Aspenglow Wormhole

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, October 5, 2018

 

I arrived in Telluride in late August 1984 during a summer that saw more than 45 days straight of afternoon thunderstorms. Looking out the eastern bunkroom window at the Oak Street Inn (a youth hostel at the time, and the reason I drove into town in the first place), it was all in-your-face Ajax Mountain and the big, fat silver ribbon of water running down Ingram Falls. Puffy clouds, pierced by late afternoon rays of light, signaled the end of every day before the moon’s rise in the valley; and then the morning would arrive, sparkly and sunny, at least for a little while.

In those first days (right before I actually took a job at that inn), assorted fungophiles were showing up in the early evening to cook their foraged specimens in the living room fireplace, a stand alone thing with a pull screen and rock rim. The brandy, butter and mushrooms mixed in with the smell of rain was more than good; it was intoxicating. And as I considered these cozy looking hobbits in raincoats, emitting their pheromones of mycological contentment, I wondered: What other world is this I’ve entered, with its rainbows, its deep shadows, its deer and bear padding around in the dark, forest-y background?

When fall came, I think it was probably spectacular enough, but then I hadn’t started comparing them yet. I’d never seen aspens before or big swaths of color doing their slow-mo stadium waves. I’d been back East, where the fall was much more about nine-inch maples leaves crunching underfoot at Central Park, and the eventual freezing of the duck and sailboat ponds.

The San Juans were something else. The vast mountains were alive and speaking. Entire geographies of scrub oak and aspens were transmutating. One of the first people I met in Telluride used the term “tunnels of fire” to describe the 22K gold envelope of aspens lining a trail as we walked up and through it.

In a sense, yes, on first glance, tunnels of fire, with visuals of orange and red and yellow licking flames. But the feeling was different. It was warm and interior and soft, a yellow that actually felt like it was being understood and absorbed by my body in a way I imagined the sun was understood and absorbed by plants. The gold light coming through the leaf? I could taste it, identify it landing on the back of my skull. Swallow it, sense it deep within and also right under my skin, as if my body, heart and soul needed a visible-spectrum vitamin to survive the coming cold.

When my mom passed away, almost 15 years ago now, I felt I needed to speak in part about aspens. It was that time of year in Colorado, they were on my mind, and we’d had a fall of extraordinary scope that just went on and on and on. But also, my mom, a fine and knowledgeable gardener, had been fascinated with this particular tree that she considered exotic simply because it didn’t thrive in the Northwest. I think I compared her passing to a tree having lost the last of its sun-drenched, living, breathing leaves.

Looking back, I think I was actually reaching at aspens to indicate, imperfectly and imprecisely, what fall does to the senses, to memory, to the heart, to our eroding notions of cycles, and time passing or standing still. To help me grasp big important things better, to help me grasp them at all. Every year since, I have tried to figure out my response to the slow-rising color in the turning aspens.

This year, with the drought and high heat, it’s the individual trees I’ve been observing and reacting to — the way it feels standing under one as the leaves quake and glint in the wind and sun. The quality of the micro-pockets of shade, the dark and the light all around, the dappling of the ground, that radiant yellow light streaming through the leaf portals to reach you, to infuse you with warmth before the yearly invasion of ice crystals, to call your attention to an aspen tree’s magnificence in the scheme of things.

When I try to recall the details of years of aspens turning, it really feels more like trying to slip back into a dream to gather it up, to secure the location, stand in it and attempt to feel it while looking around at whatever details I can glean. Like a traveler in time — and a tiny one, for sure — shooting through a wormhole of gold to get to a spot where the present moment can ring, briefly, but clarion-like and golden yellow.

 

 

Ripespans

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 24, 2016

A half pint of raspberries sits on the kitchen counter.

These are the tiny variety, handpicked by someone who cares a lot, maybe someone deep in blissful connection to nature as the midsummer sun beats down, a heat interrupted only by the occasional thunderhead lumbering across the sky, laying its blue shadow down.

