New life. New dreams. New hope.
A new way of looking at the old.
Start by washing the windows.
Get a clear view of this new day.
OK, so maybe I’ve cleaned cabins for part of my living for far too long.
But I’ll never mind cleaning up the view, especially when the view is as spectacular as it is from these windows.
Farewell to old ways, wishes, holding onto the past, wishing it were all the same, what you had, what you were. Or waiting for someone to hand it to you. Sooner or later you figure out it’s up to you. Maybe you already have.
What are you today?
What will you be tomorrow?
That is what matters to me.
Maybe I’m just a window washer. Today.
(Ah, but I’m getting a clear picture.)
And somehow I think you know. I’m a hell of lot more.
2013 was an interesting year. What other word can describe it?
A year of shaking up.
Some of it, I am happy to leave behind.
But it’s not behind. It remains ahead. Haunting.
Part of what I had to do this week was look back through photos of the past two years to pick out a few for the new book. I’d catch myself at times laughing out loud at the crazy antics of my boys and me, like donning welding helmets in the front yard to witness the solar eclipse, or porcupine hunting in South Park p.j.’s.
Other times, I’d have to hold back the tears.
Somehow I forgot. Once upon a time, was it last year or the year before, our trees were green.
Then I skimmed through the pictures of June and July. Quick. Don’t look too closely at the plume, the smoke lingering over the reservoir, the flare ups, the charred earth. It really hurts. Still. Time to heal, you may say. How can I when it’s not over? You know that, don’t you?
Maybe I shouldn’t have looked. I didn’t realize I was not yet healed.
I wanted to thank so many of you for being there with us. In spirit, in soul. I kept waiting for this to all be behind and then I would find strength and peace and could stand tall and calm and share my gratitude. Only I’m not there yet, and still I want to thank you all. Thank you. That’s all.
What do you choose to take with you into this next year; what do you choose to leave behind?
What will you keep? What will you let go of? What will leave or bring? We have choice. Obligation is choice. Where or to whom we were born was not. Some people got to get over that part and get on with life. Their life. The life they choose. Hold onto it if it works for you. If it doesn’t, get over it. Tell me once, and move on. I don’t want to hear it again.
Love it or leave it.
Unless you want to keep it. Then embrace it. Or at least accept it silently.
So, like I was saying, I’ve been spending a good deal of time over the past few days doing two seemingly unrelated things. Only they’ve come together in a most interesting circle.
First, going through pictures from the past two years for the upcoming book. Second, logging. Clearing dead trees from our land across river, dragging them across the frozen water, and stacking them for use this summer in building our new home.
The green trees in the pictures. The dead trees in my view.
We’re barely making a dent. A few a day and the more we cut, the more we see. Those that look still green have the tell-tale signs of dried dripping sap and slipping bark. Some, the needles are starting to fade to the yellowy hue. Others still look vibrant. We hold hope. Can’t cut them now. Wishful thinking.
I can’t clear my whole view of this death. It will happen. They will burn. What else can their fate be? I’m open to suggestions. Whatever their fate, I will be happy to have them gone, rather than holding onto to memories, dead standing.
Allow the hills to purge and clear and make way for new life.
What will the new life be, and how will it come about? Below us, it’s burned. Most of us assume that’s the fate of the rest of it. We shall see.
And in the meanwhile, what do we do? Sit and wait?
There has to be more.
I’m reading that up in Alaska where similar devastation hit years ago, the dead trees fell, rotted, and new ones are growing. (Now don’t be an ignorant optimist, and keep in mind that the beetles aren’t gone, so the likelihood of these new trees growing into the big old beautiful ones we remember is… nil.) Rot here? Doubtful. Not in the drought conditions that expand from California to the Four Corners to the Head of the Rio Grande (that’s us). A twenty year drought and counting here. Rot will take a long time at this rate.
Just some things to think about. I do because I’m here. I see. I wonder. I care. Chances are, most folks don’t and won’t. Or they’d rather not. It’s still beautiful. Yes, like staring at loved one in an open casket.
Look at what we have already destroyed.
Look at what we have already lost.
My children’s children won’t get back a forest of deep, dark rich blue green spruce.
Maybe it doesn’t matter to you.
Maybe your kids don’t care.
And it matters to me.
New years resolution.
For those who need my voice.
Some of you won’t listen.
It’s not always pretty.
But can I get you, if not to think, at least to see?
Maybe my camera is the more powerful tool. Better than my words. Who has time to read?
These are the trees at the forks of Lost and West Lost Trail Creeks. Notice anything different?
Not so different around these parts, now is it?
Just a bunch of dead trees. A few green ones left. Look closer. You’ll see they are on their way out too.
So what do we do?
Get used to it, I heard some say.
You sit back and take it.
Learn to live with it.
Embrace the changes!
Blindness. Denial. Acceptance.
That would be the easier path.
If only I could.
This is my home.
I can’t turn my back on that which is before me. All around me.
I have to try.
Something. I don’t know what.
Telling you is a start.
It’s in my face.
My tears are on this land. Here more than any other place I have tried to live. I live here.
Maybe that doesn’t matter to you.
It does to me.
I cry because I care.
I’m going to at least try.
I don’t know what else I can do.
I don’t know what anyone can do.
But nothing is not the answer.
I am sorry your children’s children will not see these mountains as I once did.
I wish my tears were part of the cure but I see they do nothing at all.
