Joan Wilder

In the midst of winter I found within me an invincible summer.

Joan Wilder

Joan Wilder
Crested Butte, Colorado,
November 22
Quote in my banner is by Albert Camus. Oil painting by Maggie Galloway.


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NOVEMBER 24, 2009 4:46PM

Mud Season

Rate: 35 Flag

Today is a rare day. I'm getting out of the house and into my car and out the driveway --away for a couple of hours for the first time in months.  Alone.  Just me.  Today I am going to practice the art of listening.

The car I'm getting into is parked in front of my home -- a wood house on a dead end street, facing up snow walled Paradise Divide deep in the upper Gothic reaches of the towering Colorado Rockies. 

I am one of the few lucky souls to have made my home log by log in an historic former mining village called Crested Butte, Colorado.   My husband and I and our two girls settled here eighteen years ago, like pioneers, after some pretty easy living on San Francisco Bay and Carmel by the Sea.  

Crested Butte is breathtaking at 9,000 feet way above and beyond sea level anywhere.

The altitude is not the only thing about it that takes your breath away.

The town sits high in a valley that dead ends at the foot of the mountain it is named after and is surrounded by dozens more -- lots of thirteen hundreds with sharp, hard, stony peaks rising above the tree line.  When I look up at them they look like grey bearded stern faced gods in white robes watching our every move. 

Crested Butte is the wildflower capital of Colorado, an extreme skiing and mountain biking Mecca, it's is hikers' heroine, and does NOT have all the stuff cities have which is its jewel in the crown.

It's a place that boasts our men are men and the women are too.  The winters here are severe and long.  They keep our permanent population at about 1,000 tough, lucky souls.  The dog population is three times that.

 Like it's former mining inhabitants, our first home was a small vintage wooden dwelling heated by a wood burning stove.  With seven months of winter and lots of 40 below days, I learned quickly how to chop chords of wood and turn logs into kindling without losing my thumb.  (There's a rule of thumb here about where to place your thumb when hacking logs into kindling with a heavy axe.  It wasn't until I nearly lost mine that I learned about the rule of thumb -- told to me by an exasperated old timer who knew we would be run out of town carried downstream by surfing the waves of snow melting on their return to the sea.)

 We used to get so much snow in the winter we had to board up our first story windows to keep them from caving in.  Our girls could step out onto the back yard from a door on the second story -- no balcony or deck.  Just a door the miners put on the second stories of their homes to step outside onto the backyards from there because the lower doors were buried in the winter.

Like voles we had to shovel and maintain snow tunnels to walk through from the street side to the front door.   Same way to get out the back doors to our wood pile to chop wood and kindling all winter to feed and feed and feed our big black bellied insatiable wood burning stove in hopes our home would hold the heat through the night -- keep us 20 degrees above on 40 belows.

One hard winter when all the homes were buried, I looked down at our town from a ski lift and only the tops of the homes made it above the snow line -- tilting out of it like tombstones.

We have four seasons here -- seven months of winter, about six weeks of summer, a few weeks of gold plated autumn, and the rest of it is called "mud season."  

It's mud season here right now.  That's when people without kids in school head south or to any place that's warm and has an ocean.   And return home when the ski resort opens for the winter.

For those of us who stay, it's a time when we make our annual pilgrimage to our doctors to get any kind of  checkups and the usual joint surgeries in time to ski hard for another winter.

Our main street is dusty and quiet.  We have no mailboxes on our homes and there are no lines at the Post Office.  People walk the streets and the sidewalks are bare.   The tiny grocery store has upped its prices and lowered its stock and the fresh produce is rotten.

The valley is brown, the naked aspens are grey, pine trees are green and blue.  Our boots are caked with brown mud.  The streets are streaked with dried brown tire marks.  The cattle being rounded up from wandering in the mountains to be transported south for the winter sport hides dusted a crusty brown.

This is what it looked like when I left town to drive down 2,200 feet to Gunnison 30 miles away to see my doctor.  It was a grey, chilly day -- about 32 degrees.   Around here, anything above 20 degrees is merely a chilly day.  

I was alone and heading down the valley. I had read a meditation this morning about listening.  It stuck to me.  I wanted to think about listening today.  How would it show up?  What would it look like? What would happen if I did?  Or didn't?   I was so inspired and galvanized by it, I decided I would focus on and practice being a better listener for the day.  I know my husband would have appreciated that big time.

So I brought along one of my inspirational CD's to listen to on the sixty mile round trip. The person speaking on it was a man named Bob.  Just Bob and Me.  I was Free!!!

I breathed in with lust and exhaled stingily and turned on Bob with the mouthwatering expectation of biting into a chocolate truffle.  And shushed my monkey mind to focus on him and listen with purpose and intent. 

