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Andersen: A place of peace and quiet

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The river murmurs to me in my open window at night. Even in spring surge it sings a sleepy lullaby that brings contentment.

Stars are diamond flecks emblazoned on the inky cloak of night. They glimmer across the sparkling universe, more ancient than anything we know. The darkness is their blessed medium.

The quiet is absorbent, a deep void in the cacophony of machines and electronic chatter. It makes my ears ring like a carillon stroke, resounding with the deepest of organic vibrations that echo the Big Bang.

Returning home recently after traveling in the industrialized world, my gratitude swells for this place. I take in every vista with renewed appreciation. I breathe deep the mountain air, fragrant with the blooms of serviceberries, chokecherries and the cloying sweetness of lilacs.

My eyes lavish on the lime-green leaves of spreading cottonwoods, the delicate new growth of oaks and mountain ash, the swatches of verdure brightening aspen groves against redrock cliffs and dark evergreen forests. It’s like seeing it all for the first time.

Here is space to walk in, to think in, to stretch out in. I fully embrace the enormity of this land, gaze with awe at its mountains, ridges and pastoral valleys. How refreshing and humbling to feel the natural world as it was long before us.

Here is a place of fresh, cool air, of rushing water, murky as it rises to spring thaw in roiling torrents. Here is a place to hear the deer gently cropping the grass in my yard. Here is a place to follow the golden eagle whose shadow sweeps by as it dodges a pestering raven. Here is a place to watch a bighorn ewe posturing atop a red-rock outcrop of the Seven Castles.

Here is the home of a golden fox that glides across our yard, a family of rabbits that live under our deck, a velvet-antlered buck that browses our lilacs, a pair of coupled bluebirds that nest in our birdhouse. I listen closely to the finches, swallows, warblers and other songsters that electrify the air with their full and piercing voices.

I take in the savory offerings of the natural world, from the infinite organisms that live within and without us to the geologic strata that underlie it all. Here is a world we often fail to appreciate and cannot truly understand. The trees, the animals, the flitting butterflies; these are neighbors with whom we are invited to commune, if only we knew how.

I am reminded of a William Wordsworth poem, “Lines Written in Early Spring.” “I heard a thousand blended notes/While in a grove I sate reclined/In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts/Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

“To her fair works did Nature link/The human soul that through me ran/And much it grieved my heart to think/What man has made of man …”

I choose a rock ledge for my bower, a place to gaze down at the valley below and contemplate my place in it all. It dawns on me that I may have 20 more springs to witness these sights, to hear these sounds, to smell these smells.

Twenty seems like a very small number, a tick on the celestial clock, yet a time span brimming with a surfeit of sensory inputs. I will value every one as the finest of life’s treasures.

At the Memorial Day service at the courthouse in Aspen last week, I heard Jeanie Walla sing, “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain …”

I thought of the veterans who I guide into the mountains, men who fought for the land now under their feet. This love of the land is a patriot’s dream. It fuels a fire of passion for this country that runs deeper than political, social and commercial inventions. The land is the blood, bone and sinew of this nation.

This valley I call home was once the land of the Utes, a discordant note in this paean. The land speaks of them with its bounty, beauty and wildness. It calls across time in a distant and plaintive voice.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email andersen@rof.net.


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