I am driving to Divide, Colorado, to see the wolves at The Wolf Sanctuary. The indirect route is many more miles on a highway. Why would anyone want to go out of the way? I decide to take the local route. But I’m an East Coast woman, with no experience driving in the mountains. Now I am driving on a winding mountain road through Pike National Forest. If I look down as I wind around tight curves going under 20 miles an hour, I see that nothing is protecting us from careening down a steep cliff, except my attention to this 44-mile road. My nephew and son are oblivious to the way that I am clutching the steering wheel. My husband falls asleep.
We pass the remains of forest fires. At first I only notice what seem to be corpses of trees. I have never seen such a landscape. Hills and deciduous trees surround me. Then a field of burnt forest. Then living trees again. An invisible line seems to separate the trees that were spared and the trees that once blazed with quickly spreading fire. By the time I see my second or third field of burnt trees, I notice that there are green grasses growing, and if I look closely, I see that some forest fires are not recent. Life is coming back where fire ravaged and destroyed the land. I begin to notice a chronology of fire by looking at how high the growth is between the remains of the trees. Here the land is barren. Now I see grass and bushes. Another area has taller shrubs and saplings. Life comes back.
I am still adjusting to altitude after eight months here. A deep spiritual energy fills the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I walk up the stairs at Mother Cabrini’s Shrine in Golden and look out at mountains and the traffic of cars traveling west. I drive up to Georgetown, one of the first Rocky Mountain towns. The first time I am terrified as cars and trucks pass me. The second time is much easier. I pass some trucks this time. I’m only a little scared when the Georgetown train takes us on a narrow bridge over a precipice of two mountains.
My life holds many contradictions. On the one hand, I want to sit quietly and meditate on hills and God. On the other hand, the speed limit is 75 miles an hour in some places, and I am a 60-mile-an-hour-driver. How do I hold my yearning for peace in this crazy world? My son started school, and we are already fundraising. I have to market my book, go on a virtual blog tour, finish my novel. Will I ever get to the grant application with a September 1st deadline? I want to sit quietly and close my eyes to the world with its constant noise, emails, texts, and social media posts playing in a continual loop.
And with grief, people tell us to get over something that has burned our very hearts. It is time, they say, to get over your daughter’s death, your husband’s suicide, your mother’s illness. Who decides the timeline of the heart? Who can dictate my speed limit? More than ever I am driving slowly up the mountains. Slowly around the bends of the roads that offer no barriers to protect me from falling. My eyes are fixed ahead on the road, wherever it takes me.