In this lush summer, the color green has not retreated. The corn is taller than anytime I can remember, almost ten feet in some fields, the grass needs weekly mowing and still piles up in clumps, and the forest, especially on darker, low-cloud days, achieves a patina of mist and three-dimensional green that tranquilizes sounds and movement. It feels wrong to speak, and so Wolfie and I walk trails silently. I use only hand gestures and whistles to signal commands.
I rarely see anyone else on these paths on such days — only a young woman with two perfectly trained and good-mannered huskies who also walks them off leash. They stay by her side, and she speaks to them always with a low, calm voice. We recognize and greet each other with smiles and then one or the other gives over the right-of-way.
The humidity dampens traffic noise and sometimes a perfect quiet is achieved. During those moments when I stop so as to listen more intently, I hear only water dripping from leaves. I keep thinking of the words primal and primeval, of a state of existence outside of dissected, insistent, scheduled time.
I remember a night climb in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado over thirty years ago.
About 20 of us were taking a grad course in literature and nature and we were deep in the mountains with a crossover ascent from one valley to another planned for the next day. The ridge was snow covered. We would be climbing for 6 or 7 hours in direct sun glaring off the snow. The professor and the other instructors were worried about sun burn, sunstroke, dehydration. We would make the climb at night.
I remember the rising moon cresting the ridge over our sprawling line. We stopped and looked at it, no one speaking, the steam of our panting rising from each of us. The moon glow on the snow, the moon above us – I remember thinking that it was the most inhuman image I had ever seen, a cold, utterly indifferent beauty.
A valley in the San Juans
I remember the razor sharp shadows of packs and helmets at a rest break after a difficult traverse of a steep snow field. Those who spoke did so in subdued voices. Some of the faces were gaunt with fatigue.
I remember willing myself not to think of the saddle where we would bed down for the night but to deliberate on each step, and self-consciously I tried to blank out my desire to finish, and in its place turn toward the rhythm of my movement up, become a body of sensations and physical decisions — place the ice axe here, feel the snow crunch under my boots, look up at the bright glints of snow on rock and its phosphorescence on the peaks around me, burn into my memory the otherworldly string of weaving figures ahead of me.
And I remember that the next morning, waking before anyone else, sliding out of my sleeping bag and stepping to the edge of the cliff, valleys stretched out below me in brilliant early sun, inside the most complete silence I have ever heard, I saw three monarch butterflies wave past me at 13,000 feet.
For me peace is not the equivalent of inertia or indifference or immobility. It has never been about the absence of struggles. Instead it is all green or it rolls with mountains or it is as smooth as a January ocean. It connects to a private, shy watchfulness and to a hollow in the world filled up again and again with eyes-wide-open-walking, and with the long grateful exhalation that accompanies a journey that declines to become complete.