On Demand

Album Leaf No. 2

Crest2

Afterward, it felt like a parable–the kind that begins, “The realm of God (or enlightenment, or whatever awakening you please) is like…” In this case, like a woman who ascended a mountain looking for wonder. I did that, on a clear July day. I had rested all weekend to hoard energy for an outing, and by the Monday holiday I was hungry for stomach-dropping heights and grand vistas. For awe.

I drove an hour up the steep, winding road to the crest of Sandia Peak. At the base of the mountain, the car’s air conditioner roared. But soon prickly pears and rabbit brush gave way to piñon and juniper, then ponderosa pines. I opened the windows; wildflowers splashed the roadside with scarlet and orange. Higher still, amid spruce and fir and aspen, I reached for a sweatshirt.

There wasn’t much wind at the top–a rarity. I brought out camera and canteen and walked the short path to the knife-edge of the peak. From 10,678′ above sea level I looked down more than a mile to the city of Albuquerque, out to Mt. Taylor 50 miles west and to the horizon beyond that. There they were–the stomach-dropping heights and grand vistas.

Crest1

Just not the awe.

I don’t know what went wrong. I had gone shopping for it in the right place; I had laid out the right coinage. But awe did not descend on me like lightning. Wonder did not leap inside me like a fire. I looked on the scene with enjoyment: “There’s the view, all right. Same as always. Very nice.” Then disappointment. This was my one chance at an outing for months, and it had fizzled into the merely fine. I wanted something to nourish me through the hours on the sofa, and fine wasn’t going to do it. Fine won’t feed you for months.

But you can’t force wonder. You can’t command awe. After a while I trudged back to the car and started the engine, eased it into gear and down the mountain.

A couple of miles down, I pulled into my favorite picnic area for lunch. I found a table surrounded by big-tooth maples, white fir and spruce and ate while the wind set aspen leaves to rustling. Rain had fallen recently, and the greens were clean and vibrant. A columbine gleamed red and gold beyond a broad stump. Chickadees began calling; an Abert’s squirrel barked in the distance. A car drove into the picnic area, drove out again without stopping.

picnic

After lunch I lay down on the picnic bench to rest before heading home. The tips of the aspens and spruce darkened and lightened between drifting clouds. A swallowtail butterfly meandered by; hummingbirds chased each other, chittering. From high in the trees came the scolding of Steller’s jays, a warbler’s song. A lady beetle ambled across my sweatshirt. As blue sky turned cloudy and back to blue again, ease soaked into my bones. The wind rose. Soft. Cool. It stirred up the fragrance of Christmas, the clean, sweet resin of fir.

From nowhere, wonder leaped high.

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16 thoughts on “On Demand

  1. Hi Stacy, I love the way you write, I was with you every step of the way, every curve of the road. I think one of the worst things about having very limited opportunities for encounters with awe-inspiring nature is that more hangs on them delivering as expected. As yearned for. I’m glad the picnic area delivered in the end, if in a slightly different fashion. Hang in there, and may there be other food to feed your soul during the long days on the sofa xxx

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    1. Thank you so much, Janet. Yes, when outings are rare, they really matter enormously. I think I had put a little too much pressure on that poor mountain to show me a spectacular time–once I relaxed and let the day unfold at its own pace, it was perfectly willing to oblige.

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  2. Beautifully expressed, as always. I’ve been re-reading The Little Prince and your experience reminded me of this… “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Well ain’t that the truth :) Glad your outing nourished your soul. x

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    1. Thank you, Jacque. I haven’t read The Little Prince in many years and forgot what wells of wisdom it contains. (One of the downsides of not having children: you neglect some of the world’s best books!) I have been thinking lately how inadequate vision is–it helps you negotiate the world but puts it all at a distance. The other senses you take into yourself–and they’re much better at cracking open the doors of the heart and suggesting a world beyond the visible. xx

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  3. I know that feeling too well, Stacy. A day toiling up a mountain, with the excitement and expectation building, only to reach the summit and think first “Yes!” and secondly “Oh. OK but …” The peak might not be quite as impressive as I’d hoped, the views not as good or even non-existent. Awe isn’t on tap is it? (Though you could make a killing if you could bottle it). But then it can suddenly slap me across the face when I’m simply looking at something fairly mundane – a flower, an insect, a tree, a well known field – and my day might be made. I get those unlooked for moments often and always try to be grateful. And if I do climb a mountain, or drive up one, I know that it’ll be different from the time before. If only because a beetle marched across my shirt. Lovely post, Stacy. And a damn fine view.

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    1. I am so relieved to hear that you’ve experienced that, too, Dave. I was utterly disgruntled at myself atop that mountain, thinking “What more do I want?!” But if you have had that feeling in your favorite part of the country, then it is just the Way Things Work. You capture the day-to-day moments of awe well–both here and with your camera. I’m glad you enjoyed the post–and the view! (It really is a mighty fine view. It is entirely blameless in this whole affair.)

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  4. Stacy, your prose is lovely. I hear the songs and chitterings of the birds (you know I am fond of feathered creatures.

    I am glad you rested at your picnic stop and were awed by the small things that live in the shadow of the mountain.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lisa. (I must make a small confession to you who love birds–I’m not entirely sure about the warbler. It was a bird singing in a warble-y way, so I just called it a warbler and thought, “No one will know the difference.”)

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  5. My heart also lurched with disappointment – what, so MANY houses.

    But the trees and birds and flowers and bugs!
    After a talk on our wild bees, I took a few minutes to watch the traffic coming and going on a clump of yellow daisies and on the lime tree flowers. From honking great carpenter bees on the Septemberbossie, to little bees SO tiny I almost couldn’t see them. Awe, yes.

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    1. I do love those moments of awe discovering the tiny things–such an extravagant abundance of life. Our bees are getting grumpy these days. The garden is not so much a place of awe as of quick ducking…

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  6. Stacy, I’ve also had this experience. My most special moments have almost always been unexpected ones. When I expect something to be special (because it was before), it often doesn’t quite live up to that expectation. But I never could have expressed that experience as beautifully as you did.

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    1. Jean, it really is a relief to hear others with a sensitivity to wonder echo that surprising experience of “meh.” I’m sensing a fine line between anticipation and expectation. I love looking forward to a treat, but especially on a return visit tend to have a clear picture of what that experience should be like. As you say, it often doesn’t live up to expectation. In a few weeks I’ll be vacationing in a casita I love and am trying to cultivate an attitude of vague gameness for…whatever, rather than to say, “I can’t wait to see x again or do y.”

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    1. Ah, patience. It’s such a good thing to witness in others. ;) I’m so glad you have the time now to enjoy that slow unfolding, Donna–not to be rushing off to work before sunrise like you used to. I hope the autumn gives you many of those moments of peace and awe!

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