Once while trudging up a mountain trail, a woman with gray hair coming down the trail stopped me to tell me triumphantly she had hiked to the lake in less than two hours. I congratulated her, but what I wanted to ask was: Why did you go so fast? Did you notice the marmot sunning itself on the rock or the columbine almost hidden beneath the boulder? She was gone before I had chance to tell her that my last hike to the lake took five hours.
For myself, I like to go as slowly as possible, more of a saunter than a trudge. I want to spend as much time as I can in the mountains, and I want to notice everything: the waterfall across the valley, every conceivable combination of flowers (color, shape) and especially the gnarled roots of the bristlecone pine.
But I found that people look at you strangely if you’re just standing staring into space. Once, on a trail in Eldorado Canyon, I was admiring the red rock formations when a family stopped, trying to see what I was looking at so intently. Surely, I had spotted a bear or the rare rimrock rose. I had to admit that I was just looking at rocks, and they left, disappointed.
It helps to have binoculars, so it appears that you’ve spotted a bird that needs to be identified in the top of the pine tree. Or to have a flower guidebook, so people assume you’re leaning over the flowers the better to see how many petals. But one of the best decoys for me is my camera. I’ve taken more than my share of mediocre photos (thank goodness for digital cameras) in an effort to appear as if I’m doing something useful rather than just admiring the clouds floating by.
I may not be doing anything useful, but I’m enjoying everything around me. I’m a dreamer, staring at clouds or the shadow of an aspen tree on a large granite boulder. You can hurry up the trail as fast as you want, but I’m going to stay here as long as I can, admiring this field of purple asters waving in the wind.