“The Unseen Beast”
She sits atop a tree that lives on The Mountain, watching for anything that might sound good to eat. Her fluffy gray coat moves with the wind while she is cemented to the tree with claws. Her short tail whips gently as she spots her morning meal.
The tree shakes as she jumps from it, landing in the open air of the forest for everyone to see. The Mountain Cottontail sprints for its life as the large paws of a thirty-pound predator rips through the brush. She will stop at nothing to catch this meal. She leaps from granite to soil and wall bounces a tree to get over the large sagebrush bushes.
The Cottontail hangs from the mouth of a rarely-seen beast. She is virtually silent as she hops from tree to tree, eventually finding her way to a remote pile of boulders in the forest. She slips into the rocks and places the rabbit down. Two kittens clack and chirp at their mother, recognizing her hunt.
But they know not of the world outside. The animals in the forest, the conditions of the land and sky, and the harsh beasts that reside away from the forest.
Not much can destroy these majestic predators, except for the ignorance of the humans that take their home.
I inhale softly for a long time and let it out with a gentle sigh. The alpine meadow grass caresses my body as I sink into The Mountain. The sun envelops me and makes me warm. So warm I seem to have lost the choice to move. I am stuck here pleasantly, like a lizard on a rock early in the morning.
Like the lizard, I expended almost all my energy to get here, and replenishment is my reward. The fluffy bumbles buzz around the Kings Crown and Mountain Bluebells. Marmots climb and tumble off the big rocks in the meadow, landing in the flowers below and starting over again. The sound of them accompanies me by default as I lay near. I breathe in, as if to perceive them more.
The smell of high alpine in the early summer speaks of spring or winter anywhere else. Inescapable like quicksand, my body molds to the ground as my soul connects with the sky. We frolic in our empty states, free. She, in the wind around my body and in the ground underneath it. And I, her child for whom she called. We will play endlessly, forever rejoicing in each other at every sight.
She holds my form and heals my spirit. She gives me her stories, though they are so difficult to understand.
“I’ll spend my life listening to you,” I say to her aloud.
A beautiful Common Alpine Butterfly lands softly on my forehead, shows off her wings, and departs.
The backs of my legs tell me it’s time to leave my seat atop a snowy log, and I hesitantly oblige.
“Thank you,” I say aloud. She remains silent, and I leave.
I walk through the forest, thinking about how I can do better for Her. The wind oscillates through the aspens and She tells me to stay.
I stop. Stay? How I wish I could stay. The freezing, fresh air like a mint that lasts forever. Desolate beauty, the absolute bliss. The snow glistens at my feet, supporting the invite. I want to stay here, right here. Forever if I could.
The thought of leaving brings tears to my eyes. I look back up at Her and She shudders. The winds grow strong and the forest shakes. Snow falls from the large pines, and I feel the onset of fear enter me as the storm brews.
She stops. The winds turned off faster than they howled. The trees stiffen, the air fouls. I lay down in the snow one last time. “I’ll miss you.”
The entrance to a large meadow shines behind me as I re-enter the forest. The air thickens as she tells me to run. The storms are coming, she is bracing.
I drop to my knees. One may tend to think they are doomed to be in the mouth of a violent storm, but this is my thrill. The weather is still good in Her Shadow.
I unclip my board from my backpack and jam my boots in. CLICK. The forest speeds up around me as She carries me away from the storm. The air lightens and adrenaline hits as I drop into a wonderland of large rocks topped with snow. The clouds on the peak clash and bang loudly in the background. My board tosses the fluffy powder snow as I bounce playfully through the forest. I exclaim and erupt with uncontrollable laughter as fear turns into enjoyment–danger into comfort.
I unstrap and descend the rest of the route by my own means. She could only help me go so far, but there is no more snow here.
I get back to my containment unit just in time to watch her release the storms.
A weight off her shoulders, or large granitic cliffs, I guess.
Because of her, I can escape those storms when they are almost touching me, and many of them don’t even reach the city.
Life is great living in Her Shadow, as long as you stay.
The clouds loomed above, getting darker as I started my three hour drive back home. I was departing from snowboarding in Breckenridge. My home mountain was inundated by storm clouds, and had been for days, but I just couldn’t take being inside anymore. I timed the window in the storms. The sky spoke a resounding low note as I got gas in the town of Fairplay, Colorado.
Um, please fill up faster, I nervously think to myself. I have to get home before the storm.
