AUTUMN IN COLORADO’S high country is often the sunniest time of year. This autumn was no exception.
It began at dawn on September 16th, the first day that the closest fourteener to Denver bore its new ‘Blue Sky’ name. After five days of clouds, rain, sleet and snow the sun finally climbed into a sky that was utterly clear – a sky that was soon dazzlingly blue and would remain that colour for forty-one of the next forty-seven days. Of course, this had nothing whatsoever to do with the renaming. It was coincidence, nothing more. But it’s fair to say it felt appropriate.
Following this bright start, the second half of September passed in a blaze of warmth and sunlight. Mid-September’s early snowfall rapidly thawed and faded, lasting only in the shadiest of gullies and on the steep north-facing slopes. Soon, October arrived, and it too delivered calm, mild, sun-drenched weather. Up in the high places the benign conditions felt like a gift from the mountain gods. I was able to walk wearing shorts, a tee-shirt and lightweight running shoes, not in a hat, gloves, thermals and hefty boots. Yes, the starry nights grew colder. But the days? They were glorious.
It was an autumn to treasure. A golden autumn. Winter could wait.
For the first few decades of my life, winter was the one season I didn’t want to wait for. Usually, I pined for it with immense impatience. Perhaps it was because winter was the season of my birth, the season within which I felt most at home. Or perhaps it was because snowfalls where I grew up in London were never guaranteed, but when they came they brought such joy. Fortunately, I’ve learnt a little more patience since then. I still love winter (and too much, as some close to me might argue) but I’ve also now grown to love the other seasons as much. Plus, I’ve learnt to treasure each moment and not waste time wishing for a season that hasn’t yet arrived. And that’s the thing in Colorado: winter will arrive eventually. Up in the Rockies snowfall is guaranteed.
In any case, the delay of knee-deep snow and extremity-numbing cold brought practical benefits. It meant that access to the high places remained swift and easy. It meant my pack stayed light even on overnight trips. It meant I could sit in the landscape and truly relax, something that’s extremely difficult to do in winter. Winter is such a long and demanding season here anyway. As I’d thought to myself back in mid-May during a late-season snowstorm: one CAN have too much of a good thing, especially as one grows older! And so I welcomed this blue sky autumn, even if it did seem like yet another sign that the climate was out of whack. But…. instead of worrying about the future it seemed better to simply focus on what I had.
And so I focused on it and enjoyed it. No, I treasured it. I turned my face upward into the sun and stretched out on a rock and basked like a skinny human-sized marmot.
After breaking trail to the summit of Mount Blue Sky on September 16th my outings continued. They ranged from camps beside high lakes to walks along ridges to aimless meanderings deep in the woods. I revelled in my travels above the world, stepping carefully across burnished tundra. I thrilled to the stinging water of upland swims. I savoured my walks in the sweet decaying softness of aspen groves, breathing deep the earthy, tannin-laden scents, losing myself to the hypnotic dance of sunlit aspen leaves shimmering in the breeze. And I choked with emotion at the other-worldly beauty of silver moonlight, and at the strange muted glow cast by a partial eclipse. There were moments during this extended blue sky spell when life itself felt like one long sigh of contentment.
Slowly, the nights grew colder. Frosts coated the earth by dawn. Ice began encasing splash zones alongside creeks and lakes. But it seemed curious, how the chill of autumn mornings could bring such warmth to the soul, and how the dying back of life and abundance could stir such pleasure, awe and gratitude. Perhaps the emotional rewards came from the very nature of change itself, from simply accepting that beauty won’t last, and from appreciating it all the more because of it. Value because of brevity. Value because a single moment of perfection can’t ever be possessed, only lived to the fullest once.
‘Change is inevitable. All things pass. But each moment can still bring immense beauty and hold immeasurable value.’ Or so I scribbled in my journal whilst sitting alone but not alone in the woods, staring around at my silent companions, ‘mere’ trees.
‘Ah,’ I wrote, ‘My blue sky autumn!’ Yes: one long sigh of contentment. Or so it was for me, silly fifty-something child that I am.
The following photos are highlights from this sunny season. They stretch from September 16th on a newly renamed mountain to the eventual arrival of winter on October 28th. All were taken in the Mount Blue Sky Wilderness, as it will assuredly one day be called. These images only hint at what this season served up. But I hope they bring some warmth.
Our world often seems filled with coldness, and with insanity. Thank goodness for the sanity of nature.