Only a few minutes into my drive Bob was blathering away when I noticed a bunch of brown leathered cowboys astride brown horses kicking up dirt in a hay colored meadow, whistling at their cow dogs rounding up, yes, brown cattle -- all huffing and puffing grey vaporous clouds from their nostrils.  Like they were all pulling on cigars.

I got all stirred up at the thought I might end up in a cattle drive on the highway.  I love being in the middle of them.  The cars have nowhere to go.  You just get in line behind the swinging hips and tails of the herd in front of you or sit there and let them stare at you when you're going against traffic.  There was a cattle drive, but I missed it!  The evidence was all over our small two-lane highway.

Okay, Joan, Back to Bob.  Remember, we're listening now.  We're listening.  

I turned again to Bob and noticed the open spaces, the brown hills and mountains peaks digging into the granite sky vying for space, the traces of snow left in dark shadows and avalanche paths from the last snow storm that melted off.  And I realized again I was not listening to Bob and tried very hard to listen to him.

For ten more minutes I kept trying to listen to him and my mind meandered.  Poor Bob.  He started to sound like noise to me -- like the incessant, insipid chatter of a TV show in another room.  (We don't have TV but that's what it sounds like when I'm exposed to it.)   

I was failing my listening class.

Then a small inner voice managed to break through the yakking and nudged me to simply turn him off and drive in silence.   What?  Listen to silence?  I finally paid attention to that nagging voice and turned off Bob.

I was just approaching the curve where bald eagles make their nests every winter in the trees along the river.  The river too exhales clouds upward into a river of mist.  I thought it was too early in the season for them to arrive but looked at the black barren trees to see if I could find the first one of the season.   In our family we vie to be the first to spot one.

And there it was!  One fat, tall, proud bald eagle -- all black bodied and white headed -- perched on the end of a thick naked branch.  I slowed to a crawl.  There was nobody else on the road.  He looked like he was standing at attention -- like he just started the day watch.   He reminded me of a penguin -- wings behind his back caught up in serious thought, so still and dignified, like a butler.  He was stunning, bold, with a bald head chock full of shocking white feathers.

Seeing no other eagles and no sign of nests, I wondered if he was sent ahead of the others like a scout for his tribe.  Sent ahead to see if the coast was clear for the annual migration to the trees along the river. 

For just an instant we were both alone and gazed at each other.  I wondered what he thought of me in my machine.  What kind of animal I was -- predator or prey.

What a moment.  Frozen in time where time has no meaning.   I was so caught up in my pilgrimage to listen that I almost missed it.

It turned out I needed to listen to silence.  And I got to hear the quiet voice deep inside that taps me on the shoulder and whispers surprises to me.

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Holy moly Joan! You are one hell of a talented writer! I loved was are the brilliant one! This is one I will read and re-read. And I'm so glad you turned off Bob...Bob was a blatherer and a rude interruption to the beauty that is silence. Highly rated.
Sounds absolutely beautiful. I remember once ages ago driving the back roads around here and there sat a Hugh eagle Huge I still don't know what kind but figured he was here for the salmon. My husband and I sat there and just watched him until idiots came up towards us on the road and everything we did to slow them down failed and off he flew. What people miss when their eyes are closed. I hear ya!
Amazing scenery descriptions and amazing imagery !! Very well done!!!
Shut up Bob! To echo Mary, Joan, this was absolutely beautiful! You are much more brilliant than her. Dad was right (I'm such a trouble causer). Seriously though I was totally captivated reading this. Tooootally. Struggling for words here but suffice with this. Keep it up!

A friend of mines girlfriend has a condo in Crested Butte. He's been lobbying me to go out there next June or so, to stay at the said condo and to go whitewater rafting. Think I should?
It sounds idyllic! Lucky you. I'm envious.
Beautifully written, Joan.
You painted a picture that makes me want to relocate. It sounds incredible. I would love a log home buried in snow next to ski resorts.
Who needs Bob, damn you write fine. The Bald Eagle flew over just few minutes ago reminding me that the answer is blowing in the wind. ~R~
While I certainly don't envy the elements you deal with, I respect your ability to describe their power and their majesty. Beautifully written.
i've taken care of eagles. you need not worry about them thinking you might be a predator; it would never cross their mind that there might be something that isn't their prey. They are a treat to work with as partners.

doors on the second floor and snow tunnels, thawing out and drying the wood before it goes into the fire, getting mom's stove fire box just right. I miss those days as much as sitting on a bear trap.
Mary: Thanks for your ego-fertilizing comment. Yeah, Bob had to go. Love your "beauty that is silence." Dad was wrong. He had many bright lights on his christmas tree. See my comment to Trig, below.

