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Perspective Shifts

I spent much of my fast-paced 2023 trying to understand how to ground myself, how to slow time and find a sense of presence, and how to get back to older, more deep-rooted, more natural ways of being. I’ve tried and failed and tried at this over and over again. For years, really, I’ve done this, but I finally feel like I’m getting closer and closer to some understanding of how I am supposed to be in this world. 

I’ve always been drawn to natural places, they fascinate me and call to me. As I get older, I want to spend all of my time out along a river bank, or in a grove of pines, or brushing my fingers through tall grasses. I’ve found in my time with the rocks and trees, there are a few things in the natural world that we can always count on. Those forces of wind and water have much to teach us about deep time and slow change. In some ways, the last 3 years of living in the West have been, in a way, a slow study of wonder at the beauty and complexity that wind and water create. 

Through the next year, I will explore my relationship with the landscapes around me, trying to discern what these natural places mean to me in this current world. I hope to weave my way through thoughts on the places I have been and seen, as well as the landscapes I am seeking out throughout this year, my current places of solace and grounding. Through this time of reflection, I will be exploring the relationships between landscape, wind and water, those great forces, artists really, of time and space. 

This is part one of a series of writings associated with my 2024 calendar, but whether or not you have a calendar for the year, please join me back here monthly as I unravel these feelings and wonderings about our deep need for connection with our natural world. 

January -

Perspective Shifts

I spend a lot of time with shores. I find the most peace when I’m at the water’s edge.

Sometimes, I will dip my toes in, or fully submerge, and sometimes I find a rock on a bank or a patch of sand and sit just watching the water move before me. 

I’ve stood at the edge of many vast canyons, I’ve walked the rim of lakes and reservoirs, stared down at roaring waters from the top of dams. I’ve also hiked beside quieter streams, watching the water gurgle and bubble over rocks, creating small falls and calm eddies. 

Water is the essence of life itself. It has a hand in all that we see and do, all that we touch. Every landscape we look upon is a testament to water’s power and consistency. It can be both incredibly fierce, and incredibly gentle in its art form, carving masterpieces over millenniums. 

Lately, I’ve spent much more time with water, in a new way to me, exploring the snowy landscapes of the mountains around me. Water, in its frozen forms, has its own special power too. Snow can create the quietest, most serene spaces. It absorbs all sound when it lays like a blanket over the earth, draping over the trees. Here, in places where it falls and stays in mass, it erases all landmarks that you would have known before. I can hike trails I’ve hiked many times in the summer, that now take on a whole new look and feeling, as the brush and bushes are erased. Dense fields become a flat, pure white expanse, stretching in front of you, untouched. 

I’ve been enjoying snowshoeing more lately, a chance to move through the landscape slowly, to see the beauty in the details of the snow, to hear that dense quiet. In such a loud and hectic world, it is such a gift to stand still and feel that pure silence.

Snow can be fierce though too, pummeling down hills and carving out all life below, ripping trees from their roots. The evidence of avalanche paths as you hike through a landscape in the summer shows just how lasting the power of water can be in this way.

Fiercely too, a blizzard can come upon you suddenly with great force, taking away your site, winds whipping sharp crystalline flakes in every direction with no release. 

Last winter, my dad and I set off for a snowshoe at one of my favorite places. Our plan was to snowshoe a trail that takes you up through a grove of pines and eventually to an overlook above a vast reservoir. I’ve done this hike in the summer, loving the quiet of the pine forest. I wanted to see just how quiet it would be with snow covering the ground and draping over the branches. 

The drive to Ruedi reservoir winds along the Frying Pan River, a tributary of the Roaring Fork, and later, the Colorado. As we drove up, we could see dark clouds ahead. The final few curves of the road gain elevation quickly, and you rise up above the river as the valley widens and deepens. Below, you can see the dam that holds the reservoir back. It is incredible to think of the tiny river below carving such a vast canyon. 

As we came around the final corner, we were met with a wild blizzard of snow. 

I’ve been to the reservoir many many times, and typically the road rounds the final corner and you get a view of the entire lake stretching 4 or 5 miles long, backdropped by a beautiful range of mountains. That day, we could barely see the shore beneath us. The snow and wind pummeled the pine covered mountain to the south of the reservoir, a view I typically capture every time I visit. I’d hoped to take many pictures that day, wanting to capture the quiet beauty of the snow. I snapped 2 pictures in total while there, one of which was of this shoreline to the south, and which has become one of my favorite photos.