Maybe I should leave the mountain and find the source of this destruction and devastation. Where would I go for answers? The big cities and their consumerism and capitalism where I was raised? The oil fields of western Texas where so many of my friends are from? The Forest Service, Government, politicians… someone from whom I would want an answer but we know they would not provide?
I’m angry. I want to point fingers. I can’t. I want to know why, and then I want to know what is next. I just don’t know. Do you?
So I stay here. Wield my pen as sword though I see it does little good.
And I will share this with you. Whether you want to see it or not.
I looked in the mirror today and saw I was older. The wrinkles, sagging, grey hair. When did this happen, really? I didn’t see it coming.
I’ll take the grey. I don’t like it, but it seems somehow… natural.
My dying trees? Natural? Oh, really? On this scale?
I won’t take. Not sitting, at least.
I’m going to stand.
I don’t yet know.
But please, at the end of the day, when I sneak a glance in that mirror above the bathroom sink I lean over while brushing my teeth and see that strange woman with leathered skin and paling hair, I want to know what she stands for.
Everyone should stand for something. What is the point and purpose of life… without point and purpose? Find yours, and fight for it if need be. Life is worth fighting for.
Think about this. (I do.) This is death. I can mourn, accept, heal. But I’m afraid there is more to it than these trees. Something killed the trees. Something bigger than a beetle. We can’t see it as clearly as a tiny black bug or a blue stained tree. Think about it. That’s a start.
That odd middle age woman before me that I don’t quite recognize?
She stands for the wilds.
And she’ll fight for it.
As my son might tell you, she can fight.
Not much scares her.
But she’ll learn to get over that.
She has a reason now.
So I’m looking back and you know what I see. Green trees. Here. Across river. Ute creek. Starvation Gulch. It’s weird. It really hurts. It seems so long ago and far away. It’s not.
When you live with it day in, day out, you see the little things. You share an intimate view. You know your trees, your wood, your forest, your undergrowth. You have sat with your back upon the dripping bark, your butt in the fallen needles, your feet on the dried moss, you remember the smell of fresh sap, green needles, a healthy tree, but that is not what you smell.
No one has seen this before. What’s next? Is this the end or the beginning?
You try to look without emotion, without trust in experts who continue to remain clueless. Just look.
You see the tops of the mountain dead before the bottom. These beetles work their way down. But they don’t stop part way. This winter we’re harvesting the dead trees from the river bottom.
I’m so glad to see them going. We cut them down. Burn the remains of their dried branches. Drag them across the frozen Rio. Being stewards of our own land. Getting rid of this crap. I’m sick of it. Maybe we won’t be left with much green and standing when we’re done. But our land will once again feel fresh, young, not dead or dying.
And looking forward. To tomorrow.
I share photos that make me cry because it shows hill after hill of dead standing trees, but the people I show to don’t get it, don’t see it, or don’t want to, and see only how pretty it is. Denial, optimism, call it what you will. What about reality?
It will always be pretty, they say.
But it is dead, I say.
You are seeing what you want to see.
I don’t want to see death.
When do we wake up from this nightmare and see it fresh and green again?
The fire woke some up. They finally got it. Only not really. They saw sadness in the lands that burned and happiness for the lands that survived.
Survived? I ask them. But… they are already dead.
The beetles killed the trees. The fires clean them up. What caused the beetles?
An open response to Kathleen Moore’s A CALL TO WRITERS.
Dear Ms. Moore,
You already have me.
You have been a mentor in your actions and words. There is nothing I need (or desire) to write about more than the change I see from outside my front door. Even inside, looking out.
For the mountain, I will write.
For the mountain, I will dream.
I dream of green trees. Thick air. Running wild, naked, a doe in heat. Smell the sap as I brush against soft blue branches, bouncing back with life.
I dream about belonging, fitting it, being accepted, being liked.
Instead, I’m here. Hiding out. And my cover is fading as the trees are dying.
In my dreams the trees are still blue.
Those who have walked or been on horse through the dying woods understand. Most don’t. They drive by. Touch the surface. Remain in denial. See what they want to see. Trees. No matter that they are already dead.
Life. Life of this beautiful planet Earth. I was going to say fragile, only I am starting to see, she’s even stronger than me. Let her trees die and she’ll come up with something else. I dunno. Bunch grass. I hear that’s what happened in parts of Alaska. Grasses six feet tall that snuffed out seedling trees that tried. Maybe.
She’ll be fine. Better off without us, no doubt. But we’re so tied up and tangled playing God that I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Yes, she’ll adapt. I see the pika doing the unexpected and moving to lower ground, the moose that are dying elsewhere and were oddly relocated to this unnatural environment of the Southern San Juans doing just fine. At the moment. I see rare wildflowers, Calypso orchids, moving to higher ground, and sharing their beauty with me now in my back yard.
Of course I know what I must write about. It’s not as easy as I thought. It hurts, you know? Me, the writer. I don’t know how (if) it will affect the reader. If I can’t reach the reader, I have failed. This is the risk I’m willing to take. I’m willing to try. I am no more than a quiet voice for a silent suffering.
The forest does not weep as she dies. She remains silent and stoic and maybe if you listen when the wind is whipping through the branches of the needless trees and you pause in the dappled sun and hold your breath for just a moment, for that is all we can do up this high, maybe you can hear her quiet wail.