Lunchlady: I really lucked out there was no other traffic. Never is this time of year. You and your husband had a one of a kind experience. I'm happy you keep your eyes open. That's a gift.

Aftershock: I am asking anyone who reads these comments to go and read you and weep. Thanks for being the hound from H E double toothpicks. Geeze I can write about clitorises but can't say H E double toothpicks?

Trig: Don't think twice! Come to the Butte and the whitewater rafting is at least a five with all the runoff during spring melt. Our spring is June. If you come and want to meet one of the sisters, let me know. AND, you must have sisters because you are a first rate tease. You really think you're gonna stir up our hornets nest? You ARE trouble! And, as you know, Mary wins! Hands down!

John: Yes, I'm damn lucky. And this was mud season. Can you imagine the other ones? You wanna be really envious? Besides the great alpine skiing here, I can side step up to my back yard seven feet high with snow in the winter and nordic ski from there. And it's the greatest silence of all -- just the swish, swish, swish of my skis, and the creak, creak, creak of my knees.

Gwool: Yeah. It's that good. That's why we left our stone castle on San Francisco Bay and headed up here. Come on up! There's room for more!

Chuck: Thanks, Chuck. As to The Answer? The wind keeps outrunning me. Are you still chasing it too?
Great descriptive piece. I live near one of the most frequented bald eagle havens in the NE, last winter I was walking down towards the woods, I looked up and thought I saw a child in the trees so high up, (eagles are so huge, I thought it was a child) coming closer I saw it was a bald eagle. He surveyed me in silence, regally, I was frozen. Beautiful. Enjoy your winter. Colorado is incredible, if younger, I would relocate. R
OReally? Thanks for what you say. But isn't the clit and sex stuff so much more fun? You are smart not to envy the elements. The winters are tough and cold and skiing on cornstarch snow is the best. Except when you've had 7 knee surgeries like me. Now I've got to get back to you and enjoy your shower sex stuff. You are prolific and do it so well.

Wschanz: How on earth did you work get to take care of Eagles? Amazing. I'm rolling on the floor over your missing this kind of life as much as sitting on a bear trap. Can't stop....ccccnnnn''t kech mmmmmm breeaath!
Rita: You describe it perfectly. Thinking it was a child in the tree. They are huge! They do freeze you don't they? Better than the deep freeze of our winters. BTW, you look young enough to me.
The incredible power of silence. Anytime I've lived "out in the sticks," nature is one of my favorite stations. You convey the majesty and awe of the scenery such that it takes my breath away to think about it. Thank you.
You missed the cattle drive? :-(


Excellent story!! Rated.
Wonderfully written. thank you for the pictures.
'Bout time you put down your knitting and wrote some more! This is marvelous writing and brought me along with your picturesque jaunt to Gunnison, by way of Bald Eagle Perch! How many of us can say that?!? "Yeah, I was driving down to the supermarket and stopped to watch a bird take a dump on my windshelid!" That's about all I've got!
No, seriously, could write about dust on a wooden floor and make it sound poetic and profound! Here! Here! Proud big sister.
Wow, easy there, Tiger! Now, that is one fine piece: pretty diction, proper threading, solid from top to bottom...the post, that is.
Beautiful work.
Beautifully painted Joan, and from my silent perch I see, you've got all the numbers correct!
Great change-up... RRR
Beautiful writing, fantastic imagery and a lovely moment, with a lesson to boot! This was brilliant.
Thank you and RATED!
beautifully written piece, great descriptions. we have family with homes in conifer and craig and drive in the rockies whenever we can. gorgeous place. boo on bob, glad he got silenced. loved the cattle and the cowboys on horses.
I was ready to put my house on the market until the 40 below reference. I seriously feel like I just communed with nature from my home office. Your town sounds incredible--I love snow and skiing and the thought of snow tunnels excites me--but not as much as the cowboys (there are a lot of them on OS posts these days--I'm liking it)

Your writing is beautiful.
And silence is my favorite thing to listen to.
Lovely post. Although, being currently stuck in the burbs, I yearn for the canyons and sounds of the big cities rather than the majestic lands of Colorado.

Your descriptions are wonderful and your listening skills seem to be paying off. :)
But there is an Applebees there, right? Right? (Kidding) sounds like an amazing place to live. I Googled some pics to get an idea... it is beautiful.
But there is an Applebees there, right? Right? (Kidding) sounds like an amazing place to live. I Googled some pics to get an idea... it is beautiful.
I love your descriptive writing especially of the encounter. Your writing is like a cross between Whitman and Frost. You should try to make it a poem.

