Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

Going Slow

A short walk on North Table Mountain, February 2, 2021.

Wide open spaces on North Table Mountain’s rolling plateau.

IT’S NOW BEEN ELEVEN DAYS since I danced a little jig on a loose trail to avoid an out of control dog and badly sprained my ankle. But at last I have some good news: I can finally walk without crutches. But there’s bad news too: I can’t walk very far.

The good news: most of the swelling has now gone. The bad news: but not around the ankle.

Good news: my foot can once again bend the way it’s supposed to, more or less. Bad news: it looks like an old apple that fell from a tree and has been left in the sun to bruise and rot.

(What’s that? You want to see photos? Of yellow skin? Of brown and blue bruises? Believe me, you really don’t. Pretty it’s not.)

Good news: the Colorado sun is shinning! Bad news: climate change is out of control. It really shouldn’t feel like July in February…

But to hell with the bad news! If you can’t see the sun for what it is each time it shines then there’s no point even opening your eyes.

The trail up the mesa.

I tried a walk today, up onto the mesa straight from the front door. I wore heavy mountain boots to support my ankle – not the soft-soled running shoes I prefer – and I stepped with exaggerated care, avoiding anything that might cause my ankle to twist. Loose stones, gravel, even dust: I regarded it with the deepest suspicion. It felt strange, approaching a familiar trail with such caution. I’ve traveled this trail hundreds of times. Just eleven days earlier I flew down it at high speed, never doubting my footing, feeling light and free. It was curious, how the same trail could now look – and feel – precarious. An altered perspective is quite something.

Approaching Golden Cliffs.

It was also curious how my sedate pace altered the entire mesa. I usually run this mountain not walk it, and over the years running has shaped how I view it – in effect: shrunk it. When running, the landscape unfolds swiftly, far apart places seem closer together, an entire mountain can be revealed in a short space of time. But not today. North Table felt massive again. Which isn’t to say massive was better… or worse. And it isn’t that slow is better than fast, or fast is better than slow. They are merely different. But it was good to be reminded that extreme slowness has its own unique benefits.

A small reminder that it’s supposed to be February, and winter, not July.

I plodded on, didn’t slip or jar my ankle, and slowly gained height. And I do mean slowly. My trekking poles wanted to go on ahead. Even my shadow looked impatient. At the mesa’s rim I scrambled through a broken band of cliffs with the nervousness of someone who wasn’t sure his balance worked, climbed gingerly onto the plateau, and then bimbled onwards into the sea of golden-yellow grass that covers the top. North Table’s summit plateau is an expansive place, but not flat. Instead, it rolls and swells, dips into hollows and shallow valleys, and offers numerous secret corners. It’s a place of invigorating open-ness, and also seductive nooks and crannies. It offers rippling grass, cactus, lichen-covered rock gardens, wandering deer and coyotes, big views, and solitude – if you look for it. If you know where to look for it. After eleven days stuck in one place seeing the same view, being back atop the mesa was thrilling. It was also an indescribable balm.

Ever present mule deer on the plateau, grazing beneath a bright Colorado sky.
Winter grass, brittle and yellow.

When I reached a treasured hollow I slowed even further, chose my spot like a deer bedding down for the night, and flopped onto a cushion of winter grass. The next hour passed in stillness, soaking up the details, no longer visiting the mesa but sinking into it. Under an intense blue Colorado sky, and with the February temperature closer to seventy Fahrenheit than sixty (ridiculous!), I celebrated my immense good fortune. Sure, I still had a swollen ankle and had walked in pain… and sure I wasn’t doing what I normally did… and sure I was still restricted… limited… but look what I had! Goodness, just look at it!

Sometimes, being limited, can be a profoundly positive thing.

North Table details: lichen covered rock.
North Table details. Don’t sit here!
The view west up Clear Creek Canyon from the edge of the plateau, photographed on the way back down.

FINAL NOTE: If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, or any of the others I’ve so far written, let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts. For example: if you visit mountains, do you prefer traveling quickly or slowly? If an injury has ever kept you from doing what you love, how have you dealt with it? I’d love a conversation – blogs are always better when readers share their views!

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