I find an irregularly pleasant sense of comfort in reading his words. In his book Desert Solitaire, my most recent reading from his collection, I am struck by the words he employs to describe the desert and its intricacies. A particular paragraph captures a sense of what I'm trying to describe:
"The wind will not stop. Gusts of sand swirl before me, stinging my face. But there is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of morning. Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in the openness and freedom."Ahh, that last line really captures me, places me in a willing and captive space unparalleled by human confines. I was glad to be reading this passage in the presence of natural beauty, atop the flanks of Elk Knob, a venerable and moderate 5,000 plus foot mountain near Boone, NC.
The byproduct of Hurricane Sandy's offensive left remnants of snow and rime atop the knob, and I couldn't of been more joyous in my smooth stroll to the top. Once firmly afoot, with plenty of man-made time at my disposal, I sought the seclusion and solitude of a secretive lower view point from the top of the knob. Gingerly placing my booted feet, one in front of the other, I made my way through the expanse of a stunted, high altitude patch of Beech trees - a rare breed found in the Southern Appalachians. Coming to the large boulder, out of view from the top lookout, I paused to take in the natural aurora of beauty around me.
I cannot recall a time recently past when I paused for such duration to look at nature before me. Surely my time spent outside on the Appalachian Trail led me to the here and now of appreciating what is in the moment: beautifully without want for anything else. Complete. The way the wind carries the precipitation and how it lands deftly upon the meager branches of the Beech, organic crystallization. I paw at the eloquence before me, bringing the white and seemingly pure medium to rest upon my black, gloved hand. Man meets wild; man stares on in enchantment.
The pause in my consciousness leads me next to a snow-covered face of rock, no taller than a man, no wider than a car. Amongst the lichen, in my deliberate absence of acknowledging time, I see water, embodied in a frozen medium, just below a clump of moss. If I were thirsty and unsure how to satisfy, nature can provide. I marvel at this as I drink the last of my water. The view behind me, out into the expanse of mountains surrounding this knob is veiled by an early afternoon dusting of white powder in the air. Down low, near Boone, rain falls; but up here, higher in the mountains, further in the loins of nature, blessings of water nourish down in a frozen form.
With my copy of Desert Solitaire I read aloud to the rocks and trees, to the birds, but certainly not the bees on this cold, early winter day. I don't remember the last time I stood atop a rock and read aloud; especially with no one as my audience but the beautiful bestowment of nature. Annunciating yet still stumbling in my spoken words I finish the chapter from the book, and encouraged by the nip in the air, decide to descend back to my car. Perceptions of safety.
In my meander back to the beaten, well-worn path I feel coaxed by nature to tune into my senses - letting the retreat to my car become secondary in this moment. I pause again, lulled by the beauty of the wild. The noise from my receding boots shuffling through the snow and crunch of dead leaves ceases, and in this void I hear harmonious bliss: snow falling upon the clay-like brown of the Beech tree leaves. Its tracks from the milky sky above gracing the leaves in its gravity-fed path to the Earth. In the stillness of this primary moment I willingly acknowledge what has sparked my senses and calmly captivated my attention. Desiring to know more, to expand my narrow human understanding of nature, I extend my gloved hand. The snow meets my poised digits. Connection. Simplicity. Beauty!
The first pieces of frozen precipitation lay quietly upon my open, gloved limb. A granule of snow unlike the others, complex and visibly akin to a frozen flower blooming bright in the peak of its season lovingly eases into my upturned palm. Captivated by the visual fragrance of this iced flower, beguiled into a willing state of perplexity, I peer painlessly upon its unique beauty. Again, in this moment, nothing more beautiful and inline with love exists to my semi-conscious mind. As the bloom melts and dissipates into the warmth of my physical body's extremity I come back from my minute departure from reality, fully aware that what I just witnessed was exactly the fruit I needed in this moment of life. I para-sympathetically emit gracious waves, from the inside outward, of thankfulness for this simple, yet undeniably wonder-full spectacle I just experienced as I continue my trek down the mountain.
Arriving back into town, my day plays out as a typical day of life in human confines typically does: clocks ticking an unheard tune of things to do, places to go; mechanical noises of people's machines assertively attempting to navigate their way over and around other machines as they all coalesce over the cold concrete; hustle and bustle and things of a different type of wonder - though, of a wonder not quite so full. All to say until I am treated to a flower of a different type: this one human.
Her presence is like rain on a parched patch of browned grass in late summer; her smile like a graceful melody in a song: essential to comprehend what lays within the full expression of sound; her light bright and attractive - refracting, begging the beautiful fireflies and bugs of nature to come and bask; her eyes, those wonderful eyes, like golden sunlight upon the open blue sky. Though, it seems as soon as this peaceful moment has begun, it draws to an end: spastic and upbeat for the shared space and mutual love that is life.
Whirling wonders and beautiful brights aside, I pause for a final moment near day's end to smile - from left cheek to right cheek, from the top of my bald dome to the bottom of my rough feet, and from as far front to as far back in the limitless space of my heart and spirit.
Thank you life for this day, and the moments of beauty - stretching me wide and expansive within to greet the 'morrow with optimistic positivity. Thank you, indeed!