The purchase price of this basket is far too little ($3) at a local farmer’s market. Rather than that berry-on-steroids look of today, this sampling has a soft, dusty appearance, as if modestly hiding the fullness of its color. Are these wild, actually? Who knows.

(Poured onto the counter for inspection, one particular berry rolls off to the left, toward the potted fern on the kitchen island, succeeding — almost! — in hiding itself under the shade of a frond. After coming to a complete stop, it moves another inch, on its own, and bumps ever so gently into a coffee mug.  A micro sigh is released.)

MCW (moving closer in, seeing one of the berry’s hairs move slightly): Hello?

(The raspberry, emitting a tiny blur of sounds, then rolls back the length of a single drupelet — the nodes that comprise the whole drupe.)

MCW (looking around for husband in vicinity): I realize this is the magical part of July, but seriously. Are you for real?

RB: I’m real. Geez. (The voice is a pipsqueak’s. Not a cartoon character’s, or even an animated anything’s, but a lovely, sweet, squeaky sort of drawling voice the loudness of, say, a baby bumblebee.) Flesh and juice. Oh, and 6 percent fiber by total weight. Which is very high.

MCW: By the grace of summer magic, I am speaking with a raspberry. My favorite fruit.

RB (waving all her hairs, acknowledging compliment): Well. Except for plums, though, right?

MCW (blushing deeply): I mean, I like plums so very much. But …

RB (interrupting): I admire their color, firmness and versatility, as well. (RB rolls a single drupelet again, toward the human in checked pajamas, who is scanning the counter for reading glasses.) But we are a bit more sensuous, you know? Plums hold it all in; you don’t get that feeling with us.

MCW: So much more sensuous! I mean plums are, when you bite into them. Anyway. Sorry I lied. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And now, seeing you like this, I mean you easily might be my favorite fruit of all time. Even given the little I know of your personality. Your voice alone …

RB: I’m a Leo. Most of us wild raspberries are, in this part of the world. Born in late July or August. So there’s a little ego and pride there, as well as a fixation with our “manes.” (RB makes her hairs stand up).

MCW: You are adorable. Can you do the hair trick again? And do all of you speak?

RB (waves hairs): Goodness, no. We’re born mute. Aside for the sounds we make when we grow, which are not audible to humans. And the sound we make when we either fall to the ground or into a container. Sounds made by mouths eating us don’t count. Me (she topples into a cavity-down headstand), I arrived with a passion for languages. English will probably be the only one I learn, though, since my ripespan is really only two to three weeks.

MCW: Your ripespan. (MCW nods slowly.) What a concept.

RB: Right?

MCW: What is it for humans, I wonder.

RB: Most of you would say youth. But youth is not ripeness, now, is it?

MCW: It’s just so obvious for fruit. You ripen, then fall.

RB: At the height of our glory. As sweet as we can get. (RB slowly rolls toward the human hand on the counter, then bumps into it, like the softest, gentlest raspberry breeze.) So sweet it makes even animals swoon.

MCW: Animals … swoon?

RB: In private they do. (RB presses her hairs into the human flesh.) And you can, too, emceedubs.

MCW: You know my name? And you want me to eat you, now? The first fruit friend I’ve ever had?

RB: You have given Rubus idaeus— raspberries are from the rose family —the first voice they’ve had since, oh, I don’t know. Findhorn? Camelot? Atlantis?

MCW: Wait. Are you saying …

RB (giggling a drupelet completely off): I’m playing with you. But, see, I’m falling apart in ripeness. Pick me up and lay me down on your tongue. It’s my time.

(On the human tongue, the raspberry becomes quiet and utterly submissive. The human bears down, feeling the drupelets give, bursting in flavor; and, for a moment — a brief transcendent moment — summer’s own ripeness, a mysterious mix of heat and sugar, implodes in glory.)

How to build a house (part 1)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 10, 2016

At eight years of age, my best friend is a little girl named Minnie who lives not too far from our house on the shores of Lake Washington, in Seattle, a friend with whom I spend the majority of my days, outside, making stuff up.

