Hiking up to Cub Lake in the park I hiked on the edge of a meadow that extends for at least a mile. At the end, the trail starts to ascend through aspen and ponderosa pine forests blackened in a fire two years ago. I didn’t want to see this destruction, see that the place I loved no longer exists. So I filled my head with distractions, until I realized what I was doing and started focusing on what was in front of me: green grasses embroidering the black charred trunks (below), unfamiliar yellow flowers covering the black soil on the opposite hillside, and small aspen bushes, only 3 or 4 feet high, springing up after the fire, trying to get a toehold before the pines take control. Amid all this death, life is returning.
It was still hard to see the lake—an oasis of blue water, green lily pads and a circle of green grasses—a blue eye in the blackened hillsides. It had been raining on and off all day but as I climbed above the lake, the sun came out, illuminating the now open hillsides covered with the tall grasses and aspen bushes. Warmth and sunlight flooded my senses, and my footsteps became lighter.
It rained on the way back down the rocky trail, but when I got back to the meadow, the sun came out again, and I sat on an outcrop of rocks, a peninsula that sticks out into the sea of grasses. I was in between storms—dark clouds to the east and west— but here was sunshine, a brief pause, a respite from the gray, rainy day. The longer I sat there the more I couldn’t leave.
I was totally enclosed by mountains, with the high, darker peaks in the distance, the hillsides of dense pine forests to the south and the more open slopes of single ponderosas, sumac bushes and pines on the north side. I felt embraced by these flanks, out here on the inland sea of still green grasses flecked with golden tops. From the eastern horizon to the western hills, the meadow was a weaving mass of grasses interrupted by small blue ponds and the humps of red rock whales. Back and forth, pushed by the winds, the grasses giving themselves up to greater forces. No end and no beginning, like the ceaseless waves of the ocean.
For a short time, no one else was on the trail, so there was no talking or footfalls on the rock to disturb the peace. I sat and listened to the sounds: a background of insects, so soft and unified I hadn’t noticed until I sat down; the wind, of course, not just through the grasses but through the pines behind me; and an occasional bird call. If I listened carefully, I could hear the creek, muffled and hidden by the grasses. And that was it. It felt like this was the whole world, that nothing existed beyond this, that this moment would endure forever.
My cabin sits on the edge of a different meadow, smaller and rounder, encircled by cabins, pines and aspens, with Mount Meeker a bulwark to the west. Early settlers called these flat expanses parks (as in Estes Park), perhaps their only reference in these unfamiliar mountains to the parks they knew back east. These mountain valleys must have been a welcome sight after days of climbing up and down hills or following rocky streams: a place to build houses, raise cattle, even an easier walk on a continued journey west. A place to gain perspective, see where you were and what was around you.
Like them, I am happy to have that open view.