The clouds bellowed in unison with my concern, and I knew they could beat me east. Oh no. I quickly shove the hose back in the pump and start my car. The check engine light turns on? I don’t care.
I HAVE to go.
I drove in and out of the rain through the lowlands between the inner mountains and my own. It was a peaceful drive, with easy, light, drizzling rain. But I knew what was to come. I couldn’t outrun the storms. The clouds were just as fast as I was, and far faster as they approached the relief on the western side of The Mountain. Hours of worry culminated in this moment. What was I in for?
Enter: The mouth of the storm.
It opened up as I attempted to brave the roads. Like a wall, impenetrable, the vast dark gray expanse took me in. I lost all vision of my surroundings as torrential rain with drops the size of grapes hit my windshield. The patter of rain turned into whooshing and slamming. The eruption of water droplets everywhere turned the road into a river. I managed to get up the first hill, but that was where I lost control.
The river turned to ice as the rain turned to hail. Slushy at first, it seemed forgiving, but I was mistaken. My car floated with the piles of ice in the fast-flowing water and I rested in a large deposit of hail that held me in place. I was off the road now, and my only choice was to wait.
The storm had gotten so violent so fast, but I watched as it writhed in the sky. Opposing air masses prepared for a fatal battle over the Peak, and there I sat with Her, watching. The chaos! the storm was raging and turning more violent. Water flowed hard down the channel in the pass, pushing past my car and forcing it deeper into the bank of ice it rested upon. The landscape was flowing. Mud and dirt, ice and water, and all other things caught in the way mixed together and rushed to lower elevation. The hail, now the size of small marbles and much more solid, started leaving dents on the hood of my car. I imagined the windshield shattering and exposing me to the elements, making me feel those marbles of ice on my own skin.
I contemplated stepping out. This is what She goes through. This is what She has been shielding me from for days on end. What right do I have to feel sadness while living in the safety of Her Shadow? I cannot begin to understand, but I can try.
Thank you, Big Mountain.
“How’s your summer going?” Josh asked. He was being genuine. He had no idea I hadn’t been to The Mountain in nearly an entire month.
How could I? I suppose I should say it rained for weeks on end. Four or five, even. And that was down here. More than a mile higher than me, She stood. She absorbed storms I had yet to face. She came out to breathe as we marveled at her beauty.
But I remember the day the road became a river. The clouds turned to spears that day. But these storms were the end of the war that had raged on for two seasons. The clouds were now melting, and so was the snow.
Lightning struck Cameron’s Cone and I watched in awe from the window of my brainstorming space. 1…2…3… The onset of crackles so light trickled into my ears. I listened delicately as the bursts rolled in-
The window shakes off of its support and swings open. My ears ring as I lean to fix it and I gather water like a sponge from the torrential downpour that continues to ensue outside. Grasping the window in a panic, I pull it shut, disregarding the now-broken latch on the outside. I lock it from the inside.
I refocus. I look back at my phone and read his message again. Yeah… Summer. I think to myself.
I’m still waiting for it.
The wind was easy and the air was fresh as I nervously approached the Devil’s Playground. The trail was filled with tightly packed snow, which my feet effortlessly traversed. I was distracted by her calmness and beauty. She was strong, like I want to be. But she was flowing elegantly, like all the elements around her.
The massive hallways of granite began to shroud me in silence as I passed through them. The snow was perfect today, and as I rounded the end of the rocks, an endless blanket of white came into view.
My jaw fell open by mistake but I let it continue to be. On the right, a sheer drop into another rock hallway, this one much larger than the last. As I panned left I noticed the pale orange ridge above the lower part of the trail. The trail itself was windblown and icicles protruded sideways from the nearby shrubs, still devoid of green.
I looked up to the clouds, but none came into view. It was a perfect day. I guess this is why they call her Tava. A gust of wind pushed me into my line, as if she was encouraging me to play, and I let her take me away on the hard snow, leaving a sine wave in my path.
I rested at the base of the high alpine meadow. As if I never noticed, a massive peak stood over me to the west not even a mile away. Steep on all sides, I dreamed about it. The intermittent glaciers that formed its temporary outer layer were superb. The angle of repose was to be admired, and the horn of rock that poked out the top was a dream vacation for me.
I looked down at my board covered in snow and wiped off the center portion of it. A trademark yellow smiley face surrounded in curly hair gleamed at me. In capital black lettering toward my leading foot read the phrase: