Picking Memories


I am eight years old, hiking through the meadow, slogging along behind my mother’s long strides.  We stop at a clump of columbine, their sky blue petals offset the crisp white centers folded into elaborate origami shapes. It is the flower that means home to me—the Colorado mountains and their secrets enfolded its form like the magic phrases of the cooty catchers we make in school. I reach out to pick one, a columbine of my own to place in a rusty tin can and set in my room, a way to bring the mountains home with me. But my mother’s hand stays my own.

“Don’t pick the flowers,” she says. “We have to leave them for others to enjoy.”

I look across the acres of meadow around me. We have not seen another soul since we camped here a week ago. The meadow is blue speckled with clumps of columbine as far as the eye can see. I don’t understand. Why can’t I take just one? Why can’t I hold onto this symbol of the perfect week for awhile anyway?

I don’t want to go home, back to the city and my friends and school and all the little dramas that play out among a group of preteen girls. I want to hold on to this week of sleeping in the silent woods, listening for the stirrings of a world beyond the human one. I want to run across the meadow and feel the freedom of it, not go back to the playground where I never run for freedom, but in competition against the others, trying to prove myself. I want to stay here where I do adult tasks, where I saw logs and chop wood and build fires. I want to live in clothes saturated in woodsmoke and let my long hair tangle and mat, my tennis shoes get crusted in fine red dust. I don’t want to go home where I have to wash the earth from my body and put on stiff clean clothes and skirts that restrict what I can do and try to make my flyaway hair conform to some style from a teen magazine.

I defy my mother’s prohibition. I pick the flower, soak a kleenex in the cold little creek and wrap it around the stem. My mother says nothing. When we get back to camp she gives me a water bottle to prop it up in.

But by the time we home, the columbine has wilted, tucking all the mountain’s secrets into its crushed petals.


The Woods are Coming Back to Life

dove feathersYou emerge from your house like a butterfly released from its chrysalis.  The woods are coming back to life.  Spring is in the air.

This morning you smell the sweet tang of leaf burst, the ground littered with the sticky bud casings of cottonwood trees, now shimmering lime green with new leaves.  The casings cover the ground, cling to the dangling catkins of the mountain ash, leave resin scented with sunshine on your clothes.  And too, they stick on the new green shoots of the leafy spurge, promise of a scourge of yellow weeds soon spread through the forest floor.

Pterodactyl shapes weave in and out among the treetop rookeries perched high in the cottonwood grove.  Looking overhead you see the stretch of long necks, the spread of grey blue wings as the brooding herons shift, rearrange cramped legs, turn the eggs with saber beaks and settle once again.  Head raised, you nearly stumble over scraps of longhaired hide scattered in the grass.  You find yourself standing in a deer shaped bed of sheared hair and red-specked bones.

Eurasian collared doves coo from their perches in the Ponderosas.  “Who-who, who-who, who-who will be my mate?”  The flash of their white tipped tails remind you of the flags of startled deer as they bolt for cover.  You work your way around the massive root ball and clamber over the trunk of a newly downed cottonwood. The shallow rooted trees are no match for the spring storms that race through this valley.

In the muddy bottom of a channel where spring run-off seeps into remembered pathways through the river bottom, you see the prints of coyote.  Last night you heard the wild cacophony, exuberant howling and the high-pitched yips of rambunctious pups.  Searching for more prints you find instead a great scatter of feathers under a small tree.  No flesh, no bones, only the discards of a hawk’s feast.  There, amidst the fluffy down and dove grey wings are the long tail feathers tipped in white.

Beneath the heron nests, fertilized by the white splatters from above you find a vibrant patch of yellow where, first flowers of spring, the buttercups bloom, sending out their runners in all directions.  And there, in the dappled sunshine of blossoms, a patch of sky blue, broken eggshells of herons that will never hatch, a careless scatter from the rearranging of the incubating eggs above.

A raven explodes from it’s nest, haranguing the hawk who has flown too close, cawing relentlessly as it chases the raptor through the treetops, even as the redtail circles back around toward the unprotected chicks.  The raven slices across the sky, heads off the hawk, who circles back the other way.  Around and around they go until at last the hawk perches in the top of a cottonwood snag across the meadow, watching, waiting.  And the raven returns warily to its nest, watching, waiting.

The woods are coming back to life, back to death, endlessly cycling through the lengthening days.