Columbines for a Grump
The hills are alive,
With the sounds of campers (No-o-o-o!)….
Honestly! There are so many people jammed in the mountains today that the hills are beginning to bulge like a can of soup contaminated with botulism toxin. They’re everywhere! The sounds of ATVs and motorcycles, chain saws, generators, fighting children, and country and western music are ubiquitous and cannot be avoided. I pass “camp sites” with clusters of air-conditioned trailers, each of which is nearly as large as my home and complete with satellite television, showers, microwave ovens, and granite counter tops. What ever happened to pup tents? Some groups have herds of horses large enough to make an Arab sheik green with envy or huge fleets of motorized toys. The bears should dine well this weekend, I smirk hopefully to myself, until I remember that most of these campers are better and more heavily armed than the local National Guard unit. The thought of listening to gunfire from the mountains all weekend does little to improve my spirits.
Stop being so damn crabby! Fine. Rather than curse my fellow man, I begin to swear at myself and in no time have a fine argument raging. I’m not sure if I find this amusing or frightening, but it can’t continue. I reach my turn-off none too soon.
The road is a proper road, according to the Forest Service. They’ve even put it on their map of the area and have given it a number. Frankly, this is deceptive. The road, really more a track, is very narrow, steep, kidney-busting rough, washed-out, and treacherous. I suspect the last time someone ran a bulldozer up this road was during the Korean War, perhaps earlier. It is in such a sorry state that all of the little traffic it receives is ATV, judging from the tracks. You’d have to be crazy to try to take a truck up this road. You’re just asking for trouble, a breakdown, getting high-centered on a rock or in a rut, or even losing control and going over the edge. It’s a very long way down and those rocks look none too comforting.
It is amazing how dramatically things can change in just a few miles. The world is silent except for the wind and the singing of the birds. The entire side of the mountain is cloaked with spearmint and wildflowers and the smell is rich, luscious, otherworldly, divine. At 10,000′ the sky is royal blue and the air is cool but the sun pounds down intensely. I wander, in and out of the light, finding respite from the heat beneath towering Engelmann spruce and some of the largest quaking aspen I have ever seen. The bole of one of the latter is so large that I would have to be twins to reach all the way around it. The forest floor at the base of these trees is lush with life, green, tangled, aromatic. There are flowers everywhere and I regret my botanical ignorance, not knowing the name of a single one. Except for the columbines. My favorite flower. Growing snow-white on this particular mountain, conspicuous even in the shadows. As I wander further into the forest I notice one, and then another, and another and another: they are everywhere in this grove of trees, not crowding each other, each maintaining a courteous and respectful distance from its neighbors, each the belle of this woodland ball. The foliage overhead is dense, but here and there a beam of sunshine manages to find its way to the forest floor and one of my flowers is in the spotlight.
I do not know if time stood still, or if, briefly, it simply ceased to exist. But this I know: one should never underestimate the power of columbines on the human soul.