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.)