I didn’t want to come back to this brown monochromatic landscape of a Colorado winter on the plains, months away from anything being green, where the fields and hills and trees are all brown. In Colorado, it won’t be until April, at the earliest, when I’ll start to smell the earth again, not just the flowers that start blooming but the pine trees, too.
But a few days after I got home, I went for a walk on trail where the grass was yellow-brown, smashed down from months of no water and being tread by cattle, looking dirty and thin. The mood in the skies matched mine: big dark clouds piling up to the west as a storm front moved in, accompanied by a cold wind. Along the trail, the ancient and huge cottowood trees were shaking and rattling in the wind, and my first thought was: I love it here.
I realized there is a difference for me between beauty and wildness, although often the two can come together, like a summer day in the mountains when the streams are full and the flowers are blooming. California is full of beauty—almost a paradise in some ways—but it’s also crowded and noisy, and you almost never get away from people, especially along the coast (inland is probably another story).
Even in a remote a place as Big Sur, where there are no towns and hardly a restaurant, dozens of people wander the beach and stop at the road pull-outs to take pictures of the green hills that drop sharply to the sea. The spectacular sea coast of Point Lobos, south of Carmel, even on a winter day in the middle of the week, was crowded. Near Monterey, every morning I walked a path along the shore, where I saw sea otters, harbor seals, pelicans, 10-foot high turqoise blue waves crashing on seastacks and white sandy beaches. But if I turned away from the ocean, I confronted a row of houses packed together that formed an almost solid line of human structures going from Carmel to Santa Cruz.
In contrast, on the trail last week near my Boulder home I saw almost no one, and the landscape was open, the line of brown rough hills seemingly unpopulated to the west and north. It felt wild, like there was room for my spirit to soar.
At my cabin, I get the same sense of spaciousness and of utter peace and quiet that is rarely disturbed in winter. In these days of little snow, Meeker Park (above, last week) is not pretty in any sense of the world; nothing green, no flowers blooming, most of the birds gone for the winter, everything dormant, the dried grasses bent by the wind and snow and the creeks frozen, while the fierce winds whip veils of snow off the top of Mount Meeker. But it stirs something in my soul, something that isn’t moved by the beauty of California. I don’t know what else to call it but wildness.