Thursday, October 27, 2011

In the Impressionist Wing.

It's not often that I go down from my mountains -- down far enough to see the whole picture. I skirt the foothills just enough to go to work, but otherwise stay tucked into my canyon, or go further up...and further in. Each time I go down though, I notice I am fitting in less, and less.

I suppose it's very much akin to the mountain people of generations past -- the explorers, mountain men, trappers, miners...the ones who journeyed high to get what their natures couldn't get them below -- in that each time they returned to the cities, they found themselves farther and farther removed. I've seen this happening in me. Once you go, once you take that step, you can’t come back unchanged -- experiences are tattoos on the soul of which you can never truly be rid. I guess I'm carrying on the legacy. I’ve got the ink. It's not so much that it's noticeable on the outside, except for on the rainy-plains days when I drive down and out with feet of snow on the roof of my car and people in the city wonder, where the heck did she come from? Rather, it's inside. 

Altitude messes with your state of mind and with your blood. It marks you. A doctor recently asked me at what altitude I lived, because if I wasn’t living at over 7,000 ft., there would be something wrong. My red blood cell count was high for Denver, but to be expected in the mountains. There’s something extremely visceral about that – about being impacted by your environment to such an extent that doctors and their microscopes know exactly where you live, and can guess what kind of person you are, just from a drop of your blood. It makes me feel that I actually have the mountains in me. 

The lay of this land makes you feel removed, isolated, but yet very much protected -- like a womb. And like a child in a crib, my home gets as close to the canyon's sides as it can. To replicate the pressure, and remember the enveloping warmth. Sure, there are practical reasons why the canyon houses are built nestled up on the sides -- roads and floods, for example -- but the impractical is that she is nourishing and growing her own, attached to her insides, and I much prefer that reason.  

Yet still, I am removed. No TV. No phone. No expansive view, even. I cannot see the sun rise, nor set. But still I know it is there and that it does. My home beds on the canyon’s sides and the view out my windows is that, the side of a mountain. Oh yes, there are the canyon houses with grand views, but those are inhabited by people who only want to see and be seen, and who pay inordinate sums for heating and insurance. Some I suppose, would find my view suffocating, although I find it much more to my liking than breathing down my neighbors neck and having the sides of their house for my view. Plus then, I would need curtains...and I cannot live with curtains. So to some, this small, viewless home with little in the way of modern amenities may sound like a lovely vacation, but surely not for every day use -- dress-down clothes; yet this is my place, my dot on the map, the point to which I’m calibrated to go back to every night -- and like a homing pigeon, I do.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte, by Georges Seurat.  
My existence emanates from this dot, rooting me to the earth so I don’t fly or float away on life. That dot is sometimes overwhelming in its nearness. John Gierach wrote that these everyday things are just fields of “distinct dots up close.” Like pointillism -- sometimes, you have to step away to see the picture, to get the meaning of it all.

And so last week, I found myself driving I-225 south, looking west, seeing the mountains as a range  – stepping back across the art museum room, letting my eyes adjust. I used to see them every day like this. But now as part of them, I lose sight -- those closest to us elude us, Maclean once wrote. I live with and in them, and yet the entirety of their being escapes me, daily. 

Coherent, and even beautiful scenes from a distance, are often chaos up close. They've been organized, by someone, but yet often it seems as if they've been done so purposely to confuse -- or maybe, to force us to step back, think, and re-evaluate what the heck we're doing and what exactly is going on. It makes me think about all the 14,000 ft. peaks I've climbed, with all their false summits. Walking up the mountain's side, you can't see its top...and then, when you think you do, you reach it and also reach the stomach-sinking realization that it is false. The mountain is toying with you, pilgrim, playing with your mind -- but all the while it's leading you on. You can't turn back now, because there is something, waiting, still ahead -- and even if it is only another false summit, still, it is part of the picture.....you just can't see it yet. 

48 comments:

  1. Definitely a post that makes you think about it all. Thanks.

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  2. The mountains are "in your blood." Perfect.

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  3. Whenever we are close to the people we want to get away from them as far as possible. When we are alone in the mountains, is looking for people. That's why we do not like the seasons change. Despite the fact that one drop of blood can read something, we can always escape. Even with a fishing rod, but for a few days in advance. Are you Erin woman moutain!

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  4. Cordial greetings from Polish! All the best!

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  5. Kiwi - Thank you for reading...as always...truly appreciated...

