Quarantine Day 11

Quarantine Day 11

–  How did we get here?  I asked.

– What do you mean? Julie was looking down over an edge where the sea of winter dead grass became a two-foot wide running gulley; the water was pulling us somehow. I meant How did this hike that began as mere daily chore become a Wander?

She and I were now only loosely connected; disappearing from each other behind willows and hillocks of dead sod. The vast meadows lay underneath and around in uniform directions as though we explored underwater, or strolled the moon. I didn’t remember making a decision to change.

The fog sat on the mountains all day. We had been jogging in shorts twice in five days previous; temperatures in the 50s and it seemed May or even June. But today was freezing; nothing above the high 20s and a harsh Colorado reminder: this was spring; to be continually tricked into thinking warm and green shoots when frigid stillness and death still clung.

The frozen fog on pine branches made for brilliant contrast to thawed ground beneath. It was as though a quarter inch of Styrofoam had been blown across the trees from the Southeast. Julie took pictures on her phone, bemoaning she hadn’t brought the Nikon. It was bitterly cold. But somehow in the past hour we had stopped fighting it. We were awake. But this attentiveness had made us somehow aimless too.

Usually we stayed to the trail since in other seasons the knee high grass implied snakes. And we’d be running. This mile return from high trail back to car was very familiar, but today for some reason we had veered wildly off course. We kept pointing out new items to each other. The low dead carpet was easily traversed; revealed to be utterly shot through with a thousand vole and field mice mounds and trails. No wonder the hawks loved this place.

Hints of green poked up only occasionally; defiant of the quiet and deep stillness blanketing the landscape. Even in down coats, hat and gloves my cheeks were stinging anytime the slightest breeze stirred. We had stopped pushing to get back. Time expanded in this newly isolated world cut off from clocks and Business as Usual. We were kids with sticks bored and puttering around, adrift. How did I get here?

Casto Creek runs mostly North-South alongside Foxton for 15 miles before emptying into the North Fork of the South Platte River. I’ve driven alongside it thousands of times in my decade up here; a sideways glimpse heading from home down the hill and later back up. We’ve walked near it hundreds of times as a convenient outing just around the corner from our house. I’ve stepped over it maybe a handful of times; seeking deer trails between dense willows that stuff its course and banks.

Today I saw it. I felt like I was 10. Wasting time wandering its remarkably indirect banks and poking around; never guessing what would draw my attention next. Here a fast flowing few feet, a strangely strangled strand of dead branches spanning it, there a miracle of ice cantilevering from a stone over the oddly reflective water beneath a steel grey sky.

The quarantine has significantly silenced traffic on Foxton and even on 285 another half mile up the mountain road. The gurgling Casto supplied half of all we could hear. In the aging afternoon with no place to go we were seekers who didn’t know what we sought. How did this attentiveness happen? Where had all this beauty come from?

Bending to examine a two foot square mat of exposed top soil and dried broken thistle I hovered over decay of old leaves and unrecognizable ancient plants. A layer of paper thin mold stretched a skin between sticks and pressed grass. A perfect inch hole interrupted the skin; this was all somehow also web. How big is that spider I asked. Is he dead. Hibernating. We moved on.

Julie exclaimed suddenly and produced a Frisbee; newly exposed in the retreating snow. It was white like a sun trying to burn through the opaque ceiling. We smelled Elk. I said this area was so dense with salad and hiding it was no wonder animals loved it. We found a dozen sites where the grass was pressed for beds further into the soft soil. It was isolated enough I wondered also if cats didn’t love it here and chose not to mention this.

A leg. Just the bottom eighteen inches of hoof and up past first joint. Fresh enough to still see blood against the exposed and gnawed bone; left behind when a mountain lion decided anything remaining wasn’t worth the effort. Not an uncommon site for hikers around here; a reminder of who shares this sprawling acreage, this astounding wildness, these miraculous passing seasons. My eyes stung from the cold and I felt surprisingly small. I hadn’t been so at home in my body for days.

Annie Dillard came to mind. I told Julie “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” was one of only a dozen books I’ve ever read twice; I didn’t think to count the Bible. In her exquisitely detailed and narrated deep dives Dillard writes of seasons’ lives and deaths, critters great and tiny sharing the stage, and nature’s tie to her own parallel inner universe.

“We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence…”

We were back at the car, an hour too late though it mattered not at all. Marveling and laughing at how different the outing had unfolded from how reluctantly it had begun.

The world will continue just fine without us I thought, but didn’t say.

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