I stand at the foot of the hill, as chaos of scrub fills me. How did I get so confused? Where did my need for order and uniformity come from? I was never the stately garden. I have always been the wild beauty of an open field.
A twenty minute walk would normally take you to the lake, but on this night it was closer to thirty five. The the road I cross from the marsh to lake is poorly cleared and there is a field of six to eight inches of snow to cross to reach the lake. I followed the cross country ski lines I saw so clearly in the light of the moon, from someone who had passed this way earlier in the day. I knew in all this crunch of snow and steaming breath no wildlife would be caught unaware. An owl can here a mouse crawling under snow a half mile off. To any Great Horned nearby I am sure I sounded a fire brigade to its ears. By the time I reached the lake I was sweating and hot and pealing off mittens, coat and hat as fast as I could. Temperatures enough to freeze the lake solid and I was as close to naked as I could stand amidst huge billows of steaming air.
As my breath slowed I became keenly aware of the sounds around me. Someone scraping a shovel on a sidewalk not quite a kilometer off. The highway to the west that runs below the hills that nestle the lake. A dog barking and someone calling out to a passerby. Sound carried across the snow as if we were all swimming in water. The ice on the lake cracked near where I was standing, but was muffled by all the snow. I was alone out here. With the light of the moon I could see for miles. Nothing along the lakeside moved. I stood very still and looked all around me. I am not even sure how to describe how the moon turned the lake into an iridescent opal of blues and purples. How tiny bits of light winked up off the snow in the moonlight, made all the clearer because of the darkness. How tree limb shadows snaked out across the snow in the deepest shades of purple and violet. The snow-capped hogbacks rose beyond the lake peppered in evergreen and patches of tall grasses positively glowing. The stars sat deep in their velvety darkness humbled by the moonlight and I too bowed to her power.
I redressed quickly as the sweat began to cool me off more than I wanted and picked the lower trail. I knew I needed to keep moving. I passed near a neighborhood that borders the lake. All the shades had been pulled that faced the mountains of these houses and I wondered at all they were missing. If I lived at the corner house I would never close my shades. On a night like this I would sit in my darkened home with the curtains wide, sipping hot cocoa enjoying an immense view.
On the far side, farthest from the neighborhoods and the roads and nearest the hogbacks, I stopped and listened for a long while. If you listen carefully you realize there is a deep silence even in the noise of neighboring life. It is steady and persistent. You may stand to listen for a moment, but it enchants you the longer you stand there. In all that silence, in all that open space covered in moonlit snow you forget yourself. You forget the cold and the distance for home. You forget you are a mere human in all this grandeur, and yet, that is when you realize you are the grandeur, too. The moment you stopped to appreciate all that beauty and silence you became a part of it. Instead of moving through, you moved in. In that moonlit field by the lake you have become, like the wild buckwheat and tall prairie grass, another motionless figure adding to the rich texture of a majestic landscape.
Rabbits, field mice and voles scurry in the brush. If I sit long enough the prairie dogs quit their yelping and the rabbits return to nibbling on winter grass. The crows come and go. They walk amongst the scrub and short cacti with a strut fit for a banker. They seem fat this year, as do the prairie dogs. All that summer rain has left them all fat on seed and grass. They do not rejoice in their bounty anymore than they complained in the drought. They make good what is given them and leave it at that. My lesson for today. Make good on what is given me and today it is an open field, a decent winter sun and fat rabbits.
I came to Colorado for the Rockies rising powerfully off the prairie and capped in white much of the year. I love to hike as well as sit listening to wildlife moving amongst the trees or along cliff ledges. Thus, I often hike alone. Curiously, though, as the years have passed it’s the prairie that draws me most. I love the openness and the huge skies. Rolling vistas, beautiful grasses and skeletal tumble weeds. I can meditate for sometime on the waves of tall grasses moving as a great ocean to prairie winds. Driving along an interstate or passing a field you know well on your way to work can leave you thinking its all the same. Nothing new there. You have to spend time in fields and prairie land to discover their subtler beauty. Mountains are easy. They’re grand and spectacular in their sweeping majesty. They are beauty without effort and I’ve discovered, as a result, there’s no effort from me in that. No growth. No push in my vision to see more. The prairie pushes my understanding of what beauty is. It asks me to work for it. It demands I look more closely.
The further on my path I travel, the more captivated I am with the patterns that appear in the mist. There is a sacredness to everything from leaf to the milking of cows.
“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.” Pythagoras
The trail is long as a river in the grass. Sand lilies grace the trail dwarfed now and then by soapweed yucca. In this vastness, the short and tall grasses each belong to me, as surely as the wild sky. Storm clouds gloom, but the rainbow only laughs. The sun has broken through and crickets sun themselves on drying stones. They snap and sing, flying just ahead of me into the sagewort and buffalo grass. I hear the mountain plover and the meadowlark close and far, but they are nothing more than flickers in my peripheral vision. So much moves in this rolling prairie, but always sees me before I see it. Still, I do not hunger for company in such a crowd of scrappy rabbits and field mice. If I keep my pace, I may find the pot of gold before the light winks night.
Hooves beating prairie dust
Oil on leather straps that strain
Gone on wind full of brush
The horseman calls all to vain