We make up a language and we make up a club, of which we are the only members. We create a clubhouse in Minnie’s backyard among the Northwestern azaleas and rhododendrons and we sit there, squatting, serving things on leaf plates and pretending we understand our language, which consists of only two words put together in different ways. It is deliciously cozy and consumes our days. We feel sheltered not only by trees and shrubs but by the insular, hermetically sealed world of best friendship.

In contrast, the house I live in with my family — that speaks the normal language of dysfunction with too many words put together in too many ways — is vast and contains rooms that each have their own particular vibe. The dining room rings of precision and order, the kitchen of Mozart (my mother’s single obsession), the TV room of my father’s uninhibited laughter (heard only late at night with each one of Johnny Carson’s jokes). The living room has a stiff shirt-and-shoes-only feel, and the cellar, of course, off-gasses fear.

My room, which is covered in red and gold Chinese wallpaper (dad’s choice and I am not allowed to tack up or move things), is, at least, a smallish room, and it is carpeted. I hide coins under the corners of the carpet and sleep with my two stuffed snakes, each one flanking me snuggly like a sentry. I don’t feel particularly safe in this house, as big as it is; this being said, though, I still dream about it, and visit it occasionally, as if, really, it has always inhabited me.

Aside from the crucible of my eighth year are all the other houses and homes I live in during my life, from the last of the antique-filled dorm rooms in a small So-Cal college to the last hippie house off Dupont Circle in D.C. to one of the last of the sweeeeeet ski-bum houses in Telluride (right across from the current library), which rents for $250 a month in 1990.

In 1993, we buy a house at Lawson Hill when the development is still young, and we stay put, feeling it fill out with life, our child’s life. I construct a tree in her room, up to the ceiling, and plop a freezer-sized playhouse down beside it. The actual trees on the property get bigger and so does she, and when I finally sell the house, her loss is large enough that I know we have been successful in creating a home, and not just one that will stalk her in her dreams.

I am remembering, too, a tiny, impeccable woodsie home we stumble upon some eight or nine years ago while tromping through the aspens in summer. Lock and key, doormat and door. Clad windows. We find the key and trespass, slowly peeking in then stepping in completely. There is barely room for the three of us who stand there, dumb and in wonder, at the care and completeness of the surroundings. Sink, tiny bookshelves, bed, closet, windows with a view. Everything is in its place. What more could be needed in life than this? Silently, we compare it to our relatively very large house, and then, one click up, compare it to the mega-homes higher on the hill. What is shelter? To sleep, eat, read, stay warm, all in the company of trees, while mosses grow on the shingled roof?

Now, on a brand new day, I am in yet another house, one that we have helped build with our own hands, one that we have, with some help, designed and laid out. One that saw every cliché of house building come true despite our cavalier dismissal of generalizations and of pitfalls only others would encounter.

I am standing here on a floor I helped lay, humbled in every way by the process. I ask myself what it is I want to feel here — the deliciousness of my Minnie-days Diggity-dog club, the coziness of the woodsie, a delight in waking up and seeing the sun pour in, the peace and security of a cherished space. I want to cultivate gratitude for the daily miracles of comfort, beauty and light.

Already, I can tell you there is one thing I feel an enormous appreciation for — uninhibited joy and a profound sense of well-being, even — and that is that after over 30 years at altitude, I now have enough BTUs on the range to boil water well every time. I will never, ever take this for granted — which is a feeling I hope will spread in contagion to all the rooms of my life.

Rainbow medicine

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 15, 2015

What have we to be thankful for? A living world of color (for one thing). The saturated and rich, the pale, the faded, the textured, the intense, the suggestive, the translucent. Eyeballs of today, screenburned, jaded and atrophied by narrowing fields of vision, need the good, strong, sane medicine of color.

