The Present

“Let’s do this,” is a phrase Glenn and I say often to each other. It’s a shared signal that we use to pause and appreciate something we’re experiencing together – a prompt to embrace quiet wonder and gratitude for a moment that could slip away unacknowledged if we’re not present enough to grasp it.

Now that we’re immersed in breathtaking natural beauty literally from dawn to dusk, this phrase is even more important to spark our appreciation for simply being alive and for our ability to enjoy things so fully together.

The Colorado Trail

Something we’ve enjoyed a few times over recent years is the Colorado Trail, a 486 mile trail spanning the Rockies between Durango and the south Denver area. Glenn and I have hiked a few segments with terrain ranging from wooded, rolling hills and peaceful high meadows to steep, craggy switchbacks that quickly reward a hiker’s exertion with awe-inspiring vistas.

We revisited one of those sections on Saturday. Next to the entrance of the Angel of Shavano Campground in San Isabel National Forest, the trailhead offers two directions: southwest for a steep hike, or northeast for push over a ridge followed by an enchanting walk through a sanctuary of ancient aspens.

We chose the aspens.

Inviting aspen grove along the Colorado Trail.

Despite the 65-degree sunny weather that day, snow from last week’s storm was still on the ground. It was melting fast, forming impromptu rivulets of snowmelt on the trail along with slushy boobytraps on its embankments that kept us on our toes when we braved them to avoid the deepest puddles.

In a typically Colorado juxtaposition of seasons, we were wearing shorts and copious amounts of sunscreen as our boots splished and splorched through the forest’s fast-disappearing snowy white blanket.

We were a week or two too early to enjoy the aspens’ gold autumn display. These cheerful, hearty mountain denizens had shaken off more than a foot of snow with a fortitude well beyond what their delicate, graceful structures would otherwise suggest. Their cool white trunks echoed the remaining snow, and the gloss of their hardy green leaves shimmered in the sun, committed to squeeze in every possible bit of photosynthesis before being shed for winter’s true slumber.

For those of you who haven’t experienced standing in a large aspen grove, I can only describe it as transcendent.

In the mountains, these trees can reach 80 feet with their trunks comprising most of that. The sparse canopy of spade-shaped leaves is reserved for the heights where they quiver and quake in the slightest breeze. The resulting chatter is only the gentlest interruption of the wood’s deep silence. It is as captivating as it is soothing – nearly identical to the hypnotic, pattering sound of steady rainfall.

Play the video to see and hear the captivating sounds of aspen leaves chattering in the wind.

Aspen propagate primarily by sending up new shoots from vast root systems, which means that most groves are a single organism with effectively ageless DNA. In the midst of such elegant majesty, our mundane hike through this ancient stand of trees was transformed from an intrusion to a communion. We could not help but marvel at the sheer beauty of our surroundings.

Yes. Let’s do this.

Postscript: As an adorable bonus for the day, along our way we also caught glimpses of chipmunks frenetically foraging, also in preparation for the coming cold. Their fast, flitting movements were like watching a real life stop-action film – stuttering and impossible to track with the naked eye. We were able to capture peeks of two of them on camera as they stole the quickest moment to nibble on some new tasty treasure.

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