Flash tale of a snowshoe hare

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, February 1, 2019

 

It’s late at night and we are driving down Dallas Divide, down a ribbon of highway into the valley, as we’ve all done a hundred times before, staring through the windows, alert for creatures. This is the place that feels most like a pure meditative state to those of us who are working on our pure meditative states. It’s dark all around, and we are present — waiting without waiting, the feeling deep and sparkly and good. Somewhere in the black velvet out there, the creatures reside, creatures that don’t use words and notions of time to make their way in the world.

On a night such as this, you might see a coyote out of the corner of your eye, which, it seems, is just the way you’re meant to see them. Turning your head to catch more than a glimpse of its gangly lope, it could very well be looking over a shoulder at you before picking up its pace just a hair, as if to say, “We never had this conversation, in fact, you never saw me.” You hyper-imagine its puffy tail in the chill of the night, the fine feathery aspects of it, electric and alive. You might feel what we would call its loneliness, feel the greater aspects of solitude, and then, as it threads itself back into the fabric of the trees, you might appreciate its unqualified connectedness to habitat, space and time.

Or it might be a massive elk with only one antler you see (like we actually did, just recently) standing there — surreal almost, and proud, and full of some grand history of battle — on the shoulder of the road, eyes glowing, breath huffing out in hot clouds. In the split second we have, we hone in on the velvet on the antler, living and soft, a material that becomes a 3x zoom of itself, there to open the velvet doors of perception, if only we could know the way in. Suddenly, the shoulder of the road has magnificence, a crag on the edge of the world. Then, just as quickly, it’s a five-foot swath of gravel again and we are ordinary travelers, leaving that ordinary spot behind.

Or it could even be an owl you see, flapping so close to the windshield, so unexpectedly massive and powerful, that the word “wings” rolls around inside your mouth, letters all over the place, because you don’t know how else to “think” about the kind of strength it must take to move the bullet-like body of this nocturnal denizen through the air, the radius, ulna and digit bones of the wing frameworking the 7,000 or so feathers on a body engineered to fly silently, to slice through air without moving it, without moving it all, something baffling to scientists even though they know the reasons why.

Tonight, however, what we see — and what we’ve seen many times before — is a bunny, a snowshoe hare, actually, hopping across the road, hopping in a way that says without saying: “It did not take effort for me to turn white for winter; and, though it might appear cute to you, my hopping can exceed three meters at a time and can take me up to speeds of 45 kilometers per hour.” You might get a real sense of the creature then, the beauty of a long-eared, white-furred, pink-nosed being micro-bounding through the moonscape, crossing a road, getting to who knows where so it can do who knows what besides avoiding owls and a bevy of other predators. It lives in a big, cracked-open mystery, deep in the forest, its very doings powering this mystery somehow — powering the mysteries that keep the Earth spinning on its axis.

A hare spotting fills up our chests — our hearts and breaths — with hope, inspiration and tenderness, for a fraction of a moment that requires no language, or thought or worry, or anticipation or regret, or want or need or greed or infatuation or longing. A bunny coated in moonlight, the silver gleam landing just so on its back. What is it perceiving as it hops through an all-is-as-it-should-be world?

And what will it sense a couple of nights later when the moon, on a crystal clear night in this part of the world, slowly becomes completely obscured in shadow and, against all odds (it seems to us), starts to glow orange, a kind of mysterious, dark tangerine light emanating as if from within, and then appears to hang like a giant ping-pong ball in the sky, so round we feel we’ve never actually seen the Moon before?

Will this small perfect creature look up and see it?

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.