    Mr. P. - They are, I've found...and I find it fitting as well...

    Tomek - Erin mountain woman? Yes, I suppose I am. :)

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  6. I feel there is value in maintaining the perspective of a "pilgrim." Keeps one open to learning new lessons, which you so graciously and eloquently share. Thanks again.

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  7. The pointillism perspective is interesting. To one viewing the dots of my daily existence you might assume that these things are most important to how I define myself and how I view the world. In reality many of those dots you see are very small relative to the size of others and hidden ones are huge. Stepping back a different picture emerges of oneself and one's place. I suppose that's why travel is always so interesting. It's not only the new thing you see but the thing you see, and new ways of seeing it, upon your return.

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  8. I don't know what else to really say except that I really liked it. The mountains are in my DNA it is where my ancestors came from. I can't help but feel at home there. There's a familiarity when I'm exploring in them.

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  9. Beautiful line of thought.
    Thanks for posting...

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  10. Russell - Indeed...and as one, we just keep going on...I like that perspective. Thanks!

    Steve - Exactly. And there is something very orienting about leaning, isn't there...

    Kev - Thanks...and it is always interesting to me how these places of heritage always seem at home, even before we've ever been.

    Matt - Many thanks, for reading...

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  11. Sounds lovely Erin.

    I grew up in the highlands of Scotland and part of me longs to go back.

    Life can be too cluttered with unimportant bits and bobs, if i could not jump in the car and head off to a river or a pond somewhere i would go insane.

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  12. When Henry Miller was living in Big Sur, he would climb to the top of a ridge at sunrise. With the sun at his back he would stretch his arms out and make giant shadow angels, his words, on the clouds and the fog in the valley.

    Always wanted to do that.

    Being a former city boy, now going into the city is a form of torture. Run in, run out. The faster the better.

    I used to get to see that painting up close in Chicago all the time. Most don't know that it's big, just around 7 X 10 feet. That's a lot of dots and you have to step back pretty far.

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  13. Tom - Indeed life can be, and usually is, too full of things that don't really, in the end, matter. I am very thankful for rivers and ponds and cars to get there, too. :)

    Rhythm Rider - YES! "Can't cheat the mountain, pilgrim. Mountain got it."

    Ken G. - Now I want to do that too. That's so beautiful. And I know what you mean about the painting...I remember seeing it (and stepping far back across the museum room) when I was in Chicago many years ago auditioning at a music school. On another note, in contrast, if you've ever seen the Mona Lisa, it's incredible how tiny she is!

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  14. "...experiences are tattoos on the soul of which you can never truly be rid."

    "...makes me feel that I actually have the mountains in me."

    "Coherent, and even beautiful scenes from a distance, are often chaos up close."

    wow

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  15. Great piece. Makes me wish I lived where you do.
    Maybe my favorite of your posts so far... but I'm sure you'll offer up a new favorite soon.

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  16. Very nice, Erin. I feel I know you better with each post. I live in the valley, and visit the mountains, but I'm close enough to hear their call--maybe to feel them getting into my blood--and find myself fantasizing about just going up, and up, and farther and farther, and never coming back...

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  17. reminds me of the saying: The zen you'll find at the top of the mountain is the zen you brought with you.

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  18. This is one of the coolest blog posts I have ever read! Great job as usual. Sounds like the mountains are in your blood (literally).

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  19. Your love for these high places is well documented.
    Your words state that well.

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  20. Jay (wow, I didn't realize there were two of ya in a row!) - Thanks also, and I hope my future ones don't disappoint...

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  21. Jim - Many thanks...and I fantasize about going farther and farther in and up too...

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  22. Marc - Very true statement. Sometimes frustrating because you can't change it.

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  23. G Lech - Coolest?! No way. Thanks much for the good words!

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  24. Brk Trt - Thank you sir, as always...

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  25. I’ve been sitting here on the carpet (I hate chairs), reading your last post at least 10 times, because I really wanted to place a comment, but I just don’t know what to say. You told me stuff about narration yesterday, but this is way beyond it! There’s only one word to describe it: “BEAUTIFUL”.
    Like: “experiences are tattoos on the soul of which you can never truly be rid”, that alone, made me see a lot of things that I thought were in the past, but they just came out of nowhere in just a few seconds, and made me relive a couple of (pleasant and very unpleasant) moments, which just illustrates the power of your writing!
    So if you ever write a book (and you really should), I’d like a (signed) copy please!

