Spring cleaning of the mind
I set off for the Four Mile area near Sunlight, eager to try out a new camera I had recently purchased.
I wasn’t sure what conditions to expect, as it had been snowing at higher elevations during the past week. But I figured if it got too nasty I could call it a day — there was still that ongoing issue of a garage that needed cleaning back home.
Turning off the pavement and onto the muddy road toward Four Mile Park, my dogs got anxious in anticipation of some much-needed space to run in.
It felt good to be getting out of town, as the recent system conversion at the Post Independent had me working a ton of overtime, and I hadn’t been out for a relaxing afternoon in quite a while.
That, coupled with some sciatica issues, which kept me holed up for the last few weeks of winter, left me in desperate need of some alone time in the outdoors.
A busy newsroom has a tendency to make you long for the quiet of the woods in the worst way.
I spotted a critter run across the road just ahead so I pulled over to test the 30-times zoom on my new toy.
As I leapt out of the front seat, the large marmot came back into view, fully ready to pose for a few quick photos. Upset that it wasn’t a pine marten, I took one quick shot and drove on.
About a mile or so up the road, I could hear the rush of flowing water nearby.
I stopped and hiked down toward the sound to investigate. The runoff was raging, and what I’ve only witnessed as dry creek beds before were anything but.
I marveled at the ferocity of the water. The heart of the Four Mile area was pumping this lifeblood through veins that would eventually feed the Roaring Fork River so many miles away.
The dogs meandered down to the edge, drinking deeply of the freshly melted snow.
The gentle breezes and sound of the rushing water provided the perfect white noise to sit down and relax. Making a chair out of a fallen tree next to a snowdrift, I imagined the stress of work, and life in general, being swept up by the current and carried away to a far off place.
The dogs were busy rolling about the remaining snow, burying their snouts in what I only can describe as icy bliss.
I could have remained at this spot for hours, but I was determined to get a few good photos, and, reluctantly, decided to move on.
I drove on to the parking area at Four Mile Park and pulled aside. A locked gate impeded further progress, so I got out and decided to take a long walk up the snow-cleared road.
I’ve seen a plethora of wildlife in my years passing along this road, from bears and deer to coyote, fox and a rainbow of birds.
But what struck me most on this grey day was the abundance of colorful plant life beginning to sprout toward the sun.
Short green California corn lilies (Veratrum californicum) were erupting from the earth, and a reddish-orange and yellow brush burned like fire over the still snowy ground along creek beds.
The white of snow had receded, uncovering the browns, greens and tans of mud season. It also unveiled shiny silver flashes of man’s disregard for nature.
There were hundreds of aluminum cans strewn about the roadway. I walked on a few miles, but my focus had drifted away from the beauty of the region to the man-made garbage that now cluttered it.
I made mental notes of each brand: Red Bull, Budweiser, Monster, Keystone Light (really?) and even my beloved PBR.
Beer cans have been, and always will be, scattered across the wild places where people recreate. It’s a sad reality, well-known to anyone who travels in the Flat Tops in summer.
But the surge of energy-drink containers that now dot the land is staggering. Of the garbage I clean up when hiking or fishing, these cans are what I find most frequently.
You would think that with that much energy, the people who drink these beverages could clean up after themselves.
I began to pick up cans; first an armful, then stuffing pockets and finally, making return trips to my Jeep. It was a Sisyphean task — no matter what I picked up, more seemed to grow out of the ground like the corn lilies.
I focused on one area, and collected everything I could, including a few plastic and glass bottles, and cigarette packs.
Once this spot was clean of the debris, I had my shot. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but compared to the flotsam-filled scene of an hour before, it again felt wild. The landscape looked pristine, clear of the trash discarded by those who neither understand its beauty nor deserve it.
— Collin Szewczyk is outdoors editor for the Post Independent. He asks that you leave our wild places cleaner than when you found them. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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