From the second I chatted with Erin over the phone I knew I was going to love her. Her vision, down to earth attitude and outpouring of love for her family and friends were apparent right from the start. This wedding is, and I’m sure will always be, close to my heart. By the end of the day, I collapsed onto my hotel bed and already missed this crew. They made me feel so welcome and Cuchara remains one of my favorite places to shoot — and relax. The country is unlike anything I’ve seen in Colorado and I always leave feeling refreshed. My words certainly weren’t going to do justice to the magic of the day, so I enlisted Erin to help me out. Her story below is such a beautiful testament to this special weekend.
It was always going to be Cuchara, where I vowed to give him all of my remaining days and nights. It was going to be Cuchara because to love me is to love this place, and to understand me is to cherish where I became me. It would become his place, too, and like the groves of towering aspen, our roots have grown entwined with one another’s, sustaining and supporting each other as we reach toward the sky and stand firm against the elements.
As a child, Cuchara meant freedom. Freedom to wander and be brave. To go a little further and a little higher than years previous. Freedom to breathe deep and learn who I was. Freedom to dream about who I wanted to be. Freedom to fall in love with a place and an idea that climbing mountains brings God just a little bit closer, within range of my outstretched arms. Footprints, year and year, pressed into our red dirt road. Cuchara, year after year, pressed into my childhood heart. And it is our place now – mine and Mark’s. We claim it with footprints in red dirt.
Our engagement began the same way our relationship did – a beautiful, peaceful June evening, two fresh gin and tonics, fingertips touching – simultaneously comfortable and charged. I had waited for that moment, imagined it, longed for it even, but when it was happening, I was more aware of my badly manicured fingernails than of what he was saying to me. “Are you sure?” I asked. How could he want to marry someone who has such ugly fingernails? “Of course!” he responded, possibly a bit offended at such a ludicrous question. Eventually, I did remember to say yes. And then promptly filed and painted my nails to provide a suitable home for the gorgeous ring he’d given me.
That same weekend, I learned that my beloved aunt had a rare and aggressive form of cancer, and suddenly the joy of our engagement was eclipsed by her devastating diagnosis. How could we celebrate this significant time in our lives while she was fighting for hers? But what we loved about my aunt, what everyone loved about her, was her innate ability to find humor and happiness in life, regardless of minor inconveniences like cancer, that tried to steal the show. As she demanded, wedding plans began alongside her battle, and when we chose a date and Cuchara as our venue, she set her jaw to be there.
From the beginning, the highest priority for our wedding was to enjoy the experience with our people. Family and friends are scattered across many states, and our time with them is so precious. We envisioned drinks on decks, late night card games, and daytime hikes. We wanted to show off our valley, and we did not want to DIY our time away or stress ourselves out with minor details that only we would remember. This wedding was to be about the people who brought us to this place of happiness, and about our commitment to each other. We kept the plans simple, adding personal touches throughout to ensure that our ceremony was meaningful for our blended family. The wedding party was family, and included all of our children because this wedding was as much about them as it was about us.
I had three amazing bridal showers as a prelude to the big day. The first, given by my mom’s dear friends, some of whom I’ve known for years and others I’ve never met. Regardless, almost 20 beautiful ladies showered me with gifts, wisdom, laughter and support. The second, a delightful tea party hosted flawlessly by my matron of honor and best friend/sister. My aunt, on an upswing in her battle against Multiple Myeloma, was able to attend, and looked beautiful and healthy that afternoon. It was 8 weeks until the wedding, and she was still determined to attend. I prayed it to be so. The third shower took place at work – my dear co-workers blowing me away with their generosity and support. I entered into my marriage knowing that I had an enormous village behind me, cheering us on and praying for us.
And then, 12 days before the wedding, we got a call. Aunt Sissy was in the hospital, and what they thought was pneumonia was actually more cancer. It was time to come, and the family came. We circled around that bed in a fortress of will and hope and resignation while the doctors delivered the news. Time was short. Sissy was not going to make the wedding.
And so began some of the longest and most special days of my life. Watching my family show up. Watching my aunt fight, and then relent. The wedding details didn’t matter while we were in that room. All that mattered was her comfort, and the peace of the ones who loved her most. One week before the wedding she’d spent a year hoping to attend, she had to leave us. The sadness we felt was staggering; the relief that she suffered no more…profound.
I had a vision for how our wedding would go, and cancer wasn’t part of it. Heart-breaking loss wasn’t factored in. Everyone I loved most would be there to see my dream come true, including Aunt Sissy. But as a lover of parties and celebrations of any kind, we all knew she would want us to savor our time together, allow happiness to overtake our sadness, and carry on. And so we did. We enjoyed an amazing week of hiking, relaxing, and laughing. We let the mountain air begin to heal us, while we prepared to begin our marriage.
Friday morning broke with grey clouds settled heavily upon our valley. The power flickered and finally went out completely while the temperature topped out at a dreary 58 degrees. I was shaken. My first thought: when our guests drive up into the valley, they won’t be able to see it! I desperately wanted everyone to love Cuchara, but it’s a bit harder to love when visibility is 20 feet.
If the power wasn’t restored in time, our gorgeous farm-to-table rehearsal dinner would be impossible. As it was, the chilly temperature and fine mist were going to force us out of the picturesque and spacious courtyard, as planned, and into a tightly packed dining room not designed for a group our size. Add to that a gloomy forecast for Wedding Day (80% chance of thunderstorms!) and my first bridal meltdown ensued. I looked up at the ominous skies, and hit up Aunt Sissy. “Look, I know you are new there but this is not looking good and if you were here, you would figure out how to make everything okay. I’ve waited too long for this – it cannot storm. I wanted more than anything for you to be here – can you show me you are here?”
The sun never came out that Friday, but thankfully, power was restored by early afternoon and we were able to squeeze into the Cowgirl Cantina for a very memorable dinner of some of the most delicious barbecue I’ve ever had. The food saved the evening! And plenty of nerve-settling sangria helped, too.
Wedding day dawned with more clouds, but glimpses of sunshine throughout the day. It never rained. I thank Aunt Sissy for that – she did make the wedding after all! We took care of the few necessary errands that morning and then the guys sought refuge in the bridal suite with Netflix and Xbox. All I know is that they were at the church on time, with shirts tucked in and shoes tied. Us girls preened and gabbed and enjoyed the excitement of the day, at a mountain time pace. The weather was holding and I relaxed into the “whatever happens, happens” mode that takes over when the details of an event can no longer be controlled and it’s time to just be in it.
Close friends and family gathered to fill the little log chapel where we took our vows. Dr. Justin Tull officiated the service, and a dear friend sang a very special song for us, while local musician Tom Munch sang the processional “I Will Lift My Eyes.” We celebrated afterwards at The Timbers Restaurant and Gallery with an indoor/outdoor hors d’oeuvres reception and mini cakes by the Cowgirl Cantina. We finished out the evening at the one and only Dog Bar, keeping the dance floor warm with enthusiastic dance moves aided by pitchers of cold, Colorado-crafted beer. We lingered until closing time, unwilling to end such a perfect day. It was a perfect day.
Our emphasis for this event was on love: love for each other, love for our families, love for our friends, love for this place, and love for Aunt Sissy. It was a beautiful declaration of mine and Mark’s commitment to each other and our children, and a dream come true for this girl, who always imagined being a bride in Cuchara.