Land of Flying Cars

My wife and I live in a rural area of Colorado known as the Black Forest.  The high density of Ponderosa Pines in our small geography gives us our name.  Remarkably, there’s only one other notable place on the planet named “Black Forest”: the region near Bavaria in southwest Germany.  As it turns out, I have personal ties to both places, though I’ve never been to the south of Germany.  Follow along as I connect the Forests.

Fill in the blank, “Best Childhood Movie: ________”.  Most of you would respond with an offering from Disney.  Including “Snow White…”, “Mary Poppins”, and “The Little Mermaid”, you’ve already covered sixty years of film-making, with countless other Disney classics in between.  I don’t think I missed a single Disney growing up in the sixties and seventies, yet – go figure – my favorite childhood movie doesn’t come from the Mouse.  It doesn’t even come from my home country.  My childhood choice?  The UK’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, based on the 1964 novel by Ian Fleming.

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” – the captivating musical about the inventor and his kids who lived in a windmill cottage; about those wonderful-though-not-always-perfect inventions (my favorite: the eggs-toast-sausage breakfast machine); about the candy-maker and the toy-maker and the captivating castle world of Vulgaria; and most importantly about the magical flying motorcar itself – created figments of my imagination like no other movie.  The lyrics to the title song (“…Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four-fendered friend…”) were burned into my brain.  Someday I vowed to visit the lands of Caractacus Potts and Baron Bomburst.


As it turns out, the Potts’ windmill cottage really does exist (and not on a movie set) – as the “Cobstone Windmill” in Buckinghamshire, England. The mansion where “Truly Scrumptious” lived is in the same area of the country.  And the Scrumptious Sweets Company was a working factory in Middlesex (today a steam-engine museum).  But it was the castle and village in Vulgaria I really wanted to see.  Not long after seeing the movie of course, I learned “Vulgaria” was a fictitious country.  Baron Bomburst didn’t actually lord over the land, nor did he ever keep all those children as slaves beneath his castle. But the castle and the village are based on actual places.  The village is Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria.  The castle is Castle Neuschwanstein, also in Bavaria.  And how ironic; both locations were inspirations for Disney as well: Rothenburg for the village in “Pinocchio”, and Neuschwanstein for the Cinderella castles in the theme parks.

To bring my journey full-circle, Rothenburg, Castle Neuschwanstein, and Bavaria sit in southwest Germany, adjacent to… the Black Forest.  Germany’s version of the Forest is a mountainous land of picturesque villages, castles, vineyards and spas.  This is the region that brought the world Black Forest Ham and “truly scrumptious” Black Forest Cake.  This is the land of glass-making and cuckoo clocks.  From the photos above, it looks every bit as charming as “Vulgaria”.


Colorado’s Black Forest barely amounts to a dot on Google Maps.  Within our pines, the “town” is a hodge-podge of nondescript businesses clustered around a couple of traffic signals, with nothing more alluring than a Subway, a post office, and a couple of coffee shops.  The terrain is fairly flat, with no windmill cottages or mountaintop castles or cuckoo clocks.  But it’s a great place to live, with its own unique charm.  And every now and then, when I’m deep in the pines, I’ll start humming that forever-familiar Chitty-Chitty tune, as I gaze up to the skies in search of a flying motorcar.

Four in the Forest

Three years ago this month, our community suffered a devastating wildfire the likes of which had never been seen in Colorado history.  Inside of a week, the Black Forest Fire consumed almost 15,000 acres and displaced 38.000 residents.  When the fire was finally contained over 500 homes had been destroyed.  It was an almost unimaginable force of nature, and a miracle that only two residents lost their lives.

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My family and I – and the several horses on our property – were forced to evacuate thirty miles to the north, waiting almost a week to learn the fate of our home.  We couldn’t check our phones for real-time updates.  Instead, we were at the mercy of twice-daily television reports.  We were glued to the screen as the spokesperson would list impacted streets and addresses.  By the grace of God our house was spared, even though the fire came within a mile of our property.  But the beautiful Black Forest now bears a miles-long scar that will be evident for decades, if not hundreds of years.

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The fire was a testament to a higher power, but also to the efforts of the “first-responders”.  Almost 500 firefighters battled the blaze; probably ten times the number manning our local stations.  I am in awe of these professionals, working tirelessly as well as putting their lives on the line for people like myself whom they will never meet.  They are the epitome of heroism.

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A year after the fire our community established “4 Miles in the Forest”, an annual fun run to benefit the Black Forest Fire/Rescue department.  “4 Miles…” attracts several hundred participants, including the firefighters themselves.  It is conducted at Section 16, a square mile of the forest with a trail around the perimeter for walking, running, biking, and horseback riding.  Thanks to an elementary school within the Section the firefighters held the line and saved the entire property.

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When I ran the inaugural “4 miles…”, I was delighted to find I was pacing one of the firefighters most of the way.  He must have been carrying 50 pounds of gear as he ran.  He was being coached by one of his superiors – as if in boot camp.  My own effort was buoyed by the thought that I was accompanied by this truly selfless individual.

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This year’s run was different.  I found myself alone most of the way, well-spaced between the leaders and the walkers.  The solitude gave me time to dwell on the significance of the race: a memorial to a tragic event as well as a testament to those who brought the fire to an end.  As I completed the run, I realized my participation had nothing to do with winning the race or where I placed or how fast I had run.  In fact it had nothing to do with me at all.  Instead my running was a tribute to the selflessness of others; their willingness to fight and protect without reward or recognition.  I know they would come to my rescue again without question.  They are heroes in every sense of the word.