Saturday, September 1, 2012

Amid the Thrush's Song

With every place I visit, with every drive I take, with every bird I see, there opens in me something grand and undiscovered. I find a sense of content excitement at the beginning of every new adventure. This is the feeling of memory creation: the sense that, in some time from the present moment, I will look back on what I am experiencing right now and remember it. Remember it fondly, or disdainfully, yet vividly all the same. I can travel back in time by simply closing my eyes and thinking back to all the wonderful, frenzied moments I have lived. 

This summer brimmed with fresh faces, places, and experiences. I crisscrossed the country and had opportunities of a lifetime. I connected with inspiring beings of all species, basked in the splendor of Earth's variable beauty, and learned a myriad of new lessons, including about myself. I took only the best away from everything I encountered, and I feel invigorated by the scale of my ventures. 

To begin my travels, this June, I flew to South Dakota for my father's wedding. While out West we also visited  Colorado and Wyoming. The states were in close proximity to one another, yet offered unique possibilities for discovery. Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park is a breathtaking cathedral of nature; the winding roads carve paths through mountains, forests, meadows, and tundra, the homes of many wonderful beings of sky, water, and earth. Herds of Wapiti ( Cervus canadensis ) step their great cloven hooves in the streamside grasses and stubby tundra vegetation. Their children kick and leap in play while their mothers keep a regal watch over the games. Bulls, with their velvet-covered antlers reaching from their foreheads, gather in the fields for early evening browsing. 

Bull elk

The bulls were in an all-male herd

Wapiti cow

Young wapitis

Mule  deer ( Odocoileus hemionus ) pick their careful way between the fir trees, quietly perfecting their forest knowledge. On one of our hikes, a doe was our silent guide as we walked; we saw her multiple times along the trail. Higher on the tundra, at an elevation of approximately 11,000ft, Yellow-bellied marmots ( Marmota flaviventris ) were entertaining companions at roadside stops, as well as on the road: we witnessed a pair in a fierce scrap as they tumbled towards the side. Horned Larks ( Eremophila alpestris )  flitted about on the tundra, their calls softly penetrating the breezy lull of cold silence present at such elevation. 

Marmot surveys the tundra

Overhead, Common Ravens ( Corvus corax ) croaked and soared, surveying their mountainous realm with dignity. It was a moving sight to behold, the ravens suspended in midair over the shadowed blue expanse of lower mountains and the vast blankets of trees that covered them.

Clark's Nutcrackers ( Nucifraga columbiana ) were inquisitive and energetic as they hopped quite close to their Homo sapiens  observers. With stunningly white secondary feathers and black primaries, they glided about with their sails spread, reminiscent of their relatives the crows. They swept to a stop on boulders and dead snags with the great forests behind them. Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels  ( Spermophilus lateralis ) scurried alongside them, even climbing onto the palm of my brother's outstretched hand.

A hike near Long's Peak was a surprisingly spiritual experience; I had much trouble with the elevation and breathing became a bit difficult with my asthma, yet I decided to push through it and continue the hike. Woodpeckers with their lessons of self-care and hummingbirds with their message of joy appeared to me as I trekked. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird ( Selasphorus platycercus  ) was a life bird for me as she buzzed near the base of a tree. Steller's Jays ( Cyanocitta stelleri ), their plush ebony crests bobbing as they raauchh'd at me, were strikes of brilliant azure in the early evening light. Their white eyebrows and barred tails were stunning; I had always wished to find these birds and there, on a mystical mountain, I was visited by these sturdy forest fairies.

Hermit Thrushes ( Catharus guttatus ) built a nest by a rushing mountain stream, surrounded by the cascading trills of their fellows. The thrushes' dreamlike notes twinkled in my ears and tickled my soul. Bubbling over pebbles and past lush vegetation the stream descended as I climbed. 

At the summit, where the trees began to dissipate, a most spectacular sight awaited me: the most vast, the most beautiful, the most awe-inspiring view of the fabled Rocky Mountains awash in golden sunlight. The warm glow reached every tree, every rock, every cloud. The cerulean sky faded to a light orange-pink on the horizon as my shadow stretched forwards, down the mountainside. After the harrowing trip to the spot, I could find no better reward for my effort.The Rocky Mountains were a fantasy destination for me; somewhere I never thought I'd be. And yet, standing on the top of a sunlit mountain with Long's Peak behind me and the spiraling voices of  Hermit thrushes filling the air, I felt beautifully, remarkably alive and peaceful, content with the moment I was in, the memory I was creating. I often close my eyes and return to it, reliving that sunset as vividly as when I first saw it.

Peace always,


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