Opinion | Biff America: High times, bright colors
“Fun times!” Ellie said. “Today we are going to start high and stay high.”
Had my mate made me that promise decades ago, it would have a much different meaning. Now it meant that we would start our recreational day at a high elevation, and remain at that elevation, or higher. The appeal of that for me is twofold. One being that it is usually prettier the higher you get in the mountains, the second being that by starting high you are required to climb less.
Ellie and I just came off an extensive road trip in our camper. We made a grand tour of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and home. We would try to do something fun — hike, bike etc. — everyday. Her job was to decide what we were going to do and where we were going to do it. Mine was to pay for gas.
My mate has a “Rain Man”-like recall of past outings along with clairvoyant speculation of where the most esthetic destinations or worthy conditions might be on any given day. In the winter it is snow quality, summer it is wildflowers, this fall she was constantly searching for the best fall foliage. Though I’m more inclined to opt for a bird-in-the-hand scenario — closer to home, simple, less driving — Ellie is a proponent of less convenient, delayed gratification. Since I am way too old to begin dating again, I almost always do what she wants.
Timing the peak foliage is a moving target. In the Western states where it can snow in August, freeze in July and have either a monsoon or drought from June to September, the timing can vary greatly year to year.
Ellie looks at old photos and checks weather forecasts and history to decide where and what we should do on any given day of our travels. She does much of her research online, while I pump gas.
When we hike, I am often guilty of remaining too much in my own head and not being aware or appreciating my surroundings. More often than not I have my head down, singing songs and telling myself stories; I’ve done that since I was a little kid. But on that particular day, about 10 minutes into our hike, I knew it was special. Though we were mostly above tree line and could only see aspens in the distance, there was a magical color of ground cover like nothing I had ever seen.
We used to call that shrubbery kinnikinnick, but it might be really called bearberry or even grouse wattle berry, but whatever the case, it is the ground cover that is green in the summer, then turns rust, orange and lime in the fall. When you couple that with the high-elevation willows that also turn yellow, when you time it perfectly, it is absolutely magical.
On this particular day it all shimmered and vibrated with the wind.
We did a three hour loop without seeing another person. Just before we entered the trees for the short walk back to the truck we sat in the sun to rehydrate and snack. We were reluctant to leave the beauty and enter the woods. I honestly teared up a little with gratitude over such a wonderful day. I took off my sunglasses to wipe my face and clean the lenses and took one last look.
It did not look nearly so good without sunglasses. Looking through the naked eye, the difference was dramatic.
We used to call those rose lens glasses “happy glasses” as they do seem to bring out reds and yellows. That day they were particularly effective. Don’t get me wrong; it was still pretty, but just not nearly as magical. Realizing some of the beauty was illusion somewhat diminished my day.
Later while sitting in lawn chairs with the benefit of perspective and bourbon, it dawned on me that all beauty, happiness and contentment is in a large part perception and illusion. For me that beautiful day was made possible by rose lenses. So what? Beauty is beauty. It’s the lucky ones who live their lives wearing happy glasses and the cursed ones who are blinded by negativity. That negativity and/or depression, bipolar disorder, or any of various mental health challenges, are a product of genetics or trauma, thus neither earned nor deserved.
And just as some are cursed with the above afflictions, it’s a lucky person who sees the world through happy glasses. I’m going to wear mine next time I fill our huge tank up with gas.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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