I was exhausted this morning from a four day sojourn in hell. Two days in radiology, a day in oncology OR waiting, an all nighter in ICU and a day in the neurological recovery room. Didn’t seem like God was anywhere to be found down here, so I headed up the ridge to see if I could find Him there.
It seemed cold this morning even for the end of March and the cold wind cut right through my jacket. My legs felt like lead from all the sitting at the hospital but I was determined to reach the high ground. I passed the deer herd but they were resting in a nice meadow and I didn’t want to disturb them.
I plodded to the top of the first ridge and sat down on a rock to meditate. The cold wind was really howling and I was unable to hear the usual sounds of the forest. As the wind howled and angry clouds streamed over the peak I was reminded of the storm raging against my little family. However, in the great beauty of His creation I began to sense His presence and I am reminded that He was never missing. He was there with us in the midst of the storm in the wonderful people from our church who gave me rides, brought flowers, food, companionship, comfort and prayers. He was there in the skillful doctors and nurses who were so compassionate, patient and helpful. And He was there when all our prayers were answered in the success of the operation and her chance to continue this fight for life.
It was a good morning on the mountain. Pikes Peak was putting on a great show and I located the deer herd again. What made it especially great is that I actually made it out the door. A brief foray into the “Wildlife Professionals” forum had me fuming with anger and my spirit drained. It was all I could do to tear myself away from the computer.
I joined the forum thinking that there would be wildlife photographers, activists, veterinarians, animal rescue personnel and scientists. I had shared my Examiner article on the poor success rate of archery in the pursuit of big game and was unpleasantly surprised by a barrage of hostile hunters and professional wildlife extermination personnel who having not even read my article, went on the attack. What really drained my spirit is the mentality of these people. Joe implied that the only reason I was against bow hunting is that I didn’t understand how it works. Of course he was only too happy to fill me in, gleefully stating that “Arrows and broadheads cut and animals die by hemorrhaging to death. “, as if I would somehow suddenly understand and declare bow hunting to be the most humane way of treating wildlife. Bob is incensed that I would even care how the animals are treated, stating ” Personal, ethical and emotional arguments have their place, and some, their validity. Just not here. “, as if owning a gun and a hunting license somehow exempts him from the ethical expectations placed on the rest of society. Troy thinks photographers are ignorant, and Joe implies watching an animal crumple into a dead heap gives him the same thrill that a photographer feels after snapping a great image. Carl, using a profile picture of Bruce Willis instead of himself, thinks art is not worth the carbon footprint it leaves behind. While mouthing off about how good it made them feel about sharing the thrill of hunting as their ancestors did as if our barbaric ancestors had some kind of special insight into life, I was told that my personal feelings about wildlife and pets had no place in their forum. Apparently feeling good about mayhem and death is OK, but feeling strongly about non-lethal wildlife enjoyment is not. While offering no scientific studies to back their beliefs, they attack the science that disputes their own opinions. Seething with anger, I wanted to unload on these Neanderthals, but before I could somebody reported me for an inappropriate post and shut me up. They think I am against hunting, but actually I am just against the mentality of people who think like they do.
So it was with great difficulty that I pushed away from my laptop, laced up my hiking boots and headed up the trail. My diligence was rewarded with the fabulous show the mountain was putting on this morning. Clouds and fog were streaming out of the blazing blue sky, clothing Pikes Peak in a robe of white mist. The deer herd was on my trail foraging for food and enjoying the morning sun. The chirping of the birds and the sound of the morning wind in the pine trees soon melted the anger from my spirit. The joy of spending time in the midst of the deer herd once again brought me close to God. It was then that I realized… Hell cannot follow me here.
I was fortunate on this morning’s trek through the woods to locate the deer herd grazing along the trail. I never hit the trail without my camera in hopes of capturing some kind of wildlife about their business in the wilderness.
It was early so the sun had not cleared the ridge and the light a bit faint when I saw the first doe peeking at me from behind a tree. A quick look around revealed a small herd of does foraging for food in the early light of dawn. I set my camera to ISO 400 for the low light situation with a quarter stop exposure increase to compensate for the light brown color of the deer and moved into position for a shot at the closest doe. All the deer had been aware of my presence long before I noticed them so they were keeping a wary eye on my every movement.
