To The Editor:
I first met Enda Mills Kiley when we visited the Enos Mills cabin during the early 90s. My mother, who lived in Lyons, loved to visit with Enda, and suggested we go meet her. I am looking right now at a picture of my daughter, Meghan, with Enda, probably in about 1997. The picture is one of my treasures.
In the fall of 2005, we were thrilled to be in Estes Park for the annual meeting of the Estes Park Museum, and even more thrilled that Enda would be the speaker. Imagine our surprise when Enda and two of her friends from Good Samaritan sat down across from us. I felt like we were in the presence of royalty, and could hardly talk. But I got up the courage to speak to this grand lady, we had a wonderful conversation. When we returned to Illinois, I sent her flowers, hoping that she would remember me. And in fact, she did.
This was the beginning of an amazing, although distant, friendship. Until recently we wrote each other two or three times a month, and we always visited her when we were in Estes. We loved taking her out to dinner and were thrilled to meet her granddaughter Eryn, who then worked at our favorite restaurant. We were happy when Eryn could arrange for a night off so she could join us, and another time we were pleased that Sybil Barnes, another dear friend of Enda’s, was able to join us. We were in the presence of living history.
We visited her at Good Samaritan and were amazed at the view from the dining room. Once a storm was brewing and we couldn’t believe the gorgeous view there. We didn’t even know about the view from Devil’s Gulch Road until we picked her up “the back way” as she called it, and even though she was living in Longmont the last two times we were there, we still drive this way to see the amazing view of the mountains. She pointed out the house with the caboose in the yard, and the place where the beavers live across from Good Sam.
The best part of our visit was always the stories she would tell. Although Enda was only three-years-old when her father, Enos Mills, died, she loved to tell stories about him. I always took notes while she talked. She was so proud of him. In one of her letters she asked me to send her a list of the Enos Mills books I have, and corrected me when I put Enos Mills of the Rockies on the list, telling me it was written in 1935 by Hildegarde Hawthorne and Esther Burnell Mills, not Enos.
She loved to talk about her mother, Esther Burnell Mills. She was delighted when I told her that my favorite Christmas story, and in fact the one I read every Christmas, is the one about the famous Christmas picnic Esther shared with Katherine Garretson. They were both homesteaders, and they had planned to meet each other for a Christmas picnic near Lily Lake. Katherine wasn’t sure Esther would come, thinking someone in Estes Park would have extended her a better invitation for Christmas dinner, but she did indeed come. The two friends shared canned soup, bacon, bread and coffee. Their visit was a short one, however, and they snowshoed home so they could be home before dark. Enda loved that I loved that story.
She enjoyed telling the story about how hard her mother worked to keep the Longs Peak Inn after her father died. She enjoyed what she called her archiving, and sometimes sent me copies of things she was putting in scrapbooks: a poem her mother wrote, photographs of her mother, old postcards from the Longs Peak Inn (one showing the “rustic stairway” in the lobby and the “tree root screen),” lists of books, and even outlines of occasional talks she was asked to give.
When we visited her for the last time in September in Longmont, we walked around the facility with her and she pointed out pine cones on the trees. She said, “I should give my talk on pine cones. They would enjoy it.”
I kept thinking about that talk and thinking about all of her knowledge. I was always asking her to talk about herself, but she always preferred to tell the story of her father, and reminded us that he was a nature guide.
When we told her about the places we like to hike, many of them away from the usual trails, she said Enos would have loved that. She constantly reminded us to slow down and observe. On the last day we were there, the day after we visited with her, we hiked straight ahead at Upper Beaver Meadows, rather than turning right where the Ute Trail begins, and discovered a world we had never seen before. We kept saying that both Enda and Enos would love that we had found a new place, away from other people, and were taking our time to see the little wonders of nature there.
She sent me a list of quotes from Enos Mills. One of my favorites is this: “When my father created nature guiding he said, ‘A wilderness became a wonderland with a nature guide.’ He trained them, both men and women, to be ‘more inspirational than informational.’”
I was so thrilled to find an old-fashioned Valentine for her just this past weekend. And yesterday I thought about calling her since I hadn’t talked to her since Christmas. Now this story will have to be her Valentine. Rest in peace, dear Enda.