Treasures GaloreNovember 1, 2011

I once read that it takes eighty acres of trees to print the Sunday edition of the New York Times. That made me really mad. So I emailed a minor editor and asked if he’d please use a smaller font, or maybe leave out a few unnecessary sections, like Dining and Travel and Fashion and Weddings.

I was surprised when he replied because I thought he’d be out in the forest someplace waving a double-bitted axe. I can still hear the echo of his rancorous words, which were flung at me with impetuous abandon and prompted an unfortunate dialogue.

“The beautiful trees grow very slowly,” I said.

“But I am a patient man,” he held.

“You are destroying the delicate animal habitat,” I countered, “and winter is coming on.”

“You should be more considerate of the educational needs of the people,” he blurted.

“You don’t have to write so much about the stock market, most people don’t even care,” I yelled.

“You must live in a cave;” he was scrambling!

I crossed my legs and told him that his argument reminded me of the lady in the opera who gets stabbed in the chest but instead of bleeding, she sings an aria. I guessed he wasn’t laughing. It went on – and I finally lost to the big city hustle and a few last words that I didn’t have time to look up.

But there was a point to all of that madness. We take our undomesticated countryside too much for granted. The mountains are not sleeping; they are alive with the healing smells of pine needles and pinon pollen and juniper berries. The shades of fall are yellow with blooming chamisa shrubbery, and the golden glow of rabbit brush can be intoxicating. The Indian paintbrushes are clustered around for little reason other than to display nature’s ruby flush of color. Those accounts continue to stir me and are too important to let languish.

Scenery

But I’ve had my turn and am rich with the experiences that nature offers. For hours at a time I’ve hiked through a forest looking for arrowheads and other signs of prior life. The gentle nudging of the wind provides an ambience that is almost talismanic to me, and I love the privacy and stillness.

When a sound breaks the calm of the canyon I know it’s something important, and I quickly turn. Maybe it’s a squirrel whose tail is beating a rapid cadence that lets all creatures know that he’s aroused by a visible danger. He doesn’t want to be mean but I think he wants to look like he could be. Perhaps a tepid black bear has topped the hill, or an unreasonable barn owl is on the hunt.

Sitting quietly can bring many smiling rewards. Perhaps an aptly named Least Chipmunk, whose size might make you think that he’s one of nature’s afterthoughts, will scamper into view and scurry around digging berries and nuts for winter. When the snow falls deeply he’ll go into a state of torpor, but will not hibernate. Isn’t that interesting? There is so much to learn.

And I know there are costs. Every Montana evening when I smashed a mosquito on my arm, fifteen of his relatives came to the funeral. But the rewards of traipsing through the hills and canyon bottoms are winner-take-all proof of personal fulfillment for me.

If some of my friends think I’m wrong to be a distant dreamer, vaguely disinterested in many of life’s modern habits, they could be correct. But “wrong” is one of those concepts that depends on witnesses and that’s why I’m always right when I’m alone in the mountains. I’ll happily share my national forests with you, but please try to stay at least twenty miles away.




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