George was a powerhouse who worked dawn-to-dusk. In 1968 he was in his seventies but seemed a young fifty. Everywhere he went, his worn shovel was in his hand. When he wasn’t setting a fruit tree of jabbing at a noxious weed he was following a wall and unearthing an ancient room. At night, sitting within the cool, thick walls of their beautiful home, we would be taken on journeys by George and his marvelous color slides. He would lead us in songs about Colorado: “C-O, L-O, R-A, D-O” his squeaky voice would proclaim, “I’m a mile high and feeling fine.” He would set moods that still follow each of us, his guests, throughout our lives.
George’s hands were special because of what he did with them. His hands plowed the earth, pressed soil around fragile roots, and held the handles of an ancient one-wheeled cultivator as he pushed it down long rows of new plants. His hands picked and pruned and nurtured flora. They were cracked and callused and as tough as bark. Earth was part of their seams and textures. His nails were chipped and split from use. To hold his hand was a wonderful experience. George’s hand seemed part plant, part gentle human being.
George, even in his late eighties and early nineties, would take the kids down into the eroded creek bottom and show them rows of new trees he had planted. “We’re going to need more wood in twenty or thirty years” he would lecture, as he balanced upon a knobby stick and pointed to the green sprigs. “In the meantime, their roots will hold the soil and give other things a chance to take hold.”
Sue’s great passion in life was roses. Pungent, sweet fragrances floated on warm currents in the canyon. Her rose garden was a place of peace, beauty and quiet meditation. Sue Kelly was the Earth-Mother personified. Her depth of knowledge about people, plants and animals combined into a way of communicating “life.” She was the strength that supported George’s quests; she gave each of us a life model to follow. She gave her love openly and embraced life with a twinkle in her eye. She always took care of her “youngins” and created a sense of belonging, a sense of family. From Sue we learned that one could grow old, and die, with dignity and purpose.
In time we all realized that George and Sue, so different, were the two parts of one entity. Either one without the other was incomplete. They epitomized an ancient model. We know of them from many legends, as they have lived before, live now in each of us, and will live again.
Jo and I thought of Sue and George as our second parents. Sue called us into her kitchen, filled mugs with coffee, sat us down and said:
“If you two youngins are going to stay here in Southwest Colorado, build a school, and be a part of the community, you have to get married.” That was over forty-two years ago. She helped us see our future.
Excerpt from: Crow Canyon: Pioneering Education and Archaeology of the Southwestern Colorado Frontier. Edward F. Berger, Ed.D. 2nd edition 2009.