Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, June 3, 2020
High up in the mountains and deep in the woods on an essence-of-summer day, I stop in my tracks as Peter and the dog continue on ahead. There are no SUV’s on this particular road, no bikes, or hikers, or ATV’s, or company of any kind. It’s just us walking in the green shadows of tall trembling trees, the comforting sound of a running ditch beside us and an occasional uptake of wind.
It is the breeze that brings me to a halt, not the usual interrupters — distant motors, cracking branches, cawing birds. The delicate whisper of the air is what shushes, in a soft greeting loud enough to get my attention even as it caresses my skin. This is the most delicious thing I know, the most sensuous, humble and profound, and tender beyond the tenderness of any humans I have known. In a slow-motion moment, I come to a complete standstill, spoken to, cradled, called.
It’s obvious when I stop, as I’ve taken note of so many times before, that even here amidst the blinding glory of our mountains, I have been utterly absorbed in — and blinded by — my thoughts. I have been asleep, deep under the gray veil of everyday consciousness. Today’s stream of unconsciousness feels like an old-fashioned rock tumbler set on Just Keep Polishing Until They’re Gone, each rock an issue or a task or a victory or a tragedy or a worry, each one coated by the past or the future, the ego, the little child, the mind, my story.
While some rocks are worn down to nothing, some refuse to wear down. It is insanely easy to simply let the rock tumbler go, leave it on autopilot, neural pathways getting more and more deeply rutted with each tumble. It is what we rock tumblers do.
By the grace of something bigger than my brain, however, there’s a reflex that kicks in sometimes in these particular moments, and I look up. It feels like I am actually thirsty for looking up, like it quenches or nourishes whatever it is I can’t even put my finger on. It is not simply about the mystery of nature when we are present to it, the nourishing, quenching, goodness of a truly sublime order and beauty. It is something far more personal: not bigger, but bigger to me.
I tilt my head back and stare up at the trembling leaves, the gentle sway of the aspens, and the rock tumbler slows and then stops. Here it is, a force of calm shutting down the motor and machinery, silencing the clang. There is a brief period of hypnosis-by-tree, nothing but staring up, a fluid connection to the plasma of three dimensions. What is that plasma? How am I a part of it?
And then this happens: I am reconnected to every other time I have stood just like this, feet planted on the forest floor and head tilted as far back as it will go — thirsty — and looking up. I feel time compress like puff pastry, layers and layers of individuated moments puffed up and open and then pierced through by this moment here, right now. It is 35 years worth of events and emotions of times and places in the San Juan Mountains, all gathered together and layered under a green umbrella of space and time.
I think it goes all the way back to me as a 27-year-old living in the trailer “court” of Pandora (now Idarado Legacy), our doublewide nuzzled in the aspen trees, and the feeling of being among them, seeing their tops quaking and swaying in the breeze, the freedom-heavy, green-shadowed good fortune of having landed in that place, a sweet man by my side.
Can you feel what I’m talking about, you rock tumblers? The respite that the trees have afforded me, the calm and sense of connection, the being carried away, sucked out of time to buzz for a brief moment in the now where everything — joy and heartache and loss and alienation — can all coexist without judgment and with far more unified feeling than words.
Me, I’m a rock tumbler by nature. I don’t know how epigenetics works, but I believe I inherited it somehow from all the rock tumblers and tumbled rocks before me, generations of cogitators and rationalizers who believed thinking could get them to where they needed to go.
Well, those privy to the goodness and greatness of trees will not be surprised that they can get through even to us — to save us, and root us where we are.