In 2015, as a new arrival in Cedaredge, I first met Evelyn June Horn early one morning on the tree-lined pathway that meanders beside Surface Creek. Although I didn’t know at the time that I was meeting a local celebrity, in retrospect seeing her there — on a trail close to nature — should have been no surprise because it was exactly the right place to encounter this unapologetic lover of plants and birds.
It was chilly on that April day and I was bundled up and walking northward when Evelyn suddenly appeared from around a bend, heading purposefully south. Binoculars dangled from her neck and she wore a battered cap and an infectious grin. She stopped as we passed and her first words to me were not the typical “Good morning” which two strangers might exchange.
Instead she was breathless with excitement as she asked, “Did you see him? Did he come this way?”
I must have looked puzzled because she laughed and invited me to accompany her upstream to search for a creature she called the water ouzel. With no clue what I was meant to be looking for, but captivated by her enthusiasm, I followed.
We never saw the critter that morning, but Evelyn described it in such vivid detail that I was inspired to return every day for a week to search for a mysterious bird which this impossibly enthusiastic stranger had assured me was a Surface Creek denizen. However, after half a dozen unsuccessful expeditions, I was beginning to wonder if I had been the victim of the Western Colorado version of a snipe hunt.
Then I saw the bird — just as Evelyn had described it and exactly where she said to look. The small gray-black ouzel (aka, the American Dipper) was perched on a mid-stream rock and — true to its alternative name — it was dipping vigorously up and down as it scanned the water. Suddenly it leapt from its rock, dove into the creek, swam underwater, then emerged several yards upstream, hopped onto another rock, shook its feathers, and repeated the process. It was an efficient procedure, but also elegant.
I sat and watched the diligent animal feeding and frolicking in the icy water for nearly an hour until at last it took to the air and rocketed downstream, flying low and skimming graceful along the creek until it was lost from sight. To this day I still spot the elusive bird now and then. And everytime I see one I can’t help remembering my memorable first encounter with two of Surface Creek’s most enduring legends: the eager woman and the elusive ouzel.
Evelyn died last month and her obituary appeared in the Oct 23 edition of the DCI. Seeing her name there has undoubtedly reminded readers of the many informative columns she authored for this newspaper, each one a succinct and heartfelt celebration of Colorado birds and plants.
Her newspaper columns were an outgrowth of meticulous journals which she kept and illustrated to chronicle her numerous sojourns into the wilderness in search of flying and growing things. Many of her journal entries and other writing were compiled in three volumes which she published in 2004, 2008 and most recently in 2011. All three are available for check-out through the Delta County Public Libraries and can, of course, be purchased online. I am fortunate to have all three books and, taking each from the shelf, I noticed the subtitle of her last work. The main title is ‘Intriguing Discoveries with the Naturalist-in-Training.’ A whimsical title reflecting her humility and sense of humor. But it was the subtitle which caught my eye.
The subtitle reads: ‘Springtime: Volume 1.’
Volume 2 and other future installments will have to wait because Evelyn June Horn, the faithful chronicler and follower of birds and plants is gone now. She’s taken wing and skimmed away, as well-remembered and forever-elegant as the elusive ouzel.
To hear a brief 2013 KVNF interview with
Evelyn Horn, visit this link: