By Annie Dawid
Despite having traveled abroad and lived in diverse places – London, Australia, and a 1951 yellow Jimmy schoolbus in Northern California – these days I don’t want to travel farther than I can see. From my tiny cabin, set in a bowl of the Wet Mountains with a head-on view of the Sangre de Cristos, I see far.
On a crystalline day like today, when the temperature’s zero and the light so bright on the snow I wear sunglasses inside, I glimpse the Huajatollas (Spanish Peaks) sixty miles to the south, and the Collegiates far to the north. No trees obscure my sightline. Mountains and me, my dogs, my son, the sun, and wind. Sky and clouds and nobody else. Here at 9,100 feet, we live at what feels like the top of the world. When I drive home up the steep rocky incline called “Little Bad Hill” – not to be confused with “Big Bad Hill” further south – I leave mundane troubles behind for the heights, where ideas emerge sharper, like the spires of the Crestone Needle due west, and emotions richer, like the plumed cumulonimbus roiling up and anvilling out in summer thunderstorms. Here, I can think, feel, and breathe, unencumbered.
Twenty years ago, on a weekend winter escape from graduate school at the University of Denver, a friend and I drove three hours south, then west up 96, climbing the soaring Hardscrabble Canyon, and, not long afterward, setting eyes for the first time on the Wet Mountain Valley, its great expanse not yet scathed by human intent. The small towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe claim the valley floor at 7,888 feet, and abandoned mines speckle the hills east of town, but then, as now, one can see far and wide, as the aboriginal peoples did, without feeling fettered by what Huck Finn sardonically called sivilization. One feels small here, like the miniscule figures in Asian landscape paintings the viewer has to hunt to find. Appropriately, one feels one’s humility in the natural world.
We spent a weekend with our typewriters (the manual kind) and our dictionaries (French, Swedish), translating poetry and breathing the clear, cold air of a place without traffic or traffic lights, watching through our binoculars red-tailed hawks and kestrels riding thermals. For the first time I’d encountered a land in which I felt free. Free of constraints on my thinking as well as liberated from ordinariness.
Although I was born on the East Coast, spent most of my adulthood on the West Coast, and always thought of myself as an “ocean person,” in my thirties and now forties, I find my solace landlocked, here in the Sangres. For two summers, I sojourned on the Oregon Coast after moving to Portland in 1990; then Colorado summoned me back. In the Huérfano and Wet Mountain Valleys, I soon found myself renting cabins and adobes, my Honda packed tight with books and typewriter – not to be replaced by a computer until the twenty-first century. After spring finals I couldn’t wait to drive the 1,500 miles, to arrive where I could read and write – not commentary on student papers but my own stories.
I do not miss the ocean. I find the Northwest’s forests claustrophobic, the endless moisture heavy on my lungs. Moss grows on the roof of Portland bungalows as if to seal their inhabitants hermetically from light, and it never, ever thunders. Here, now, the sun wakes me in my bed and sets out the dining table window; the coyotes serenade us to sleep. Finally, I am where I want to be.Annie Dawid’s last book, And Darkness Was Under His Feet: Stories Of a Family, won the Litchfield Review award for short fiction and is available on amazon.com. She edits the literary page for The Canon Beat and runs BloomsburyWest, a retreat for writers and artists.