Rendered Fat Content


A study of Hygrophorus puniceus, one of the many watercolours of mushrooms created by Beatrix Potter (Circa 1897)
" … only ever really experienced by accident when actively not finding whatever you were seeking."

We tell people that we're going up to hunt morels or pick wild blackcurrants, but we're really ScalingInto. The forests here have not made anyone's top ten lists, thank heavens. As Western forests go, they first appear rather pedestrian, neither imposing nor particularly vast, trees of a uniformly modest size. Fires have ravaged but left lots, little of any of it virgin. Peaks tend toward softly rounded rather than starkly spired and by mid-May, few remain snow-covered. There's a softness to the place not immediately apparent. These woods come into focus from ground level, not any overlook. Down there and inside, it's magical.

I sense in the spring here that I've been plopped into a Beatrix Potter painting.
I expect to see bunnies and puddle ducks cavorting through the budding foliage. We're looking for mushrooms, we say, the black ones resembling every fir cone littering the trail, but we know it's been too dry this year for us to find any. Still we search, if not for mushrooms then for whatever's on offer at that scale, for we've calibrated our periscope to centimeters and inches and much otherwise invisible exists in there. Small native orchids, miniature relation to the huge tropical kind, peek up through the budding bracken. They seem worth peering into and so we do. Native honeysuckle, just barely starting to bloom without greenery yet, and thimbleberries barely budding. Mock orange and elder flowers on the edge of opening. A rotted log ruined by bear claws, or so we imagine, and legions of fat black ants marching along a fallen branch.

The Muse notices first that we're surrounded by only nature's sounds. Unlike Colorado where no place exists where westbound jets aren't ferrying passengers to Los Angeles, little air traffic routes over this corner of this state. The creek rampaging through the bottom of the draw produces the background rhythm, hardly uniform but poly-rhythmic, a chromatic aural experience. Occasional puffs of a sweet breeze provide grace notes. Look! Another something just now budding and we're here to witness its leaves' first touch of soft sunlight. Shadows crawl and cast. We wander off the trail hoping for water access but something growls ferociously at me and I jump, scream, and follow The Muse back up and onto the rough trail. On past visits, four-wheelers plied this path, but overwinter windfall has left it too narrow now. We're all alone to ninny out without witnesses. The ferocious growl might have been my imagination or some remnants of civilization exiting.

I find a few leathered puffballs, a common companion of the mushrooms we're seeking, but these have popped and dried, testament to the drought conditions which later will threaten this sacred place's existence. This day is warm enough to encourage caddis flies to hatch and they clumsily buzz around us as if seeking some trout to turn them into supper. Tiny electric blue butterflies, native to these mountains, favor the few seeps we pass. On one, a couple of dozen linger, and we crouch to watch. They seem so smart to stick together and so beautiful they seem impossible, but then so does almost everything at this scale. The mountainsides seem almost completely covered with rotting windfall trees in various degrees of decomposition, some swaths have burned and recently. It seems impossible that at any scale all this might ever rot back into soil. The soil here seems thin. It's Loess, blown in and filling in between native basalt such that the path seems soft underfoot. A trail made for moccasins.

We find no morels, like many such excursions before, but we found plenty we were not really looking for. The trick, if there ever was one, is to collapse perception down and ScaleInto as if inhabiting a Beatrix Potter watercolor, floppy-eared bunnies and all. Had we used a microscope to see we would have seen only even more amazing things. The gist of this place, as with many others, cannot be touted in brochures or glimpsed from aptly-named overlooks or from flyovers. Its essence resides to one side and down within, accessed only by looking for something deeply desired. With luck you won't find what you're seeking (Thanks, George Dinwiddie, for this one), but something even better. It all seems to start with an aspiring heart. Hunting, fishing, or even just hiking, one might miss the tiny native orchids. ScalingInto opens worlds rarely mentioned and only ever really experienced by accident when actively not finding whatever you were seeking.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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