I found a gathering of yellow and blue in the center of a high meadow that was still green from snowmelt. Not far from where everything above is stripped naked by high elevation, I discovered a garden cared for by none other than the sky above. There, near the top of a peak somewhere close to the Divide, I feared I had gone astray.
Getting lost in vastness and open range is different from losing one’s way in the city. In the quiet of the mountain, sound is amplified unlike the white noise commotion of sirens and horns. High above, there is a steady din of wind that skirts slowly up the slope, swishing louder and still louder before moving on to the next peak. With eyes closed, a trickle of water running from a gap under a stone might be mistaken to be the clear and startling clatter of a true waterfall. Breath speaks loudest here. It can be held and counted and felt to be more precious than it is anywhere else on Earth.
If there are others about, they are camouflaged and hard to see. A bird within hand’s reach or underfoot might not be recognized. There are signs that a mountain goat or big sheep foraged here earlier and nearby are tracks of a mountain lion who passed by within the week. Bears would not have strayed this far up. There is no one to give direction, apart from the light of day and the far-off stripe of the road.
I am somewhere in an area that can get 500 inches of snow in one winter’s season. The cold of this skyline on a night in January might be 150 degrees below zero, in Fahrenheit. Wind gusts another time of year can equal that of hurricanes. But on this summer’s day, the wind is kind and the sun gently nurtures the fragile tundra.
I look toward the clump of alpine sunflowers. They are amazingly hardy. Tenacious. Resolute. They grow on slopes and meadows in the alpine tundra, thriving where others would fail. They produce disproportionately large flowers to attract pollinating insects or birds. They are not obliged to reproduce each year and instead are prudent in use of energy. They are rooted firmly to their place and cling perennially to the community in which they grow.
In the surrounding thin air and steady sound of my breath, I recall people I know who are like this. Those I admire for the persistence it takes to survive and to flourish and to make beauty amidst a harsh world. The ones I know with quiet charisma and not magnetic charm, who may not set the world on fire but instead offer remarkable blooms to feed others. The people I know who thrive where others fail, who will come back next year even if this year’s been tough. The people I know who always make me smile. Like wildflowers make me smile.
My musings done, I think it is time to reach in my pack to pull out the GPS. But before I do, I recall that in their short months of show, the blooms of the alpine sunflower almost always face east. Which is the direction I need to go. And so, I proceed on, with only the wisdom of the wildflowers to guide me.