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  26. A beautifully written post. Personally my lifetime has been spent living near to the sea and I have always said the salt does get into your veins. I do envy your seclusion in our our heavily populated island seclusion is often hard to find...

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  27. Great stuff Erin. I was in London yesterday - I hate the place! I can't wait to get back down to the river later today to redress the balance of my own being.

    You are right about the perception of near and far. Up close the entire world is a busy and often painful place yet to stand back and see it from an appropriate distance gives it an air of calm and completion.

    And I love Seurat's work - masterful.

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  28. Lonesome Piker - I hate chairs too, and am often found sitting cross-legged on them to make them feel more 'floor-ish.' I also really hate shoes, but that's another subject. Thank you, as always, for your kind words and encouragement...and I'm humbled that words written in a cabin in Colorado reach all the way across oceans and continents to you sitting on a floor in Belgium. :) Thank you, again! And, if I do ever get to write a book, a signed copy is yours, for sure!

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  29. Andy - I lived by the sea for awhile, and I felt it getting into my veins before I left. It also has a way about it that I love. And, miss. But I do love the mountains and their solitude. Thank you, as always!

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  30. Dave - Going into London sounds a bit more of a headache that Denver. ;) And this phrase, "to redress the balance of my own being" --> so beautiful! And I know exactly what you mean!

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  31. Like several others, one thing that grabbed me right away was "experiences are tattoos on the soul". Coming from a small town in PA but, because of work, having to reside in the city, I long for the solitude and peacefulness that the mountains and the streams provide. I relish in their beauty but from afar (I-225 far). The mountains, the sea, the plains, the city... It's called adaptation. I could have easily adapted to the mountains, if the opportunity had arisen. I think I've become a "people person" because of the city life. I think you are a "people person" because of your writing.
    Beautiful post... thank you!

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  32. FlyFishingCrazy - Indeed, it's all about making our way with what we've been given, or fighting for where we want our way to be. Either way, adapting...and thanks as always for the good words!

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  33. There was a lot of distance covered in this one. I always enjoy hearing or listening to people tell of where there gravity lies. If you would have asked me three years ago, I would have told you that mine was some small blue dot in the middle of Northern Minnesota somewhere. Come to find out, that it was out here the whole time. I think that your "gravity", has given you some pretty good ink.

    Cheers!

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  34. Sanders - Thanks for reading along with this long ride. It's strange, isn't it, where you think you'll go....and where you end up. Thanks again...

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  35. That was way deeper than I thought it was going to be! Wow... I remember having a similar conversation about mountain people on the way down a mountain with you. I'll have to get back with you about my thoughts on this.

    What the heck were you doing in my neck of the woods?

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  36. Nicely done, as always, Erin. When I try to explain why I gravitate toward jobs on islands or tucked up in the hills, people only "hear" the dots and then, instead of "seeing" the dots as part of a whole, they try to connect those dots with lines, which doesn't work at all.

    A lot of people have a very hard time stepping back for even a short time. Thanks for putting into words why some of us step back permanently.

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  37. backcountryfishnerd - I know...right? I felt back in my old stomping grounds too. Ah, just down there for a few errands. Glad I surprised you with my depth. ;) And I'm very intrigued about your thoughts.

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  38. Quill - I thought of you as I was writing this, and I knew you would be one of the ones who understood, in the depths of their being. I love my "dot," but in the abstract, am very guilty of trying to put in lines....although often that's just the dreams of an over-active imagination.

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  39. That didn't come out right. Color and texture become you. Write on.

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  40. Herringbone - No worries, it did! And I will, write on...

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  41. You know what? I think I quoted you the other day. Pretty funny. Funny because it made me realize the value I place on your perspective. And funny because the delivery was very nonchalant as if I was telling this guy something my sister told me the other day. And that is funny because I know you, but I don't know you.

    Your writing is getting into our brains.... I can almost hear the roots growing :) keep it up.

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  42. d.nash - I'm not sure whether to say I'm humbled, honored, or I'm sorry. ;)

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  43. I have got to see that painting in real life at the art institute of chicago. It is amazing up close in real life

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  44. Dustin - I saw it too a few years ago now...and it most certainly is!

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  45. Beautiful, Erin. Really well said. You really captured for me feelings that I'm not able to articulate in words.
    Thanks,
    Matt

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  46. Matt - That's quite the compliment! Thank you so much for the kind words.

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