The other image from that day

We did not snowshoe that day. Snow can be harsh and unforgiving, and this storm didn’t need to be tested. We struggled to find a spot to park, and as we did, the snow was rapidly piling up around us, so we drove around a bit more but decided to head back home. I was disappointed to have wasted the day with my dad, and annoyed that I couldn’t get any good pictures. But overtime, this one photo I took that was not quite perfect, started to grow on me. The snow isn’t sharp in the photo, there is a blur to it all. It was a dark sky and the snow was raging at high speeds as the wind beat fiercely to the west. I had snow on my lens, and my settings and the lighting weren’t right to get a sharp photo. But what I see now, is a moment of the storm. Dark skies, low visibility, sheets of blurred white pouring down on us. A testament to just meeting the unexpected as it comes. 

Ruedi - March 10, 2023

I’ve taken that picture so many times. Each is beautiful, sure, because the landscape is beautiful, but this one is different. It has changed how I see this place, every time I go.

Nature is of its own. It does not know or care of our expectations, it just carries on. Nature requires for us to surrender to it, to allow it to show us what we need. A perspective shift.

Ruedi - September 19, 2021

Ruedi - August 14, 2023

Ruedi - January 27, 2024

I still have not snowshoed that trail. I returned to the reservoir many times in the spring and summer, and I returned last week to see a frozen landscape with not nearly as much snow. We could see the ice that day, as snow hadn’t fully covered it yet. It was a quiet, clear day, and the ice swirled in incredible formations, creating patterns that seemed other-worldly. I was mesmerized by the complexity of water. As I stood in the cold, quiet air, studying the loops and curves beneath the sheet of ice, an eerie singing came from the ice. It reverberated across the long lake, echoing deep within the ice and waters, like a set of low pitched bird calls. 

This wasn’t the first time that I’d experienced the ice singing. A few weeks go, I cross country skied with a friend on a different lake, the day after a fresh snow. It is odd and slightly unnerving to travel across a frozen lake. You’re constantly a bit aware of the power of the water beneath you, and it is a strange sensation to walking across a sheet of ice on a huge body of water. We couldn’t see the ice beneath, but in the middle of the lake found ice fishing holes cut through the slab which showed us the ice was 6-7 inches thick. Evidence of a still moving stream flowed along the lake edge, keeping the water from freezing there. Towards the end of our adventure, we found a larger patch of unfrozen lake, unsure why it hadn’t yet frozen. We edged up to it and looked down into the deep blue to see bubbles rising up through the center of the water.

As we stood peering down at the bubbles, the ice made a deep sound, reverberating across the lake, beneath us. We both looked at each other and grins broke across our faces, we said nothing and continued to just listen, but that was all the ice offered us of its song that day. What power the water has indeed.

The day at Ruedi, the ice made a very different noise. Instead of one deep reverberating sound, the ice at Ruedi had a higher frequency and seemed to echo the same popping noise along the length of the lake, over and over again. It probably made the sound ten or fifteen times throughout our time along the shores. This lake I have visited so many times in summer is completely new in winter, full of a own intrigue and possibilities. Just as the blizzard changed my view of this place I visit so often, so now will the swirls of ice and haunting humming of the frozen lake. 

Ruedi - January 27, 2024

In September, my dearest friend came to visit. I took her up to the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River - Independence Pass. It had been a bit of a dreary day, but I always love a good foggy and cloudy day in the mountains. We decided to take a short but steep hike up to an alpine lake near the top of the pass. As we ascended, an incredible storm cloud moved into the valley before us, masking our view. It was eerie, but still quiet and still. Reasonable people may have turned back, but it was a quick hike so we pushed on. As we arrived at the lake, the cloud moved upon us, but instead of the downpour I feared, the first snowflakes of the season fell. 

Close to Independence Pass

We were about 50 yards apart, I’d been studying a red plant on the edge of a stream flowing from the lake, while she stood at the lake’s edge. We both whipped around to look at each other, smiles breaking across our face, tears in our eyes, and we whispered “Snow!” I can’t explain why such a thing can bring you to tears, but it was something about meeting the unexpected, having nature hand it to us, something new, unseen, unknown. The snow was incredibly gentle too, just falling all around us as the cloud enveloped us. It was one of the most magical hikes I’ve been on. The wind never picked up, the snow just fell, sometimes gentler, sometimes a bit more frozen and faster, making a little pitter patter as it met the warm earth. The path we descended was transformed. The dusting of snow and the obscured valley created new views and a new perspective on the forces of nature. What could have been an awful storm to get stuck in at such a high elevation was instead a gentle, beautiful, mystical experience. Awe, it was pure awe. 

I think this magic is part of why I’m drawn back into the folds of nature over and over again. The busyness and loudness and monotony of our day to day lives in the “real world” cannot compare to the breathtaking wonder that I always find in the natural world. The real, real world, I think. There is a type of peace that reveals itself to you in the quiet, even if that quiet sounds like raging winds or plummeting waves, or roaring waterfalls. And there is a transformation of mind and spirit that happens when you let nature unfold before you. When you let it, it changes you forever. 

1 comment

1 Comment

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your musings and photographs that truly capture all you speak of.

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