Me, I like violets, humble and sweet, with heart-shaped leaves and deep, delicate petals. They ask us to bend down and bring our faces low, and remind us, growing there next to trees, of small next to big and big next to small. And sugar violets on cakes, can we love these, too? We can. Just like we can love the sweetness of sour grape balls and C. Howard’s Violet Scented Gum in the purple package.

Violet lives in cabbage leaves, the stretched out skin of figs, orchid parts, the insides of bitten plums. A strip of bright violet sky fades with the setting sun. Here’s another one: Elizabeth Taylor, with her one-of-a-kind violet eyes, an actual anomaly to go with another anomaly, her double set of eyelashes. Violet, a bunny’s favorite color, is the color of kings’ robes, amethyst rings, and little-girl leggings. It is the color of bygone ink scribbling, “Darling, I miss you.” In violet we trust.

Indigo, mysterious, dense, and delicious, is the true color of the so-called blueberry. It is the color of new denim jeans being washed in hot water. The indigo milk cap, a plain-seeming mushroom, can stain paper and fingers this shade of blue-black. Exotic indigo is the raw stuff of Halloween masks and dyed feathers, and poison, perhaps. It is the color of midnight shadows, of things that groan and creak, and of the massive North American indigo snake that eats other snakes for dinner. Indigo, going and gone. In indigo we lurk.

Blue speaks to both the bright and glum — the umbrella of sky and sorrows drooping. Bluebirds, top testifiers of cheer, cross the airy way with wings flashing bits and pieces of elemental hue. Blue! I love your name. You are a broad color with many cousins, from evening snow and crisp men’s shirts to glistering mirror lakes and crackled robins’ eggs. It is our blue planet ever so slowly creating with crushing power the bluest of Kashmir sapphires. What wallpapers a corner of my heart, though, is that medieval-painting blue, the one next to the gold of halos, beams of glory and tiny fleurs-de-lis. That blue is lush. In blue we sink or swim, we fly, or settle in.

Beneath the warming skin of ripening fruit like oranges and mangos is the high potentate of color – green — the color of life, ever ready. Green is Go, and Live, and Surge, and Conserve and Rejuvenate in shades of pine and olive, kelly, pistachio, lime, basil and stormy sea.  Green is all this: the frog, the lily pad, the insect on its tongue, and the willow’s leaves grazing the greenish pond. Yes, of course, green is envy, jealousy and the clear appraisal of a cat’s eye. Green is sometimes goo, and bile, mold, oxidation, and life attacking itself; one of the colors has to be both creator and destroyer, does it not? In green we surrender.

Yellow is thus experienced flawlessly: amid a stand of aspens all gone golden — whose  leaves contains the sun itself — the willing human stands receptive, allowing the color to penetrate and permeate first through the top of the head, then through closed eyelids, then back and down the throat and deep into the heart where it glows in its purest form long enough to carry us through the crawling months of blue-white winter. In yellow we thrill.

Orange, perhaps the most maligned of colors, is the color of the shirt or sweater you rarely wear. A loudmouth of a color. Really, how could we be expected to pull off the signature color of goldfish and pumpkins, Gerber daisies, tangerines, Himalayan salt lamps, carrot soup, rust and monarch butterflies? Chicken Tikka and Thai iced tea: Now, there are oranges you won’t soon forget. Orange is the exclamation point of colors. It’s the flaming hair of prancing foxes in the cold dry air. Orange is electric. In orange we vibrate.

Red, the color that points its fat finger right back to the beginning of the spectrum, is a red-ripe rose, a rosehip, an apple, a tomato and a raspberry. It is Rudolph’s nose.  Red is the color of heat, of blood, of fire engines, stop signs, corrected papers, and that red dress that says, “Get me my heels, I won’t be stopped. And help me with my coat, while you’re at it.” It is the bossy child of color and needs supervision at all times, unless it’s a flower or a piece of fruit. It is a bull’s favorite and least favorite color. In red we surge.

Life gives us a rainbow of colors every day. All we have to do is look up from our handheld devices long enough to see, register and marvel. Amen.