by Peter Anderson
It is the third week in August. For the last two months, the sunrise has been sliding south on the eastern horizon, but today is the first day I’ve noticed it. Today, the morning light seems softer somehow. The aspens and cottonwoods throw out a little more shade during the day. The heat and glare at high noon no longer seems so oppressive. The mosquitoes are gone. A subtle chill rides in on the evening breeze. It is lovely but it is bittersweet.
In the High Uintas, where I worked many years ago as a backcountry ranger, a skiff of new snow might appear on a ridge above camp right about now. The first elk would bugle as the earliest streaks of yellow lit up the aspens. In the rift between high summer and hunting season, fewer travelers rode the Highline Trail. Soon, I would be packing all my gear down mountain to the Uinta River guard station, a wilderness halfway house, and beyond to the material comforts of the flatlands and a teaching job in Salt Lake City.
Today I feel the shift in a spare moment here in Crestone. It is quiet except for the bees buzzing in the hive outside my window. The sunflowers Grace planted in June, now tall and gangly, swoon in a slight breeze. Whatever wind there is up high isn’t strong enough to nudge some lazy clouds over the Sangres. I haven’t finished unpacking from a long road trip, the last one of the season. The camper on the back of the truck needs to come off, but instead I grab a cold beer and watch baseball.
It is still summer and it isn’t. It is because the walking rains still saunter across the valley, shedding a double rainbow on the mountain this evening, reminding me of a similar time, fifteen years ago, when we arrived here – young parents with a new baby – wondering if this place would welcome us, which it surely did. It is still summer because there is enough time left for my languishing team to recover its groove and snag a wild card spot in the National League playoffs.
It is no longer summer because I have overindulged at too many barbecues. We have put thousands of miles on the Chevy. I have put the river gear away. And the call of the teaching vocation demands more of my time.
But there are openings for reflection in this shifting season. I recall a few moments I want to carry into this next turn of the wheel: a solstice day run with my family through Browns Canyon, dipping the oars into the shining white water I hadn’t seen since the old guiding days thirty-some years ago; showing my oldest daughter how to surf a hole on a slower river further west; tasting a real tomato from the fertile San Juan Island soil of my sister’s farm and appreciating all her hard work; watching a thirteen year-old mountain dog as he runs every which way into the brand new fecund smells of a Pacific Coast beach at low tide; listening to the laughter of my two daughters, just now old enough to enjoy one another, on their long backseat ride down the loneliest highway in America.
Two days ago, I came home to the sad news that Michael, an old pal here, had died after a thankfully short bout with cancer. Rest in peace, amigo. I have been thinking about the good cheer and laughter we shared. Tonight the crickets are singing. Signus the Swan will glide further west across the night sky, leaving celestial space for the rising stars of autumn. And it occurs to me that happiness comes and goes like the constellations, but joy stays with us like Polaris, the north star. Because joy is the residual shine from savored moments with friends and loved ones, which we carry into the longer nights ahead.