Wednesday, July 23, 2008

High Altitude

I live an hour and a half from the mountain towns and ski villages of Colorado travel brochures’ lore. We’ve been bringing our kids up here all their lives, even before we moved to Colorado. Chunks of my own childhood are invested in these mountain towns and their winding ski runs. And yet, my breath still catches at the beauty of this place.

The intoxicating fresh air, heavily perfumed with pine and the gratification of living up to it’s full potential; the daily, yet still precious, sightings of wildlife ranging from Deer and Moose to Chipmunks and flocks of Hummingbirds; the delicate wildflowers that spring out of the mountainside with such earnest fortitude that describing them as delicate is surely an insult; the sweeping landscapes, the predictability of Tree Line, the towering pines, the whispering aspens, the voice of the storms that rumble in the low command of an Army sergeant, all reminding one that she is but a speck. Feeling so small is…refreshing…sometimes. It is therapy to get outside the rumbles and grumbles and headaches and flashes of frustration of daily life and really experience a true storm in all her fury, in all her grandeur to be reminded that most of what I toil over is insignificant.

Despite the cathartic familiarity of this place, the landscape is changing. My grandchildren will not experience the Rocky Mountains that are just beyond my back deck, today. The towering Pine and all of his grandchildren are literally being wiped out by the undisputed champion in my Book of Irritating Pests. The Pine Beetle has tunneled its way through this forest leaving swaths of dry, brittle giants in its wake. A dusty stage curtain has been draped over the ample breast of these mountains. In 10 years time, there may be only the mountains. No forest left to speak of. No songs whistling through pine needles. There are, supposedly, scientists all over the world looking for a way to stop the destruction, but so far it looks as though the Cockroach and The Pine Beetle will be left to populate the world if it all comes down to nuclear holocaust.

As in all of the nature documentaries I have ever seen, we seem to be the cause of this environmental upset. Global Warming, the predictable culprit, is evidently preventing the severe cold snap required to snuff the little buggers out, and so they are having their way with our beautiful West.

As we hike in the dapple lighted forest floor with our girls and niece and nephew this week, and listen to the breeze drifting through the open windows, and giggle at the scrappy little chipmunks, scampering to collect crumbs from careless picnickers—there is a pang in my chest, as if I’m kneeling at the death bed of a beloved great aunt, wishing there was something I could do besides gawk at her pained face and the slow dance of The End.

But there is always hope…if only stringy saplings of it.

**Pictures to follow...when I, you know, come down from the mountain.