Frigid water boiling along the pebble-bottom river bed, the symphony of its journey a constant temptation for me. Drawing me closer, daring me to jump in and swim away. Be carried away. She warns me every chance she gets about the dangers of the water, tossing in branches and flowers to demonstrate the swift kidnapping. Such a sweet maternal role shift. I call her the Mermaid of the Rockies and she holds my hand tight with both of hers while I wade and stretch until my shins are aching from the cold.
A magpie joined us on the hike, his black and white tuxedo feathers so stark and crisp against the greens, browns, and blues of the lush landscape. He delicately tried to lead us up the side of the mountain, on to adventures we can scarcely imagine, toward the opposite end of wherever the freezing river would have taken us. He is one of a thousand magpies who found us at different points throughout the day, and not just on the hike. And not just on that day. Magpies follow her, and they watch her and have some kind of purpose we are hungry to divine. We call it her spirit animal and wait for more.
The vaulted rock walls impart a feeling of safety. Enclosure. And they pulse outward, a strong heartbeat that almost knocks you down where the forest parts and the view is suddenly unobscured. How the water flows so constantly, the cascading falls sprouting from those sky-high caves, is a thrilling mystery.
Everything here demands and deserves our attention, both the minuscule details near our feet- the ferny undergrowth, colorful wildflowers, and smaller rocks and mossy boulders- of course the enormous rocky, forested cathedral all around us. The foothills that grow up into sheer cliffs that take our breath away, then the down-tumbling avalanche memorials.
There’s just so much, and it’s all alive. It all has a very real pulse. So we slow ourselves. Press it all into our skin, our eyes, our hearts and souls. We listen to the birdsong and let it be our soundtrack. We touch the smooth, rough, cold, sun-baked rocks and inhale the unreal natural perfumes. We let ourselves become dry sponges soaking up the extravagance.
There are not enough words for beautiful.
We ended that very full and happy day at midnight on Trail Ridge Road, in a spectacular grayscale, exploring the highest reaches of the mountain beneath a dazzling, sloping quilt of constellations. Shadows passed beneath us like the behemoths of the watery deep. The air was cold. Cold! And the winds howled overhead and all through our ribs, combing our thoughts and feelings, pulling salty tears right to the surface. The smeary gilded half moon stood guard over this unbelievable scene while we stomped in our sandals and canvas shoes through old snow. Crunching and running in the stuff up to our knees, laughing and freezing ourselves into the purest exhilaration. Stars poured through an unseen funnel toward one mountain peak in particular, and I swear they were moving. Churning magic.
Do the mountains talk to each other, these ancient companions?