How very wonderful your descriptions are...wild yet serene, cold but filled with warmth. I've never been a lover of winter, but through your eyes I can see its beauty.
Mountains are powerful places. I have a lot of respect for anything that lives in the true mountains, for which, from your description Crested Butte definitely qualifies.

Powerful writing, too.

Namaste, Joan.
poetic prose...inwardly evocative...Bob has a nice voice too...
Owl: What a great life you live. And thanks for your enthusiasm.

Tinkertin69: Thanks. I've been in many others but want more. More is my favorite number.

ConnieMack: The pictures? What high praise. Thanks.

Cathy: You always have that quick, sharp humor. Love the dump on the windshield. All three of us are having fun here! Thanks for your encouragement!!

Thoth: Rrrrrowwww. You give me too much credit. But I won't turn it down.

Patrick Daniels: Painted? Wow. I'm glad you noticed the change.

Andy: I'm so happy I wrote you by accident. And thanks thanks thanks. I looked up "thanks" in my thesaurus and can't find many replacement words. Just simply, thanks.

Femme: Conifer? Craig? Then you know what I'm talking about. Yeah. Too bad about bob. Should make that another movie -- sequel to What About Bob?

Karin: Oooh. The cowboys!!! Yum! I can tell by your own writings that you fully appreciate the sounds of silence.

Brie: Great description of cities. I lived alone in San Francisco in my 20's and they are filled with canyons. So well said!!!

Tai: So are you.

Roger Fallihee: Aren't the pictures amazing? You should see our main street with all its historic buildings (CB is a nationally registered historic district to boot) all dressed and lit up for Christmas. Like something out of "It's A Wonderful Life." We still have an underbelly, though.

Trudge: You have puffed up my ego so much I'm like a runaway balloon. Help!

Donna: Thanks. Again, that menial word. But believe me, it's filled with powerful emotions.

Lonnie: Yep, powerful places. I'm grateful and Namaste to you.

Leonde: So I'm what you'd call a prosetic? How did you know Bob has a nice voice? Hmmm....
This is what I'm trying to teach my daughter (she's just taking an interest in photography and specifically photographing nature). Quiet observation. Oh, and patience. But I'll bet, living where you do, you have loads of patience.

Rated. And I freely admit, I couldn't live like that. :-D
The wilderness can be seductive in it's own right. I had no idea it reached 40 below in Colorado, that's about 60 degrees too cold for me.

Great writing Joan, look forward to reading more from you.
Hi Joan.
Had to come back and re-read.
Once again I wonder about what the editors
here at OS consider a quality post. To me
this is, or should be, cover material.
Beautiful--the piece and the place. It sounds just like Indianapolis, except for the mountains and the snow and the eagle. (Sometimes we have snow.)
Sometimes you listen with your ears, and sometimes you have to shut them off and listen with your eyes. And then you listen with your heart, too.
~rocco and rusty
You're very tough to live in this environment. I couldn't do it. Does seem to simplify things, though.I can see the appeal. Maybe a little less winter...
I've gotta' visit Crested Butte this winter...I'm driving down with my skis. But, I'm not listening to Bob who likely doesn't have a clue about the kind of listening you have learned living in that old mining town! Rated
Sorry I'm so late to this. Busy, busy. Loved this post! I always consider spotting an eagle as a good luck omen for the day. You are quite a fine writer, young lady.
Will Somebody Feed the Cat: Thanks. I like this post better too. But the sex is so sassy and fun. Sorry I missed you on first round of responses.

Bill S: What a great dad you are!

Ablonde: 60 Degrees too cold? Aw, 'come on. And thanks.

Trig: Wow. Reread? Thanks for your high regard. I'm agog.

Tom Walls: Fascinating information about bird sanctuaries. We're lucky this is right out in the open. I hope we can keep it safe and undisturbed.

Frank: Yeah, I knew it sounded just like Indianapolis!

The Rescuers: Ah, a heart listener. Twins.

Sirenita: It is a tough environment. It's time to move to Florida. It's the snow shoveling I'm sick of. Especially the deck. I'm hiring a young guy to do it this year. Don't want to lose my shoulders.

Ralph: Come on UP!!! Thanks.

Michael: Thanks for stopping by. It felt wrong not to see your lovely picture on my post. I need some more good luck - for my daughter with seizures. Gonna get on back there with her and let her get some good eagle juju.
Thanks for alerting me, Joan. I felt the moment when you saw the eagle, and the majesty of your surroundings.
You are totally talented, Ms. Wilder. Your sister Marykelly might be brilliant too but either way listen to her and your dad.

rated, of course.
Joan: this is very, very good. I loved the whole narrative. You are very talented, and need to write more...much more! I am waiting.
Thanks, Dave. Coming from you, this is an enormous compliment!