There is a lovely little nature path in central Loveland called the McKee Medical Center Wellness/Nature Walk, curving around the north and east sides of the hospital.
This inspirational path, a project of the McKee Medical Center Foundation, features native plants and trees of Colorado’s riparian and sub-alpine ecosystems. There is also a section for ornamental or non-native trees and shrubs. Plants are marked with modest signs indicating their common and Latin names, as well as providing short words of tribute for departed loved ones. This walk is intended to honor and heal. It succeeds in this sensitive task.
The Nature Walk provides a slim green boundary between neighboring houses and McKee’s parking lots. It is easily reached from Greeley by following U.S. 34 west to Boise Avenue, heading north on Boise Avenue just past McKee, and turning east on Hoffman Drive with street and hospital parking available.
Last year at this time, Mom was receiving chemo treatment at McKee. Hooked up to her intravenous drip, she could gaze at the trail out the window and, on good days, stroll along a portion of the walk after treatment. She loved it then, and I still do.
Stroll with me here, and soak up the ambiance and messages found along this trail. You’d expect to find quaking aspen (populous tremuloides), and here it is. Here also are the words “Always remembered, never forgotten.” Many of the Latin names are unrecognizable or easily forgotten, while others etch deep into memory by describing well-known features like the trembling leaves of quakies.
Some trees you’ll know by their Latin monikers (yes, pinus ponderosa is what we know to be the towering ponderosa pine) whereas others require a Latin dictionary to decipher (would you know that picea pungens glaua is our stately Colorado blue spruce?). No Latin is required to know and feel this emotion: “Gone from our home, not from our hearts, our son, brother, father, papa…”
Did you know that the plains cottonwood is populous sargenti? Aren’t grandfather cottonwoods more like generals? No need to quibble over Latin here. Nor to doubt the sincerity of, “Given to those who walk this park, in loving memory, by his devoted wife and caregiver, family and friends.”
How can you argue with the sentiment, “Trees give peace to the souls of men?” Do you get the drift that picea is Latin for spruce, as in engelmann spruce’s name (picea engelmanj)?
Not only are massive trees honored but also beautiful, nurturing, tough plants like scrub oak (quercus gambell), choke cherry (pruinus virginiaha), and yucca/Spanish bayonet (yucca glauca). These plants share a quality with the dearly departed, for they are all “loved so very much.”
While walking, one’s curiosity is piqued. Why is pinus cembroides edulis commonly known as pinyon pine? Who was the man “loved especially by his wife and dog?” Why do I keep running into mountain mahogany (cercocarpus montanus) everywhere I go? How does one earn the privilege to be “forever in our hearts?”
It is an enchanting trail, and it will leave you remembering that you should “Always know you are loved.”
Tom Adams is a retired educator living in Greeley and working as a fly-fishing guide in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. He can be reached at email@example.com.