About 75 minutes after my plane’s wheels had touch the ground in Denver, I was standing on top of a mountain. Clouds were spitting rain at me. Thunder clambered from storm clouds to my north and south. I had determined to put in a few miles of hiking, but the weather was determined not to cooperate.
Why was I in Denver in the First Place?
To properly tell this story, we need to go back to 1940. The United States was in the throes of the Great Depression. Europe was engaged in a war that would eventually entangle much of the world. And my 20-year-old grandfather, unable to find work in Iowa Park, Texas, enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corp. He was sent to work at a camp near Golden, Colorado, about 20 miles west of Denver. While there, he helped build what would become Genesee Park, a part of the Denver Mountain Parks system.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve done some research to uncover all this information and dig up some documents that were in the National Archives. So while I was in Colorado for my conference, I wanted to see the park he helped construct.
Not just to satiate my curiosity and walk on the trails that my grandfather may have blazed, although that would have been enticement enough. But to add depth to my writing of his story. I wanted to walk where he’d walked, see what he’d seen, touch things he might have built.
What was the Purpose of My Pilgrimage?
I am writing a novel about my grandfather’s story. I’ve been working on it intermittently for the past couple of years. There’s far more to it that just his time in Colorado, and it’s a truly fascinating story. But I’m finding it very difficult to write. For many reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve never written a novel before.
I thought that traveling to one of the locations where the story unfolds would help add depth to my writing about it. It was certainly necessary to add authenticity to the events that occur at the CCC Camp. But what I was hoping for was a deeper connection, some emotional catalyst that would jump-start my writing.
Now I Have to Face a Hard Truth
Well, I got half of what I needed. Going to Genesee Park was helpful for filling in details about the landscape and the camp. It also forced me to mentally fess up to the truth that the reason I’m having such with writing this story is fear.
Fear that I can’t write fiction. Fear that it won’t be good enough. Fear that it won’t honor those who came before me. And the only antidote is just to write the story and let come what may. But that’s proving a lot harder than what it sounds like.
I had thought that traveling to Denver would add depth to my writing of this story. And I was right. I now know the sights, sounds, and smells of the places where my grandfather walked 80 years ago (except that I’m pretty sure he couldn’t hear I-70 in the distance). But I had also thought traveling would be the catalyst that pushed me to continue writing the tale.
About that, I was wrong. There’s more to overcome. It wasn’t a lack of knowledge holding me back; it was fear. And that is proving a little more difficult to overcome.