On Demand

Album Leaf No. 2

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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 piƱon 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.

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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.

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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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