New boots, blisters, beautiful mountains.

A couple of months ago Mitch surprised me with new boots (Asolo Attiva's in violet). I had been complaining about my old stompers (also Asolo's), which were wearing out in the soles and weighed more than a small sheep. He stumbled on a good sale and I got the shoes pictured above, in my favorite color.

Saturday the new hiking boots went for a spin, a really long spin to Commanche Lake and back. I had been of the mind to hike for an hour, find a nice meadow and read for the afternoon; Mitch wanted to take a real hike. And, since we often take hike-and-reads, I thought it was only fair.

Ten minutes into the hike my right heel started to burn. Blister Block provided a few minutes of relief, after which I had a growing padded blister.

Truth be told, I saw the blister as my out. I could have whined my way into a shorter hike; I had the physical evidence. As with knitting and college degrees, I tend to be a finisher. So onward.

Though it's been dry in the Sangres, the wildflowers put on their best. Indian paintbrush, wild roses in the most delicious shades of pink, mountain bluebells and our state's emblamatic columbine helped distract this cranky hiker.

About an hour in, Mitch, who was also rocking new boots, began to feel an incipient blister on his left foot. Not long thereafter, I slipped and skinned my right knee, which given the looks of my legs at this age, did not endear me to the trail.

The guide books would classify this hike as "moderate." And that's exactly what it was, a slow, steady climb up, about four-and-a-half miles. The steep grades were few but so were those long stretches of mountain valley  common to lake hikes in the Sangres. Given a winter of indolence, "relentless," is the word that pops to mind.

As is often the case with hiking, it's a mental trick more than a physical one. Given the climate-controlled environments we live in and our mostly sendentary lives, we are discomfitted by physical discomfort. Cold, heat, strenuous exertion--we do everything we can to shield ourselves from anything that deviates above or below 72 degrees and the fast beating of our hearts.

But when we do that, we miss this:

and this...

Life as magazine layout

Saturday night served up the tableau pictured above:

Looks like it belongs in Martha Stewart, with notable exceptions: Instead of using a cooler for a coffee table, her team would have found the perfect $2,000 distressed olive-wood bench, and the wine glasses would have matched.

The Menu: A mixed grill of legacy meat from our freezer marinated in bourbon and soy sauce and sprinkled with Bob's rub; salmon in a wash of lemon and honey spiked with hickory-smoked salt, wild rice, roasted potato salad in an herbed vinaigrette (Paul Newman's Organic Tuscan, truth be told), arugula salad with lemon and olive oil, mixed green salad with a classic vinaigrette, vegan orange-chocolate cake (to-die for!) and non-dairy Almond Dream ice cream.

The occasion: To introduce Jeff and Carol from Garfield Estates to friends prior to their participation in Taste of the Valley, fundraiser for the community radio station, KWMV.

The takeaway: Cliche but true, it doesn't get much better than this.

Ranch wife

Friday evening we arrived at the Ranch and were greeted by this miracle of nature: Mouse turds.

Everywhere. On the counters. In bed. Hidden in cabinets. Even the kitchen sink. It was as if Mickey was suffering an extreme case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and decided to make our home his maison du respose.

When Mitch started collecting the evidence with his bare hands, I damn near fainted.

"Why are you so offended?"

"Because Mickey crapped on my sofa cushions!"

This is where my "city mouse" comes in to direct conflict with my "country mouse." I am used to the comforts and cats of the metropolis, so it is with great trepidation that I address the dead flies and mouse droppings that accompany country life.

I begin vacuumming like a woman possessed.

"I've got some traps we can put out," Mitch offered.

I looked at him horrified. "But I don't want to hurt them!"

You can take the girl out of the city...

Alice Waters meets Zebulon Pike

Given that Mitch and I still entertain like graduate students, guests sitting on the floor cross-legged, plates perched on laps, Saturday's meal was a revelation:

We were invited to a wine dinner billed as Southern Colorado and Southern France. To get to the house, we drove nine miles on rutted dirt roads, through rabbit brush gilded with new flowers, spiney sage and bunch grasses trending amber. Cows roam freely in this part of the county--or as freely as landowners allow--so every mile or so, I had to hop out of the truck, my silver sandals raising billows of dust, and swing open heavy pipe gates while Mitch drove through.

We could see the house from miles away, sitting atop a bald ridge. We arrived late and apologizing with a bag of heirloom tomatoes for the hostess and drank in the valley views from the tall, wide windows.

The table was set, placecards slotted into winecorks, with forks for each course, two wine glasses each, for red and white, gleaming table linens. A menu lay at every place, describing each course and the wine pairing.

Permit me to cut to the chase:

Hors D'oeuvres: Tapenade, Tomato Tarte Tain and Radishes with Anchovy Butter

L'Entree: Olate Corn Soup with Garlic Butter

Poisson Cours: Apalachiola Shrimp Provencal

Le Plat Principal: Grilled Veal Chops (Colorado pasture raised) and Eggplant Tomato Gratin

Salade: Local greens in vinaigrette

Le Fromage: Haystack Boulder Goat, Bucheron, Camembert and Roquefort

Le Dessert: Ambrosia Honey Mouse, Pain d'amande, Palisade Peaches and Pears

Each dish was carefully paired with an appropriate Colorado or French wine. The 2001 Dom. Les Aphillantes, Cotes du Rhone-Cuvee du Cros was smashing.

Trust me, we can't stop talking about this meal.

Local tomato

Look at that fat, bulbous globe, ruddy as a drunk. And grown at 8,000 feet. By rights at this elevation it should be a stunted yellow ball.

The tomato comes from Meredith, who's been haying at the ranch. Meredith is the mother of 29 alpacas, seven goats, five chickens and four dogs. She has animals, we have grass, so this week she's been busy raking and hauling hay back to her growing herd. (A couple of the girls got themselves in the family way when "Mother" wasn't looking.)

Enroute to the ranch she stops at a neighbor's organic garden, who opens it to friends to have their pick. She's loaded us up with tender red-leaf lettuce, peppery arugala, miniature cucumbers and porky tomatoes--all tasting like earth, water and sun.

Now if we could only get our recalcitrant green fruits to ripen at home.