As I hiked uphill in the Rockies at an elevation of 8,500 ft., aspen groves spoke to me in the hushed tones of the ages, and a grand array of wildflowers smiled in kaleidoscope colors. The four-hour trek in the Arapaho National Forest was magical.
It seems that aspens grow in clonal colonies sprouted from a single seedling, and their roots are connected in a unique way. As older aspens (they can live up to 150 years) die and decay, new life shoots up from the root system. Some groves are known to be 80,000 years old.
The uphill climb was a bit difficult, as my flat-lander lungs struggled to extract enough oxygen from the thin mountain air. The path was rocky and I found myself focused intently on the path at times without being aware of the beauty all around. This is necessary, of course, to keep from twisting an ankle or falling off a ledge. But it occurred to me that the uphill climb is analogous to the first half of life. We push and push the boulders of career and child rearing and marriage and the hardships that inevitably come everyone’s way up the mountain. And there is little time to appreciate the beauty all around.
Then, if we are lucky, we reach the peak. And hopefully, the view is worth the climb. The children are raised, we’ve reached some milestones, daily life is not quite as demanding. We draw in a deep breath and look around, take the time to appreciate the beauty all around with expanded understanding. A new level of gratefulness emerges and we sit on the peak for a while. Only the sounds of nature are there, only the feel of sun on the brow, the dance of wind across the skin. The silence is medicinal, complete.
And then, it’s time to go home. As we made our way down the mountain, my husband remarked, “Let gravity take you down; don’t resist and just move with it.” He was right. Going downhill is much like riding a bike down a steep hill without pedaling, and perhaps, if balance is there, lifting hands away from handle bars. Much like life.