Writing Prompt: tell us about a time that stands out in your mind where you felt the most connected to the place you live.
“In modern times, it can be difficult to find places where our minds can quiet and solitude can be something to revel in, as opposed to dread. With countless distractions and responsibilities, seemingly never ending tasks and obligations, silence and solitude are not only often nearly impossible to attain, but many times bring additional stress as we’re unable to escape the shame of what we think we should be doing instead. Or, our familiarity with being bombarded with constant stimulation, noise, and distraction makes existing in silence borderline impossible or unbearable. Being alone can be intimidating, uncomfortable, and even terrifying. All of us are familiar with these feelings in some sense, but joy in solitude and appreciating the sometimes contradictory feelings of serenity and discomfort that come with existing in silence are concepts that I have been cultivating in my personal sphere. And, undeniably, these feelings and states of being are more attainable for me while in nature. I was raised spending time outside and have always enjoyed exploring nature, but the current relationship that I have with the outdoors did not develop until I was into adulthood. Specifically, when I settled in Colorado and in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
The majority of my life has been spent living in rural or semi-rural areas, and wide open spaces, expansive skies, and nature-infused air have always called to me and had a formative influence on my character. Moving to the Wet Mountain Valley six years ago brought me closer to sweeping swaths of public land and endless possibilities for outdoor exploration than ever before in my life. Since then, solitude in nature has become an essential part of my mental and emotional well-being and these mountains are a sanctuary, a retreat, a sacred place, as I know they are to many others who call this place home. Turning to the outdoors and the mountains in times of distress, anxiousness, desultoriness, I am able to find calm and clarity, as well as ground myself while in the midst of confusing and disheartening times.
There are numerous occasions when I have experienced awe and the perspective-altering elements of this emotion while hiking, backpacking, and exploring throughout the Sangres and the Wet Mountains. However, there are a handful of moments over the years when the feelings of connection and wonder in nature have resounded so profoundly that I continue to think of them seasons later. Hiking solo, while involving some inherent risk, allows me to move and explore at whatever pace I am feeling most comfortable with that day, as well as not feel compelled to fill the silence with words, which I find to often be the case when hiking with others. I find awe in nature to be most accessible to me when I am alone and so I treasure these moments and the vital impact they have on my overall sense of wellness.
To honor the arrival of my 30th birthday, I revisited a hike that I’ve completed numerous times over the years. Venable Lakes are a favorite destination of mine in the Sangres and this is a hike that I try to complete at least once every year. While exploring new places comes with thrill and the revelation of the unknown, revisiting the same locations over the years (often in different seasons) brings a unique kind of wonder that many people are not fortunate enough to experience. I’ve experienced these lakes surrounded by verdant green, shorelines dense with potent wildflowers, grasses and air golden with the changing seasons, and glittering with late autumn frost. I’ve witnessed the rising and ebbing of their crystalline waters and, once, ascended to the pass beyond to admire their lines from above. While I love the pull of exploring and experiencing new places, there is something to be said for the intimacy of a trail you’ve traveled over and over again.
This particular hike was the year I decided to progress past the lakes and continue on to Venable Pass, which offers spectacular views of the lakes from above, as well as of the neighboring peaks and rugged Sangre ridgelines. Seeing a familiar natural spectacle from an overhead perspective for the first time is both humbling and grounding, two sentiments that I was seeking as I welcomed a new decade of life. As I sat on the ridgeline above Venable Lakes and considered the landscape, a movement to the north caught my eye. In visually searching the rock and alpine grasses to my left, a lone mule deer buck crested the ridge. While mule deer are certainly no unique or unexpected sight when living and hiking in southern Colorado, spotting an antlered buck well above treeline, gazing out over the same landscape as me, I was simply awestruck. Had I not been alone, the slight movement likely would not have caught my eye. Had I been rushing on to summit a neighboring peak or snapping through quick iPhone shots, I would have missed this moment entirely.
I have never felt more connected to the land, to nature, and to myself than when I am in these mountains. Those feelings of chills, of your hair standing on end, of your heart in your throat (although that could just be the altitude), of the promise of tears prickling behind your eyes are most profound when inspired by a day so calm you can hear the unexpected auditory experience of bird wings flapping overhead, or an entire landscape crusted and enveloped in the crisp intricate magic of rime ice, or the turquoise waters of an alpine lake glittering in the sunlight just so as sleek bodies weave below the surface. My proximity to a place so steeped in enchantment brings serenity, contentment, and profound kinship. That sense of awe that greets me most mornings when I welcome that subtle first light on the peaks is connection, is joy, is home.”