Seeking a Rocky Peak, Finding Self-Renewal

Weeks of revising short fiction for two collections, halftime maintenance work on the Girl Scout ranch I take care of, and then a frustrating telephone session with a machine-generated voice telling me to select options and enter identification numbers: I needed to unplug everything and leave man's world behind for a while.

Dark granite cliffs fall east and west into the small body of water miles from the nearest human activity. In hot sunshine, I explore for a new route up the eroded, jumbled granite formation rising west of the pond. I've climbed to the top more than a dozen times, but never from this, the north side. I climb dark gray granite, over gray lichen, white lichen, red, orange, several shades of green, black lichen.

I stand and try to pick a route by eye, and then I climb. I backtrack and start over. I have two rules: I find an easy enough route to avoid falling; I see where I'm going to place my foot or my hand. I've never seen rattlesnakes or scorpions up here, but it is good habitat for them, and I have no desire to meet either animal close-up and unexpected.

Some of the stone I climb is one with the mountain. Some has eroded until huge boulders and smaller boulders lie on the stone of the mountain. All the granite has eroded into varied forms beyond fantasy or description.

I stand on a high point of stone. A secret garden grows below me. Enclosed by rock on all sides, decomposed granite soil supports three pine trees, three juniper trees, currant bushes, flowers, prickly-pear cactus, green grass in places, and bare, gravelly brown-to-pink soil in other places.

I climb down into the garden. I have passed within 50 feet of this garden, below it, on the other side of granite stone, and I have stood 100 feet above it, on the high point of rock I hope to climb. But because the granite formation held it secret, I have never seen it before.

I climb up out of the garden. The rock becomes too steep. I retreat and try another route, too steep, and retreat. I crawl under dense, low-growing branches of a juniper tree and between boulders steeper than I can climb. I climb granite eroded into hundreds of footholds and handholds, weave back and forth across the steeply sloping face, finding a climbable route that takes me gradually higher.

Near the top, I climb a small juniper tree growing against rising stone. I step out of the tree onto level granite, then pull myself up through a deeply eroded channel in stone, walk around boulders, and I have achieved the familiar high place in northern Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

The top of the stone spreads wide, eroded into channels, standing boulders, and irregular shapes of mountain stone. This high place grows stunted pine trees, low juniper bushes, patches of grass, and flowers.

I look over wild Rocky Mountains, canyons, pine trees, bright green groves of aspen, bare gray rocks, meadows green with summer grasses. Far to my east, looking between upthrusting rock, I see the plain spreading flat. Above me, mountain-blue sky reaches unmeasurable distances. A few small white clouds change shapes as they drift east.

Two yellow-and-black swallow-tail butterflies fly around and around each other above the rocks, separate, and fly out of sight in opposite directions, then rejoin in spiraling, rising flight above gray stone again.

The sun hangs low above the mountain peaks. Far below me on the ground next to the pond, I cast an exuberantly dancing shadow. I could be a butterfly and fly weightless, dancing in the gentle breeze. I could be one of the many small birds flying and singing in the forest below me. I could fly to the tops of rock formations and drink water held for me in natural reservoirs in the stone.

I could be my human self, settled down, renewed by hours of close contact with the natural world, at peace with myself and the world again, thinking of dinner and descending southeast from the granite. Hundreds of flowers, dozens of kinds, grow every place they find soil enough for roots. Of highest interest to me, because I have seldom seen them, are the yellow, waxy, multipetaled flowers of the plains cacti, also called prickly pear, profuse on the steep slope.

Down from the stone formation, I walk beside the pond in shade from the tall rock I have stood upon. I head for home. The hot day has begun to cool toward high-mountain evening.

I am ready to work again.

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