the Navajo Nation settled for such desolate reservation land, though it probably had something to do with being robbed and having no choice.

I don't know for sure why someone would spend $15 million for a place to live for a few weeks during ski season, though it probably has something to do with "because I can."

I do know that on the drive south from Durango, it rained a bit, and when we got within sight of Sandia Mountain, the clouds over Albuquerque were pretty dark.

But by the time we grabbed dinner and boarded our flight, the sun had broken through. And as we lifted off, I grasped Cheri's hand and showed her the rainbow that had just appeared over the mountains.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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