I slipped in closer behind a tree so they wouldn’t notice my movement, but not too close. My 200mm lens would have to compensate for the distance. Leaning against one of the pines to keep the camera steady, I began to shoot as many of the deer as I could arrange into a pleasing composition. These deer have grown accustomed to my presence in our three years of sharing these woods and allowed me to hang with them long enough to get a satisfactory number of captures.
From that point, the rest of my hike was just for fun and exercise. Of course I kept an eye out for more of the Pike National Forest’s furry inhabitants, but I was satisfied with my early success and just kept a steady stride and enjoyed the exercise and the fresh air and solitude of the Colorado Wilderness.
I know it is going to be a good morning when my boots are the first to make tracks in fresh snow. There is something irresistible about being the first after a snow to experience the crunching of snow beneath my feet in the total solitude of the Rocky Mountain wilderness after a snowstorm.
The combination of fresh snow and the new light of spring hitting the north face of Pikes Peak was too inviting to pass up, even though I knew the morning would be cold and windy. I was not disappointed. The mountain was bathed in a beautiful new coat of white and the wind was whipping up clouds of snow in the dense pine forest below me. The beauty of the scene gave my legs the strength to climb the upper loop on my trail in hopes of finding some deer or elk foraging for food at the top of the ridge. The trail on the ridge was slippery so I had to pay close attention to my center of gravity and make use of the scrub oak branches to keep from turning the trail into a ski slope.
I didn’t find any wildlife to photograph, but the view of the peak was breathtaking and the fresh mountain air exhilarating. The shadows on the snowy ridges formed by the early morning light made for interesting subject matter as did the snow blowing around in the trees. I considered taking the lower loop past the burned out cabin back to the caves to search for the deer herd but decided against it. That place gives me a creepy feeling and I avoid going there.
It is now evening and the snow has already melted. However, my memories and the beautiful moment in time have been preserved in silicon for me to relive tonight.
The combination of the cold of winter, a move into new digs and the end of life issues with Sweet Pea have resulted in a much longer than desired departure from my usual hiking regimen. I vowed yesterday to take advantage of today’s good weather to put that behind me and head up the mountainside for my first outing that I can remember in a very long time. 7:00 a.m. came around and I could see the sun hitting the peak through partly cloudy skies and I knew it was time to put on my hiking boots, but I crawled back into bed anyway. Spring Fever soon overtook my winter laziness and I got back out of bed and went about looking for my camera. By 7:30 a.m. I was out the door and headed towards the Pike National Forest trail to Bald Mountain.
About a mile into my journey I stopped to take a good look at Pikes Peak. Sure enough, the vernal equinox has shifted the sun into position to light the north face of the peak. This is always a welcome event for me as it means pictures of the peak once again have the possibility of color and contrast that hasn’t been available since the sun ducked behind the mountain near the time of the autumnal equinox.
The first day of spring this year turned out a bit anticlimactic with quite a bit of cloud cover to dull the experience. I shot the picture anyway, if only to document the state of the peak on this special day. The lighting was a disappointment but fresh air in my lungs, the sound of the breeze in the pine trees, happy birds singing and the feel of the trail beneath my hiking boots were worth leaving the bed behind early on this day. I could tell that my legs have lost a lot of strength since last fall and I was not able to make it all the way to the summit of Bald Mountain, but at least I know I have turned it around. I am now one day closer to the summit than the valley that I walked through this winter.
Yesterday was the end of an era in my life. Sixteen years spent with my best furry friend Sweet Pea running, jumping, hiking and throwing orange rubber footballs for her to race after and bring back to me until I was too tired to raise my arm for another throw. She was tireless. On my long training runs I would always worry I had taken her too far but upon returning when I collapsed into my chair in exhaustion, I could hear her racing around the yard making sure there were no birds in our airspace or squirrels in our trees. With her, there was never a wrong time for a hike, no such thing as bad weather and nothing too important going on to interfere with the important things in life.
Sweet Pea’s sixteen year old body finally succumbed to time and age but her spirit never did. She loved life to it’s fullest to the very end.
Today is a new beginning for me. I will have to find a way to face each day without my ever present shadow. Even after a whole day without her I find myself looking down to make sure I don’t step on her. I’m not ready to hike alone today, perhaps tomorrow.
I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog on WordPress so on this day, the first day of a new era in my life, it seemed appropriate to start with this post. A tribute to my dear friend Sweet Pea. I love you Sweet Pea and I am looking forward to someday when together we will explore new trails in Paradise.
My long time furry friend Sweet Pea