The Aesthetics of a Slough

It’s a cold morning in the back-of-beyond, thank goodness. Bear chews her rawhide, Teddy waits for coffee. I think of my little walk with Bear yesterday at the slough and what I saw.

I thought of how this particular slough trail is now very familiar. I know where to look to see the river. Since the first year I walked there, two things have happened. I became more accurately oriented to my world and the river moved last year during the floods.

The first year I walked there I didn’t notice that the river is RIGHT BY THE FUCKING PARKING LOT. I didn’t have to yell that but every time I think of it I want to slap myself for being so blind. It’s about 20 feet down a shallow slope and, that first year, there were bushes. No more. Last year’s floods took care of them.

The first year I walked I noticed the mountains. The first walk I walked I turned around halfway because I did not want the trail to be a loop. I enjoyed it so much I wanted it to be much longer than it is. But, you know and I know that the trail is a trail and wishes aren’t horses.

When it comes to mountain aesthetics, my favorites are looking at mountains from a distance and being above the trees. What that means is that my flat valley — where views are seldom obscured by trees — is perfect. From our little hike yesterday I could see the shifting sunlight on the three snowy “peaks” of the nearest San Juans as a storm deliberated its level of involvement. One of the “peaks” is such a gentle thing that you can walk right up it as if it were (and it is) an immense hill. They are among my favorite things to paint.

I have my formerly degenerating hip to thank for what I see now. When it was heading south (and after it was repaired) I was lucky to walk a mile on uneven ground AT ALL. But, of course, I did. My beautiful friend, Bear, was a young dog. I would walk a few hundred yards, feel pain, stop and look at the mountains or the river. Beauty is a powerful analgesic. Bear learned to walk that way. In her mind we were stopping because I smelled something and she would give the trail a sincere nose examination. She still thinks that’s what we’re doing (what else WOULD I be doing?) but she’s also learned that I stop for birds. Now, mostly, I stop for her.

The blue line shows my “speed.” The peaks are me going fast; the troughs are me looking off at the mountains or Bear captivated by a scent. The slowish regions are me looking at the sky for raptors or cranes. This isn’t totally accurate because often we were STOPPED.

It’s pretty close to exactly a mile on the Shriver/Wright walking loop. Yesterday the trail was a combination of frozen snow and clear gravel/dirt. Sometimes an easy, pleasant walking surface, sometimes lumpy and unresponsive.

Few people go out there in the winter. The wildlife has migrated down to the valley floor for winter. Tracks and scents rest undisturbed by humans and dog urine. The beasts are looking for open water, and can climb out on the ice to the narrow channel of free-flowing water in the Rio Grande which is slow and shallow in January.

It’s just a mile, but what a mile.

18 thoughts on “The Aesthetics of a Slough

  1. I think I’d like to go on a walk with you and Bear! Maybe without the snow but even so I’d be willing to go out for a leisurely saunter and take in the sky and mountains. (I’m from the flat land and mountains are fascinating – except I was soooo sick when we went to the summit of a 14er). And no I didn’t hike it. I now know that climbing Everest takes a special kind of crazy.

  2. Beautiful painting!
    A favorite John Muir quote, railing on the word “hike”: “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
    – John Muir

    • What a wonderful quote from John Muir, one of the people who most appreciated nature, and would most have wanted to saunter through the mountains!

    • ❤ I am pretty sure John Muir had read Thoreau's incredibly beautiful essay, "Walking."

      Thoreau says, "I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.

      I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels."

      Bear and I saunter, and we ramble and we wander. I don’t mind the word “hike” but I know I am not doing that any more. I have hiked. Now I’m on to something else. I know I’m not going to live another thirty years, that I am already where I am going, and my job now is to be here. ❤

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