There is nothing like a visit to one of my favorite Colorado rivers to revitalize my spirit, help slow me down, and help put me back to my roots. There’s nothing quite as serene as sitting at the water’s edge at dusk, watching rainbow trout jump for their dinners, and seeing the wisp of sunset disappearing onto sparkling waters. And when the hour inches closer to eleven, and I look up, there are millions of stars above, a canopy of light that one cannot see in any city, anywhere. That’s when I know, again, and without a doubt, how small I am and how big God is, and that the beauty of nature surrounding me is a gift, and it comes to me unconditionally.
Of all the places I’ve been, being in nature, especially the mountains, mesmerizes my heart. I’ve known it for as long as I can remember, and my parents, who were drawn to mountains and rivers, passed this on to me. I remember trips to the mountains in Colorado and southern New Mexico, and how my dad always picked a spot where no one else shared our space, for miles and miles. One person passing our campsite would be deemed one too many, so he made sure my mom and I had complete solitude, although I’m sure it was for his solitude as much as anything.
A quiet man, he made campfires expertly and without fuss, and soon we’d have a fire popping and crackling. My mom and dad would make campfire coffee, putting it into the coals in a speckled pot, and when evening came, they’d have a cup of coffee, giving me a tad in a tiny cup. I liked how the coffee grounds sat at the bottom of my cup, making it more like coffee should be. Even today, when I get coffee grounds in my cup for some reason, I kind of like it.
Being in the mountains with the roar of a river not far away is freedom. The air is clean and forest sounds are clearer, sharper. My dad taught me to walk softly on the pine needles covering the forest, as deer and other animals were nearby. We were in their sanctuary. We were the visitors.
The river gave life. My dad loved to fly-fish, and he’d wade out into the middle of the Dolores River, and soon he’d have half a dozen rainbow trout that he’d place into his wicker fishing basket. As a six-year-old, my special job was to scrape off their scales before they hit the frying pan. My other job was to bait the hooks. It was messy and slow, but my dad had plenty of patience. “You need to learn to be patient,” he’d tell me. I still don’t know of many five- or six-year-olds with patience, but he’d remind me of that many times. He is probably the most patient person I’ve ever known, and I’m still working on my patience.
All these thoughts drifted in and out as I was in the middle of the river not long ago, letting the water push past me, as I settled into the round river rocks like a lounge chair. Fish jumped, black birds flew over, magpies hopped and the pine trees sounded out their own symphony. For a moment I felt like I was trespassing, trespassing the river’s bounty and magnificence, but the feeling passed as the river accepted me and that was it. I was just passing through, and the beautiful forest and river somehow knew it, and everything fell into place. For the longest time, I soaked it into my soul, and it filled me.
I’m particularly fond of rivers, because it’s what I’ve been around most, but I’ve been to the beach a time or two. There’s something about the ocean that draws me in. I take off my sandals and feel sand beneath me. I look out, way out, across the sea and again I’m so small and nature is so big! The sea lets me play in the waves, but warns when the weather turns. Sand crabs dance and flit across the beach, but evening is my favorite time to watch them scurry. It’s all so grand, it’s almost too much to take in. Once, I saw the sun rising from the ocean like a large, red plate and the clouds were pink and purple and yellow. Again, look how big God is, and how small we really are in comparison.
Traveling to a place that helps revitalize us is important, but not everyone can travel. Not everyone can experience nature, or see things they only dream of. Some of us can only take a small trip once a year, if at all. But there’s another way, and we can travel more this way.
It’s all in the mind.
As long as we have our thoughts and memories and are able to think of what brings us peace, that’s when we can do our traveling. Our mind can take us to the Cliffs of Dover, to the Italian sea shore, to the forests of Finland, or to the beaches where we might see wild horses pounding their way across sand. Our thoughts can take us to orange groves, to mountains with snow piled high, to a place that we once were when we were ten. It can take us to a beach we saw for the first time, ions ago. It can take us to our grandmother’s Sunday dinner, where we dine on chicken and dumplings and mashed potatoes and gravy. Our memories can charter many miles, and bring us joy.
With all the tribulations and trouble life brings us, we have to remember: This is only a season. It will pass. Good and bad, it will pass. If we’re in a season of peace, this, too, is only a season. There’s a season for everything, remember?
So, with this knowledge, I remember the mountains and rivers and the sun rise over the ocean. I remember the crackling of camp fires and the songs of the forest, and how campfire coffee tastes. I remember my grandmother’s cooking and the water rushing over me as I sat in the cold mountain river.
And I know that we’re just visiting here for a short while. And I know that when ever we can, we need to remember to slow down and visit what brings us joy, even if it’s in our mind.