Aspen, CO Colorado
Something wakes me in the night. I lay still and listen, hearing only the faint murmur of the Fryingpan River, the hush of water flowing silver in the moonlight, like mercury.
I try to reconstruct the sound that woke me, pulling fragments of memory from my faded dreams. Something clattered, fell, abruptly broke the stillness of the night, alerting my primal mind.
I turn and glance out the window. The moon is bright on the trees. The leaves hang in the stillness without color, shades of muddy gray with highlights of moonlit silver. A faint breeze stirs. The leaves rattle.
I lay back and close my eyes, on the verge of sleep. Then another sound stirs me awake, a clatter, a small crash of something falling to the ground. I locate the direction of the sound, near the shed where the trash cans are kept. The source is predictable.
In the woods, the day before, I thought I had found a bright green mushroom among the red soil and the tawny duff of the pinon trees. I was on a walk when I found it, bright green and distinct on the red dirt among the pinons.
The pile of bear scat contained half of a small green apple. The apple looked as if it had been sliced neatly and perched on the mound of scat, the dark, pasty, partially digested waste of a bear. The apple stood out brilliantly as I stooped to look.
A bear! It’s a bear that’s snooping around my shed. That’s what made the noise that woke me. I lay still, listening to the only audible sound ” the river. My every sense is fully alive, my body alert. My mind weighs every sensory input with primitive, heightened focus.
The trash truck had come that morning, so the bins are empty. They hold the smells of old trash, but there’s nothing for a bear to eat. I can rest easy on that. And yet, I think the bear is not far from where I lay, and with the knowing comes tension.
A soft sound reaches my ears. The padding of furry paws? The breathing of a bear? My visceral tension takes hold deep inside as I consider my windows. Did I shut them tightly enough against prying claws?
If a bear wanted to, it could pull open a window and come inside. What then? My inclination would be to pull the covers over my head and let nature take its course, leave the bear to feast on whatever it finds. The dog would growl low, the short hairs on her back raised in a bristling ridge of defiance and fear.
I listen. The sound outside the window is definitely footsteps. I can hear them crunching in the grass. My mental picture shifts to the yearling deer that came by yesterday morning while I was washing breakfast dishes.
She was small, delicate, beautiful. She stood in the yard, her ears perked. Then she dropped her head to nip a clump of grass and chew. When I moved for the camera, her head darted up. She looked unflinchingly through the window, posing like a lawn ornament.
I listen. The footsteps move away. Maybe it’s the deer. Not knowing keeps me awake. Perhaps I should get up and turn on the lights and have a look. No. I’m not that far awake. What does it matter, anyway?
I think about the coyotes that jarred me out of sleep a few nights before. They gathered just beyond my window screaming like mental patients. Their high yips shot into the cold night air, arcing toward the brilliant stars. Then one loud, deep, alpha male bark silenced them all in an instant.
I listen, hearing the river. Minutes go by, and there are no new noises. My ears are tuned like radar dishes. Then, from somewhere far off in one of the canyons, it floats on the still night air ” the hoot of an owl in two fast beats. The first hoot is short, the second is long, holding in the moonlight.
I don’t know how long I lay there, listening. I try to learn patience on nights like these by just listening, just being. For a long time, all is still except the mercury-colored river flowing under the moonlight in flashing silver ripples as it has for 10,000 years.
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It’s that time again and as I’m riding through the mountains, either moving cattle or packing salt for them, I wonder if the old-timers really ever knew how great they had it. I mean, it…