Staring Contest – 2016.12.23

Staring Contest

eyes-on-me

“As soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.”

  • Friday 23 December 2016
  • Boulder County, Colorado
  • Time 1023
  • Elevation 7623’
  • Blue skies, strong west wind, 45℉

I didn’t choose this spot as much as it chose me. I venture to a trail I have not been on before, with a destination in mind. But I follow an old road in the forest, not the official trail, as I’m often prone to do. Like a child following a trail of candy, I follow a set of week old elk tracks in the snow.

My plan today is to perhaps find a spot to sit and observe the world  for an hour. I say perhaps, but I have my camera, a small brown leather journal measuring 3 ½” x 5 ½”, pen, small pad to sit on so as to be comfortable and clothes suitable to endure an hour sitting still in December.

I crest a small undulation and the forest erupts in movement. I see bellies, legs and necks heading in various directions much like a game of  Hide and Seek and someone has called out “Olly, olly, oxen free!”. Attempting to count the mule deer my mind can process eight or more but then they are still, running, hopping and one is still in its bed. The small herd has not vacated the area entirely and after a few minutes of crouching on the ground I find a soft spot to sit down.

For the next forty minutes I remain as still as possible and find myself in a staring contest with eleven does and yearlings. Even though I am close to a national forest boundary these are “city deer”. The younger ones are nervous, bounding off at times, only to make their way back to the herd. Always, there are at least five sets of eyes on me at any one time. The mothers, typically the most wary while their youngsters are frolicking are habituated to humans. They keep a close eye on me and even venture closer, not exactly sure what this lump on the ground is.

About twenty minutes into our game, I hear a loud snort behind me and can’t help but whip my head to my left behind me just in time to see another deer bound off. I can’t tell its gender but while I have been preoccupied with the eleven fore of me, one snuck up surprising me. I don’t think the eleven have seen the one behind, but only heard it. They are on high alert, as am I now, but they don’t move off. Now nearly all eyes are on me. I attempt to relax in my posture, thankful for a yoga practice that has begun to hone core musculature as I seek comfort in this spot. In that vein, I slowly exhale through my nose, but it is just slightly audible, yet not so much that if I were in a quiet room visiting with others that they would notice. But now, amazingly, with the closest deer perhaps 25 yards away, as soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.

I fear the gig is up, but after a few minutes, remarkably, the deer all begin to return again. They move about to more feeding and move from in front of me to my right and south. Something has changed in them, and while they find me slightly unsettling, I feel the heavy winds beyond this depression unsettles them more and they will tolerate a human or strange presence rather than be out in the open.

This new level of their comfort allows me to pull out my journal and frantically make notes, fearful that I will forget many details of our encounter if too much time passes. I see twigs close by that are mangled from the browsing deer, ruminants that have four chambered stomachs and therefore chew their cud, breaking down plant matter to stimulate digestion. I watch the beautiful doe as she reaches up to nibble on a Douglas Fir, which surprises me. I wasn’t aware that mule deer ate evergreens.

I notice the plant life around me and am surprised that the kinnikinnick still has its leaves. Back in September the kinnikinnick at 10,000’ had lost its leaves. Maybe the late warm autumn that has just passed spared this plant to lose it leaves as of just yet.

As I sit on this little overgrown road that runs north/south I feel the sun on my right side as it warms my face and right shoulder while my back left shoulder is considerably chilled in the shade. I’m amazed now with just minutes left in this hour how quickly it has passed. The observations of the deer has allowed me to miss so much more that is around me. But the exercise I have chosen is to be for precisely one hour, not more, not less.

I stand with just four minutes remaining to see a bit more of all that is around me. I determine that my field of vision has been no more than 60 yards, as it is rather dense here with the tall Douglas Firs. I can just make out the back side of Bear Peak which juts up in front of me as I have been facing east for the last hour.

I pack up my items, double checking not to leave any sign of my presence behind. I’ve come 1.54 miles from the parked car and will make a bigger loop back there as I process what I’ve been privy to over the last hour, a trial run of single hours that will come in 2017. I determine that the test run has been a success.

Creating Balance

Creating Balance ≠ Having It All

christmas-bouquet

Christmas Bouquet

In my mind I’m still a teenager. I want to ride my bike about 350 miles a week. I’d like to run about 35 miles a week. I’d like three days a week to walk for eight hours in the hills or mountains. Of course, I’d throw work in there as well, because I actually like my work. And then devotion to family ranks pretty high. My problem; not enough hours in a day compounded by a somewhat limited energy level compared to 35 years ago.

About ten years ago I enjoyed a consistent yoga practice. I would say it was the strongest I ever felt in my body from head to toe. I advocate yoga for my clients and feel its benefits are almost too numerous to list. However, over time, I became busier with my business and it was more difficult to fit it in and I abandoned it. At the end of October my body decided to throw a tantrum one morning. What had been a good intention of getting back into the yoga studio come January became a forced necessity. Because of my vocation it is imperative that I am in good physical health, so facing a body setback creates a bit of panic for me. I’m about 2/3 of the way into a self-imposed yoga program to get my body back to where I’m happy with it and also part of a guinea pig self experiment.

