17 September 2003

11:45 pm (Mountain Time), Tuesday night, Home

For the last week, everyone's been talking about how happy they all are that it's finally beginning to feel like autumn, and I've been confused, because none of my normal fall clues are present.... and it's still in the 80s during the day, which does not feel like fall to me. Fall is cardigan sweaters and hoodies and jean jackets, not tee-shirts and shorts. But this morning when I woke up, it was very cool in my room and the morning air smelled like autumn campfires.

After work I decided to drive up to Sandia Crest before heading back down into the city. I’ve been meaning to get up there for weeks, and it makes sense to go directly from work, as the entrance to Sandia Park is only a few miles down the road from where I work. It took me maybe five minutes to get to the park – and then nearly an hour to get to the very top of the mountain. At 10, 678 feet, Sandia Crest is the highest point in the Sandia Mountains (Albuquerque’s at somewhere around 5,000, I think). Though it had been in the low 80s all day in Cedar Crest, Tijeras, and Moriarty, it was freezing at the top of Sandia Crest. Luckily, I had a jacket in the car, and was able to bundle up before I headed up to the highest point.

On the way up, I saw a large number of aspens with leaves turning to trembly gold, and felt relieved. Autumn! It comes, in familiar guise, even here! I even saw a few tall bushes and trees beginning to turn orange and red! The roads were lined with yellow flowers -- lots of wild flowers I don't recognize yet, or whose names I don't know. All the yellow and orange made me believe in oncoming autumn, and I felt centered again. The higher I got, the more the air smelled of pine and dark dirt -- smells which always evoke the woods of the UP and northern Wisconsin for me. I had a sudden urge to curl up in front of a wooden cabin fire with a good book and a glass of Merlot....tell me once again why I'm living in a city?

The sun was low in the sky as I stepped up onto the highest patio on the crest, and the panoramic view was incredible. The air was already taking on that particular quality of light that sunrise and sunset bring. Every dip and shoulder of each peak down the chain was clearly silhouetted, like muscles on a Michelangelo nude. Storm clouds were sweeping across the southeastern horizon, defining the sky in curtains of grey rain. Looking to the east, I could see the (relative) valley of Cedar Crest & Tijeras et al, half in and half out of the shadow of the very mountain on which I was standing. I knew that it must already feel like dusk down there, where the sun had already slipped behind the peaks of the Sandias. Because the sun was bright in the western sky, I couldn’t look down at Albuquerque for too long. I shaded my eyes long enough to see the Rio Grande twisting and flashing its way through the city.

One of my first thoughts upon reaching that height was that the view of Albuquerque was similar to the view of Chicago from the top of the Sears tower, or the view of NYC from the top of the upper decks of the WTC. Though the family is always teasing me about being a country mouse, I felt like a city girl at that moment, and tried to recall the last time I had stood at the very top of a mountain. I think it’s been since we were in Winter Park, CO, in ‘91 or ‘92... or Estes Park.... It was long enough ago that I don’t remember details, only the sensation of being alone with the clouds against the sky. Of course, the peaks are significantly higher in those more northern Rockies – and now I’m remembering a thrilling moment at the top of a mountain in Banff, in ‘96 maybe, and how I marveled at the tourists who saw the snowy peaks around us just long enough to snap a picture, and then turned their attention to the little peanut-eating pikas and marmots on the ground....

7 August 1996, Mount Sulphur, Canada:
“Being here has lead me to develop a new theory --
what I call the Big Mac/Little Human Theory.
Basically, it asserts that when Humans are faced
with the majesty and beauty of nature they
appreciate it for as long as their pea sized MTV
spawned brains can handle. Then -- automatically --
before they realize how powerless and
insignificant they really are, they immediately
switch over from the overwhelming glory of nature
to something smaller which they have the power to
control -- food, for instance. This explains why,
at the top of the mountain this afternoon, most
people seemed to be more interested in the hungry
little chittering chipmunks than the sweeping
eagle’s eye view of the Canadian Rockies.”

Anyhow, this afternoon I spent far more time up at the crest than I should have, but it was worth it – I stayed until the sun began to set in earnest, and the mountains to the east and south all turned deep violet against a rosy blue sky, and New Mexico’s signature clouds turned orange and navy blue in light and shadow, and the lights of Albuquerque and the east mountain towns came on one by one.

Driving down from the crest later, winding around the mountain again and again, I kept thinking, I want someone here to hold my hand in the face of all this beauty. It was too much for one person to hold alone, like grief, and I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of standing witness to all this majesty.

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