Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lessons from the Trees

A couple of prosaic pieces I wrote some time ago, reflecting upon my relationship with wilderness.

Legacies of Endurance

I made a pilgrimage this weekend to the slopes of Mount Evans, to pay my respects to a grove of peculiar trees that inhabit that locale.

These the pines of a particular breed that choose to live their lives out, at forbidding lofty heights, where other species abjure. Fire and rain, wind and snow, all the elements combine to blast these enduring creatures without pity or respite.

Not the towering graceful beauties of the forest, these. The aged pines are twisted and gnarled into bizarre stunted gnomes. Battle scars from aeons of withstanding the destructive forces of nature cover their flanks.

And yet they endure.

Some of the oldest patriarchs, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads, have witnessed the awesome pagent of an unimaginable span of ages, as time passed before them, hundreds upon hundreds of seasons spinning by, a thousand generations in the lifetime of men.

I consider these trees, with their stunning longevity. They do not complain about the travail or suffering, though many of them have obviously suffered greatly. They do not question their purpose, or falter in the mission -- to live, and keep on living. The trees endure, and do not ask why.

There is an incredible, priceless beauty in endurance. Perhaps it is beyond our understanding today. I feel certain that the trees possess this secret knowledge.

How long will it take us to learn?

Great and Small

Towering firs raise into the blazing blue,
their boughs reaching up in mighty supplication.
Framing the world across mountain tops and airy ridges,
seemingly, holding up the sky.

On forest floor below, humbly graced,
with lacy bracken ferns, lush green, so pleasing to the eye.
Bowed with fronds sweeping low to the earth,
catching the sun's few spare rays.

Climbing Paradise Ridge

I owned the tops of the mountains today. No others tracked the smooth white surface of the cold, clean snow. The mountain heights and I held our secret soul tryst, a chaste and joyous virtue only open to the lone and lonely.

I traverse the high passes, seeming so near to the pale blue sky, bracing against the fierce onslaught of the merciless freezing north wind. Howling gusts sweep up gritty blasts of icy snow grains in a ground blizzard, below a dark horizon troubled by passing storm clouds. As I struggle upward, the icy wind steals my breath away with each passing burst.

In the shelter of the deep shady canyon, I pause before tall green firs swaying and sighing as the force of the gale funnels up the slope, the wind whistling and moaning through the tossing boughs like the keening of mourners. The feet of the great trees stand deeply buried beneath the drifts.

Laboring to slowly climb the steep slope, bundled heavily against the freezing cold, my body is soon dripping with sweat. As the moisture accumulates under my hat and across the back of my neck, a rime of ice quickly forms around my head, into the simulation of a frosted white helmet.

I stop at the summit for a brief respite, in the lee of a swarm of boulders. I comb the ice out of my hair. Over the top of the broad peak, bare crusted snow is sculptured by the wind. The blowing snow appears to form sinuous snakes that writhe and coil and dance like living creatures. A sort of white noise, the continuous susurration of millions of snow grains skittering and slithering along, masks the roaring of the wind and creates a deep dynamic silence. Pressure against my back builds and ebbs from the force of the wild wind.

I have overstayed my welcome. The wind intensifies and the snow turns into heavier pellets that plaster across the front of my jacket and trousers, until I start to resemble an animate snowman. I hasten down the front side of the mountain, and as I pass, drifting snow quickly obliterates the traces of my passage.


pgk said...

"On the forest floor below, humbly graced, with lacy bracken ferns, lush green, so pleasing to the eye. Bowed with fronds sweeping low to the earth,catching the sun's few spare rays."

Tall ferns were part of my childhood where I grew up in Virginia. Along with turtles, ferns of that sort are part of the trade-off I made when I moved to Utah, a part I still miss. With their green antiquity they seemed to sprout at the edges of some mysterious place. What do you think of fiddleheads?

"...secret soul tryst..."

This is an interesting way to describe it. When I go out into the desert, I feel at home and comfortable, blissful and clean, even alone. I can't go as far as I used to because I have an extensively disabled daughter who needs a controlled environment in order to keep her keel even, and I'm part of that controlled environment. My husband, understanding that my extended separation from a landscape I loved was killing me, moved us down to San Juan County in Dec. 2005. I now live between two canyons, Recapture Canyon and Browns Canyon, right on the edge of the desert. Recovery from the "soul tryst" drought has been slow (talk about endurance), and I can only go out between my daughter's feedings, 3-4 hour at a time. It surprised me that even after years of being away, the desert received me back in full fellowship. I just have to get back in shape after being penned up in a kind of cage for 15 years.

Hey, Jim, want to start an LDS nature blog, you in the mountains, me in the desert? E-mail me, patriciagk at mindspring dot com.

bill said...


This is one of the most encouraging posts that I have read. I always knew you had a poetic mind, one that was capable of such ideas and expressions. I am gratified to see that side of the Uncle Jim that I remember so fondly from the old family letters we sent around.

Welcome back.


PS, I would be interested in participating in an LDS nature log - I can add things from east Texas when we get down there... Let me know how to get involved (