In short, it’s been great. Things resolved quicker than I hoped and it has helped with a host of things. But there is one drawback; there is a serious lack of fresh air in a yoga studio. It’s why I’ve never been a fan of riding a bicycle indoors or going to gyms. I need a breeze on my face and scents of nature drifting past my nose.

Today I was able to steal away for a few hours and get in a short hike. The conditions weren’t perfect, but it was perfect enough for me. I huffed a bit more ascending that initial hill after a forced layoff. The photo opportunities weren’t what I had hoped either, but I enjoyed capturing some Smooth Sumac drupes. This seemingly imperfect hike was the exact thing that was lacking in my life. I needed an outdoor escape.

For the man that seeks to have it all, he will have a hard time finding the contentment that comes from balance. When the scales of life begin to tip out of favor it is a gentle reminder to seek the balance that brings a mind to ease.

 

 

 

European Seating

Yesterday was massage day. Typically, once a month, I drive 25 minutes to Boulder to get a massage. Since my business is out of my home, it’s a big deal for me to literally get out of town.

This day, I left early since I had some Christmas shopping to do. I also planned to stop and buy some quality coffee beans at The Brewing Market off of Folsom. Specifically Panama beans, which I feel are the best beans that The Brewing Market roasts.

The dreaded arctic cold front was making its way east and I could see wintry clouds and what looked like snow moving in from Nederland and the foothills above Boulder. With the temperature hovering around 25 degrees, there were still a few die hards working on laptops outside of the cafe. “Hardy souls”, I thought to myself as I made my way inside. 

Since there were no employees at the bean side of things I decided to have a small three shot latte and why not have a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie as well? Strawberry rhubarb pie is quintessential summer fare in my opinion and this would be my way of thumbing my nose at a frigid, cloudy December day. Upon taking my plate of pie while waiting for my drink I realized why there were patrons seated outside; nary a table was free inside. But the coffee gods were on my side as two folks vacated a table just as I made way across the small cafe. Guiltily, I sat down at a table for four. The place was busy and I wasn’t keen on occupying just 25% of this precious space. But, what is a guy to do?

I had some time to kill and fuddled about on my phone catching up on some Words With Friends with my sisters in Pennsylvania. (I take pleasure in beating both my older sisters typically 2 to 1 over the course of our many years battle in virtual Scrabble) 

A gentleman made his way across the cafe looking for a place to sit, when it was quite obvious there were no free tables. As he came back by me I invited him to share the table that I was seated at. “There are two of us”, he replied and offered to take my already empty plate of pie back to the bussing bin. 

In America, we love our personal space and boundaries. When I lived in Europe I realized that there was no such thing as personal space. Step onto the tram (light rail, we call it here) and be prepared to have an armpit in your face as you ride ten minutes downtown. At cafes in particular, space is at a premium, like trying to find a rental in downtown Denver these days. So, everybody grabs an open seat regardless of whether a table is occupied. I’ve always heard it referred to as “european seating”, but oddly enough even Wikipedia doesn’t know about european seating.

I was privileged to spend thirty minutes with Philip and Olivia while I had coffee, and they had tea and quiche. We talked about our kids (he has two grown children and a stepchild). We discovered how we all ended up in Colorado. We chatted about our careers and how making money isn’t so important anymore as it is to live life fully and find balance. She used to be a dancer, stepped away from it for some time and now is training to become a Zumba teacher. He was finding a way, now in his 60’s, to cut back on work so that he has more time to do things he enjoys and spend time with Olivia.

Checking the time, I was saddened that I had to excuse myself in order to make it over to the northeast side of town to get to my massage appointment. As I stood, Philip also stood and shook my hand goodbye. I reached over and took Olivia’s hand and thanked her for the nice conversation. Walking across the parking lot, tiny sparkles of snow falling on the pavement, I realized my day had been made better because a coffee shop was doing a brisk business on a Tuesday afternoon. Hours later I thought about how I never did buy those coffee beans.

52 Weeks – An Hour at a Time

An Exploration of Observation

The idea for this project came quickly and without much thought. I was reading a Facebook post from a virtual friend who was testing out some clothing for outdoor activities. He walked into the forest, sat for one hour, and wrote a review of how the clothing performed.

It can be challenging to sit for an hour, especially in the outdoors. Boredom can set in quickly and quite often there doesn’t seem to be much happening. Quite frankly, sitting still and observing nature or the world around us is a skill. Attention spans can be short, we lose patience, “nothing is happening”. So we move on. And quite often may miss something spectacular. 

My goal is to sit outside for one hour each week over the span of 2017. I have some preconceived notions about what it will be like. I imagine it will be a spiritual experience. I hope to see some wildlife. I hope to observe people and their habits. My intention is not to do this when the weather is always favorable. People rarely die from exposure in an hour and it’s okay to be uncomfortable from time to time. However, I do look forward to some some days with the warm sun on my face.

I’ll try to succinctly gather some thoughts and observations about the experience. I’d like to have a photo each week to capture what is happening in this world. I invite you to follow along and let your imagination wander during this exploration. And if you like what you read, what you see, what you feel as you journey with me then perhaps share this project with a friend. And, once in a while, stop for a few minutes and observe what is happening in your own world.

img_2217

Backpacking Buffalo Peaks Wilderness June 2016