Tuesday, October 4, 2011
A splash of gold
On pine-swathed breast;
The mountains lay
The fall to rest.
If you live in the mountains in Colorado, there are certain things you can be sure of. During the summer, to avoid traffic, go down the mountain on Friday and up the mountain on Sunday to avoid campers going the opposite direction. This applies doubly to Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, except shift the Sunday to Monday.
Oh, and it’ll happen again on one weekend in mid to late September or early October.
That last was tricky. It’s never the same weekend, so you have to pay attention to the news or other media outlets to find out when it’s going to happen.
It happened this past Saturday. I was driving the kids downtown to celebrate my first anniversary of self-employment and my son’s eighteenth birthday, which will happen on Wednesday. Traffic was backed up in front of the road where I turn onto the highway. In fact, it was backed up nearly ten miles, in some stretches slowed to stop-and-go.
“What the heck?” I said to the kids. I saw no sign of an accident, and Saturday afternoon isn’t prime camping traffic.
Then it struck me.
The traffic was backed up for ten miles because everybody was heading into the mountains to look at the trees.
Growing up in the Midwest, I always had lots of trees to look at in the fall. Oak, maple, poplar—they smeared every fall landscape with reds, oranges and yellows.
In Colorado, it’s the aspens. Just the aspens, in masses and patches of brilliant gold set against the deep green of pines. It’s really quite stunning to see them high color. Aspens share root systems, so they grow in groves, all of which change color at roughly the same time.
This weekend was the prime weekend. That’s the thing about the aspens. If you went this past weekend, you will have seen the glorious display of hundreds of golden leaves shimmering in the breeze. Next weekend? It’ll all be brown, dead and gone. It’s a fragile thing. The beauty of the color depends on vagaries of weather, including temperature and rainfall, that I’ve never been able to figure out. People in the news media here do calculus while standing on their heads to determine the exact day that the color will be at its peak.
The color is vibrant this year, a darker, richer gold than I’ve seen in a long time, probably because we had a crazy-wet summer. But we didn’t go up the hills to Kenosha Pass or Guanella Pass or Mt. Evans. Not this year.
Instead we went around about our regular business. At the library, I looked up to see two huge patches of aspens in the peaks beyond, stunningly brilliant against the surrounding deep green. More golden splendor lurked between peaks I see every day, now transformed so that I couldn’t help but look and marvel a little as we drove down to lunch. At Meyer Ranch Open Space Park, I saw patches of red among the gold. And following the bends in the highway, I saw streaks of aspen groves like molten gold poured down the sides of the mountains.
It’s nice to go somewhere special to see the aspens. At Kenosha Pass, there are huge groves, so everywhere you look, there’s nothing but gold. At Mt. Evans, the swathes of gold highlight the towering, rugged flanks of 14,000-foot peaks.
But seeing that same gold scattered over my familiar landscape struck me more deeply this year than past treks to Kenosha have. This year the aspens were a special gift, one I didn’t have to seek out, but that instead was scattered all around me, in familiar places that were made special, gilded by the dying leaves.
I think I liked it better this year.