the road

As I’ve made my way halfway across the Southwest, there are two things that have been constant….the road stretching before me and incredible skies.

JDavidsonBlog130809-001I-10 west of Ozona, Texas

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I-10 in southwestern New Mexico

JDavidsonBlog130809-003Gila National Forest near Silver City, New Mexico

JDavidsonBlog130809-004US-180 north of Alpine, Arizona

JDavidsonBlog130809-005Petrified Forest National Park

JDavidsonBlog130809-006Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

mountaintop experience

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After climbing a great hill,
one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
~Nelson Mandela

Thoughts about mountains and my attraction to them have been percolating for some time now.  For the past eight years, I have looked daily upon the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains when I was home in Santa Fe, which rests comfortably between these two ranges. As many times as I could, I would drive up the ski basin road outside of town to lose myself in the wilderness.  In the winter, the mountains provided a playscape for cross country skiing; in the summer they were a respite from the warmer temperatures and bustling tourists down below in town; in the fall they brought forth pounds of golden treasure if you know where to look (not only the vibrantly gold aspen trees, but delicious chanterelle mushrooms that are a delight to forage); spring never failed to bring a sense of newness as snow melted, leaves budded out on the bare aspens, and the sound of water flowing in the creeks added to the chorus of birdsong.

One thing continues to draws me to the mountains regardless of season – the quest for the top.  There is the heart-pounding, heavy-breathing, sweat-producing work that it takes to get there.  Few venture out with this mission, particularly off-trail, where I usually trod along.  The sweet solitude with the wildlife, the streams, the hidden meadows….there are glorious gifts all along the way.  But it is the top that is most often the goal.  This winter, breaking trail on a stormy day, I began to wonder what makes people strive for the top.  “The view” is the most obvious answer – and a legitimate one.  There’s something magical about watching the sunset over a horizon that is below you.  It never ceases to amaze me how far you can really see once you’re on top looking over the landscape below and beyond what is available to you from lower elevations.

There’s also the sense of achievement once the summit has been reached.  I have yet to come to the top of a mountain and not think that every step was worth the work that it took to get there.  But on that stormy January day, as I slowly made headway in the bitter cold and blowing snow, I looked at another aspect of the mountaintop experience square in the face. Above the treeline, you are exposed.  Vulnerable to the winds and the cold, to lightening, rain and hail. There is no place to hide from the elements here. Yes, the view is incredible.  The achievement is very worthwhile, but it is not a place where one can stay.  Mountaintops are places to visit, to cherish, to strive for, but there is safety in the valleys.  There’s no doubt that valleys are where hard work must be done and where routine can become mundane, but they are also where relationships are built, where character is fostered, where lives are lived.

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Two weeks ago, I drove away from Santa Fe, closing the chapter of calling that beautiful city home.  Memories of the town, the people and the wild places that surround it will remain close to my heart.  But it is time for me to travel to lower elevations, to new environments.  The years spent there were hugely transformational, a mountain experience in many ways on its own. Yes, there is sadness in leaving a place so comfortable and familiar.  But there is excitement in knowing that there are more mountains to climb (and climb them I will!)…and more valleys in which to seek refuge.

a connection to home

There are streams in life that connect us, to a place, to each other, to our past, our future.  The Pecos River is a stream, in the literal and figurative sense, that connects me to home.  The county I grew up in is bordered by the river.  Many family trips were spent in the lake formed by the convergence of the Pecos with the Rio Grande and Devil’s Rivers.  For the past 7 years, I have called home an area just over the mountains from its headwaters.  I’ve seen many parts of this river and the lands that surround it, but I had never until recently been close to the source of its flow.  A hike with a good friend brought us close, to Pecos Falls in the Pecos Wilderness outside Santa Fe. While we did not see the actual headwaters, we spent two days walking along the river as it descends from the mountains, through pines, aspen trees transitioning into fall, and fields of grass and into the desert downstream, with its rugged bluffs and rocky shore that I can only imagine while looking at its beginnings here.

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