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Monday, August 31, 2009

Colorado's Smoky Mountains

A weight finally lifted from my spirits today. Since I became aware of how rapidly and dangerously my spine is degenerating, each autumn brings worries about how many summers of roaming the forests and mountains I'll have. The future scares me - because exploring the forest and immersing myself in nature is what makes me feel truly alive.

This year's melancholy was triggered by a tingling and numb patch on my calf undoubtedly caused by pressure on a nerve exiting or entering my spinal cord. In a case of bad timing, the odd sensation became too strong to ignore at about the same time as signs of autumn became undeniable. This confluence dragged my spirits downward. The patch of skin is no better yet but history says that it'll probably eventually return to normal. Despite the lack of improvement, the feeling that I'm peering into a dark abyss that represents my future has disappeared.

Because sunrise has crept ever later, the sun rose this morning as I drank my morning coffee on the deck. When I first arrived outside, the sun still hovered below the trees.
But, it rose above them with a glimmer of brilliance and warmth as I watched.
The Broad-tailed hummingbirds who are still visiting our feeder wait for the sun and then they leave their sleeping perches for breakfast. I suspect that these hummers are on rest stop-overs during their southward migration. The last stragglers will probably trickle through our rest stop within a couple of weeks.
Today, K and I rolled through the forest, and it felt like a peaceful oasis. K romped with vigor, occasionally enthusiastically forging ahead of me but mostly staying by my side. I think that she's feeling better every day. Yesterday evening, she even play-fought with R. Sorry for the photo's blurriness - I'm starting to believe that R's high energy aura causes the air molecules to vibrate around him which, of course, messes up my photos.
This morning, I smelled smoke as soon as I rolled out the door, and the mountains looked veiled, almost like dusk was falling. I could barely see the Divide from our favorite little peak.
For a brief time, the mountains glowed almost pink but then returned to gray.
I've read that the smoke is from numerous wildfires in the western U.S., including Colorado, Utah, and California. The forested hills to the southeast looked like photos that I've seen of the Smoky Mountains.
After a relaxing sojourn with K, simply enjoying the silence of the forest while I pedaled and she ran on soft trails, I headed out for a solo ride. I seemed attuned to nature and noticed little details. The goldenrod plant that was speckled with red and black beetles last week still roils with activity. I suspect that the swarm of beetles on it is emitting a plume of pheromones that is calling other beetles to the plant.
I believe that these are Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) who fly in late summer and early autumn. The adults eat mainly nectar and love goldenrod plants. Since spotting this goldenrod that is like a singles bar for soldier beetles, I've been scanning other goldenrod plants for beetles but have seen none.

As I rolled past a trail intersection, towering yellow flowers swayed in the breeze and the blue sky behind them glowed with promise.Finally, as I neared home, I silently flowed through the meadow behind my house. Beneath the tall grass, I spotted understated purple gems, Bottle Gentians (Pneumonanthe bigelovii). These clusters of tiny flowers (closed buds are the width of my pinky) are always the last, the absolute last, wildflower to bloom before winter in our meadow. Like all gentians, the blossoms open and close in rapid response to sunlight and shade. In the cluster below, only one flower was open.
On another plant, several flowers gaped wide open to soak up the sun. The open flowers look like miniatures of the Mountain Gentians that I saw on our recent trip to the San Juan Mountains.
I rolled home, happy and not too tired. Autumn is here, and I think that I'm ready.


  1. Hi KB,
    Returned home from Denver today and couldn't believe the haze/smoke hanging over the Continental Divide! I bet you were wearing a fleece to sit on the deck with your coffee. It was cool even in Denver this AM. Here in Breck, some of the aspens are already turning. It won't be long. What exercising can you do in winter? Do you xcountry?

  2. KB....your country is truly a Paradise! I love visiting here! :)
    I have degenerating disc disease and have several numb spots in my back and feet. I think when I can no longer do much, I can still read which is my favorite thing! :)

  3. Lovely photographs, although a bit frightening with the haze from the fires. We're sitting on the deck in sweaters with temperatures about 15 degrees below normal. Makes that morning coffee extra special and, of course, the dogs just love the cooler weather.

    I do so hope you can escape progression of your spinal problems for a while. The pain and numbness from the neuropathies must be scary and I'm sure you think the worst each time one appears.

  4. I admire how you are able to deal with your spine injury. It has to be on your mind but you push through it. Like you, I find my joy in outdoor activity. I'm glad you were able to get out and enjoy the now of the day.

    Interesting photo of the goldenrod. I've been seeing similar beetles on the goldenrod here and wondered what they were and if they were destructive to the plants. Like your description of it being like a singles bar.

  5. Your title really caught my attention today and, yes, that one picture does look somewhat like our Smoky Mountains. Fortunately, we continue to get enough rain this year to prevent any real fires this summer. The fall fire season is still a few weeks away, so here is hoping it stays quiet.

    Nothing like a beautiful sunrise to lift spirits.

  6. Barb - Do you have the smoke in Breck? It's unbelievable here. Actually, I do some xc skiing on the trails behind my house but my spine doesn't tolerate a lot of it. So, after years of riding an indoor training bike for the winter, I set up two winter mountain bikes last winter. One has studded tires for ice and the other has 4" wide tires for powder. I only rode my indoor bike about 5 times all winter!

    Carol: So sorry that you suffer from the same thing. After two big surgeries already behind me, my docs want to do one more. I say 'forget it' unless they show me some absolutely compelling reason. I can handle the pain but I get scared by the deficits either in sensation or strength. I love reading also. But, alas, my neck discs give me a headache when I read for any length of time. I truly cannot imagine my life without being really active.

    NCMountainWoman: I'm glad to hear of your cool weather and of your blueberries (in a previous comment)! We don't have wild blueberries here. I wish that we did! As for my spinal problems, who knows what tomorrow will bring? But, you're right - the neuropathies scare me, especially since I have a lot of knowledge about what's causing them.

    Mary: Interesting that you've been seeing the same beetles. I don't think that they're destructive - they just drink the nectar from the flower. So, I guess that they'll leave when the nectar dries up.

    ThunderingHerd: Glad to hear that things are moist in your forest. They're drying out pretty fast here, making me nervous. One of my biggest fears is leaving the dogs home alone during fire season. I've heard from others who happened to be away from home during an evacuation that they were barred from going home to get their animals. I can't imagine how upsetting that scenario would be.

  7. Hi KB

    although the smoke is no good for the lungs and the fires a worry, the haze does make for a great photo.

    I love the way the smoke over the layers of hilltops have made your image appear like a Japanese mist landscape... just as I saw at the top of the Japanese Alps ...

    Take care of that body...

    Happy days

  8. I've always found autumn sad. Maybe it's the shorter days. Maybe it's that my allergies are so bad this time of year that I feel "off."

    Either way, I'm feeling a bit blue these days too (for entirely other reasons).

    I'm glad you're safe after the pack run-in and the thing with the weird guys.


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