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Tuned In to the Mountains

By Hallett Stromholt / July 8, 1992

ONE morning in summer I woke up hungry for change. It was one of those queer summons that comes to you in youth when you haven't much to do but "work on yourself." A little persuasive voice, slightly disgruntled with all the goodness about you, tells you to experiment or you're going to end up normal. I was working high in the mountains with only a radio to keep me company, so I decided to change myself into the most admirable person I knew at the time: my radio. I decided to change myself into a radio a ntenna.

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I decided I could be "bigger" learning the unheard secrets of the river-filled static of the mountains. I figured I had the chance to become more receptive to "one impulse from a vernal wood" through erect posture, sensitivity to all around me, hard work, pure thinking, and my darling metaphor of being a radio aerial.

I was renovating the inside walls of a hut several miles above the main tourist lodge where I worked. In winter, the hut was used as a stop for guests on dog sleds, but now it stood in disuse among the wild flowers. I listened to my radio with its fine 4-ft. aerial. It brilliantly overcame the static of the magnetic fields of the copper and silver disruptive peaks.

It was the static that brought to mind my first love in radio. When I was a boy, I built my first crystal set and listened to it under the covers with a single earphone. Even a prime minister's speech, boring to me, arrived through the static. My homemade antenna above the hedge pulled his voice out of the stars and seemed to me the noblest thing on earth. It was communication with others through a storm.

The loud static of the furious creek running by the hut and the silence of a "voice" in the mountains provoked my idea that there was something to be heard besides the sound of my hammer - or the latest song bouncing in from Chicago on a magnetic fluke. Sometimes with super effort and good conditions, I'd pick up KSNO-Aspen, 11 miles away. But I wanted to hear more.

My first move to strip down for "reception" was to make myself shimmering and straight and pure as the aerial on my Magnavox; this was so I could be available to the "voice" of the mountains. I made a loincloth like the Indians of the territory. I'd let the sun and rain and breeze "transmit" to me the random signals I hungered after. I'd feel the story of the firelight on me in the dark; I'd listen, like a cat for a mouse, for the history of a log I was burning. I'd allow the tree outside with long pine- needle "antennas" to speak to me about day and night and its generations of pine cones. I'd turn on my radio only late at night for a human interpretation of things; it was a voice to keep me in touch with my people, the nobility of "communication through a storm."

Strange things began to happen. I began seeing animals who were shy of shadows or stars: mice lingering in holes, trout near the surface in a deep pool, low swooping big birds. I was "directed" to a hillside of rare lady-slipper orchids. A camp robber followed me from tree to tree, wherever I went. Although no food was outside, he seemed assigned to keep track of me. Nature was coming in to take a look at me.