Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Mountain View

The view from here is sweet. No doubt about it.

From my yard, I can watch the sun rise behind a long earthy arm, hairy with pinion and juniper and scrub oak. And it sets -- a view best taken in from our front porch -- behind a sweeping range of bluffs, bristling with ponderosa, bulging behind the far side of town. Every day these views flirt with me, distracting me, drawing my gaze, demanding my attention. Every night I feel it, out there, everywhere, unseen even as its presence permeates my home, my living room, my bedroom, my awareness.


Upstream of town, a broad, verdant, redrock-lined valley is gouged from the forested foothills spilling away from the nearby crags and peaks of the San Juan Mountains. The river meanders a leisurely course into town, and from town it rolls on, draining onto the leading edge of the desert Southwest, a landscaped marked by crumbling sandstone swells and swales gouged with washes and canyons.

And when I climb a nearby peak, butte, ridge, mesa, or rise offering a view over this frozen scene in the ever-unfolding geologic drama -- like I did last week, on a cool late-spring day, when I finally, after decades of lusting after it, scrambled my way up the great white crest of Grandview Ridge -- I am always left refreshed and renewed for having gotten to reknow this place anew.

Pretty sweet. And it's the power of those views to keep place injected into life, every day, that brought me to the mountains, and has kept me eddied out, a hostage of choice, here and in the other Colorado mountain towns I've shacked up in (or, in a sense, "with") for more than half my life.

But that's not the only view from this, and those many other, mountain towns.

In mountain towns, there is also the view as in viewpoint. See, that mountain country out there, encircling and encasing us, shapes how we see things, our perspective on the world, and our place in it. As mountain people, we tend to be a bit independent, somewhat free-thinking, leaning toward self-reliance in things. Traits that serve one well in rugged country.

But we also know from the long history of people who have tackled lives in and on this varied and hard landscape that you can't make it alone. I'm not sure it takes a village (at least the Mountain Village I know doesn't cut it), but in my experience and experiments at carving a life in the mountains, it has taken housemates, co-workers, a bar or two, a neighborhood, an alley, a town, a community, and an endless flowing of friends, lovers, companions, acquaintances, and benevolent strangers. It has even taken visitors, and even tourists, bringing both their money and their keen appreciation for what our familiar homescape is, and is not.

And there is the view that is a way of seeing. One thing that jumps out at anyone who comes to our mountains is how far you can see. Over valleys. Up mountainsides. Between the serrations of distant peaks to even more -- ever more -- distant peaks. And if you look at those views long enough, they start falling into place. The landscape becomes a text, and scenic features, like words and punctuation, begin to bear sense. And tell stories. Geologic stories. Climatological stories. Biological stories. Historic stories. Breaking stories. Potential stories.

And for mountain people, they tell our own stories. For each of us who have dedicated ourselves -- committed our very selves -- to these landscapes, our life narratives are written on the land that is our shared, yet also completely individual, reason for being here. As we wander our home land those storylines rise like braille from the land. For mountain people, that is the literacy we use make sense of the world -- any world we find ourselves in. That's why other people think we're so weird.

In that sense, then, this view is also what guides our vision. When we look out over the mountains, people around here don't just think "pretty," they think, Go! Mountain people are prone to explore, venture, see, touch and do for themselves. Being greeted every day by those mountains rippling off into the distance does that to you. You hear them calling.

And so we take that feeling, that drawing outward, that insatiable curiosity of what things are like over there, anywhere, everywhere, with us. Into our adventures. And our jobs. And our duties and obligations and projects. Into our families and friendships. Into the future.

Then, when we seek a healthy respite from those worldly views, we return to that other view. The one from just about anywhere here. The one out over the mountains and valleys and rivers and forests and snowfields that frame all our views.

And it's pretty sweet.



Read and share this on the Durango Telegraph's "La Vida Local" column.
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