A crisp breeze bends, splits, and shifts the life around me as I slowly turn, taking in the wide, open meadow. I am in a basin on a picturesque October morning under a soft, blue sky. The mountain is remarkably bold, beautiful, yet, peaceful and right. Golden is the meadow with the yellow leaves swaying on the branches casting their color above me and fallen leaves still vibrant; light swirls and shines above and below. Some branches are bare as fall strips away summer. This meadow situated in the basin of the San Francisco Peaks; a meadow with hay-like grass drying from these bracing waves of winds gives me goosebumps as I shiver my writing slants downwards and then juts up. There is an underlying rattling from this grass all bending to the East from these gusts. Pine needles from the Ponderosas are sprinkled on the ground with each gust and crunch under each step I take—crunch, then scatter. I break apart these pine needles and other debris, even some dry leaves from the aspens above.
When I look at the mountain, I see sharp drops, winding paths, fallen branches, scorched earth, unequivocal vibrancy, and critters scurrying about. The mountain is exercise, meditation, and inspiration—time, space, and all that falls between. The mountain is a remnant of the past, frayed and worn, but still, the breadth is striking. The Peaks stretch far leaving miles to be explored and a space that sustains life.
A meadow with ponderosas, an incline with aspens, all situated on this vast mountain. The wind touches all within its long reach from way up in the cloudless sky to the lowest it can extend, picking up the dirt and blowing it back in my eyes as I write this under a swaying tree. Left then right, and back again with each breeze it comes in waves: calm, a slight tickle as it brushes against me, then slam, and calm again. The breeze sifts through the sand each particle blends into the next. The only boundaries the Peaks have are where the clear blue sky touches the highest point and swoops into the lowest crevice; where the roots of the aspens weave into the soil, and in that soil insects bury and ants dig complex roots that make up their home.
Our home, this Earth, which we have made our own superficial boundaries in. Boundaries of development, nation, gender, race, class, and the list could go on but mostly a boundary of identity and self. I think of the thirteen tribes whose sacred land I stand on; those who had no walls only rivers, forests, trails, and bends. Borders are disregarded in respect to those who come before; like the name of the mountain; the name of someone who never stood here—Saint Francis. Yet, not only have borders been torn down, simultaneously they have been built to exclude and create arbitrary divides.
I forget about how much I enjoy being on a hike and surrounded by a forest. I am less connected to the outdoors, my natural home, and with others whom I share my life with. Talking to others on the trail is truly wonderful as I hear about their families, aspirations, what they are pursuing, and why they chose Flagstaff and this mountain—like me. Watching others do what they love and absorb their surroundings in their own way is exceptional. I watch my tentmate draw and others with their cameras, each of us stopping at different points as something else the Peaks has to offer catches our eyes.
Responsibility can be blinding, but from the point of view of a mountain, the world is much clearer. I love photography, but I hardly use my camera, until I was on the mountain capturing flourishing golden perfection. I am reminded to pay attention to the opportunities I have. The constant strain of being connected in such a superficial way and the baffling sense of urgency I have at twenty-years-old. A drive to succeed diverges my attention from the beauty and other forms of opportunity around me not in the form of dollars and praise but in adventure. An open space like this meadow breaks down barriers and strips away expectations. Nature demands nothing of me.
A weekend away lost in a sea of aspens was much needed. The air was invigorating and the mountain’s quiet but powerful beauty inordinate. The swarm of golden touched me; I needed this: a cool breeze, a profound mountain, a sweet dog munching on a pine cone, and my camera—to capture, frame, and display. The mountain and all that it holds is why I and so many others come to Flagstaff. I chose comradery and community, a shared investment in the mountain and an anchor; a step away from artificial boundaries. No matter where I find myself in Flagstaff I can see the Peaks, which reminds me of traversing in and out and between the trails overwhelmed by the possibility. A network of peaks for those who sometimes feel small and could use the boost of 12,000 feet.
Monica Liddle is an undergraduate student studying English at Northern Arizona University. She plans on pursuing a Master’s in English Education so she can share her love of language with high school students after graduation.
(Image Credit: Coconino National Forest)