Monday, September 10, 2012

Mill Lake

I learned a new word a couple of weeks ago, hangin' wit' my California homey Gail in the big city of Denver. Our waitress at the Breckenridge Brewery was excruciatingly young. Literally, it made my joints ache and my jaw clench just to look at her. She was sweet, helpful and oh-so talkative, giving us directions to parks and bars. The word she taught us? Dank. Dank, you see, is the new sick, which was, and still is in some circles, the new bad, which everyone knows is good. Get it? Got it. Dank.

My pal Gail and I walked the streets of Denver, 8.5 miles. This, according to a cool app loaded onto her iPhone that tells her how far and where she's gone, using GPS satellite positioning to accomplish this and displaying a map to show the exact route. Dank.

One of our first assignments as fledgling MFA students (about 100 years ago), was to introduce ourselves in a representative way by describing a favorite place. The image that faded into view like a developing Polaroid was here, Mill Lake, Fossil Ridge Wilderness, Gunnison County, Colorado. I vowed then that I would return to this place, and last Sunday, I did. Mill Lake should not to be confused with Mill Creek, an equally picturesque if more heavily traveled area. To get to Mill Lake, you pass through the metropolis of Ohio City, not to be confused with Ohio Creek, which does not flow through Ohio City but rather connects with Mill Creek. Mill Creek and Mill Lake are just a bit further apart than Ohio Creek and Ohio City, in exactly the same direction. Get it? Got it. Dank.


A woman from Ohio City came into the bank this morning. She lives on Broadway, not far from its intersection with Wall Street. I'm not sure if Ohio City was an especially ambitious place in it's early days, or if its founders just appreciated sarcasm. I like to think it's the latter.

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Solitude is a curious thing, not to be confused with loneliness.



You encounter no one along the trail, and within moments, it belongs to you alone, never mind the fact that its very existence is proof otherwise. The conifer forest smells like home. Higher by the inch, footfalls become the backbeat to a serenade of stuttering woodpeckers and squawking magpies. Ten thousand feet, then eleven thousand. A jet passes overhead. Surely it's flying low. Here's a better thought: the plane's not low, but rather you are especially high. Trudge, in segments of random time, measured by the sound of your own heartbeat, and when it overtakes the rustle of the wind in the boughs and the chatter of the jays, you stop, breath, shoot a photo and tip a drink from your bottle. Switchback after rocky switchback leads you here, where the breeze tickles cones from needled perches and becomes visible in ripples across the jaded lake. Marmots sing warnings to surrounding creatures of your arrival. A lunatic trout leaps from the surface. The caldera, chiseled by winter slides and spring waterfalls, contains you. A snow globe in summer, a bug in a jar, you are walled in, to solitude. Alone here is not the same as alone in your car or alone in your house or alone with your thoughts. If, as Kurt Cobain insisted, "All alone is all we are," then here is as good a place as any to meet that loneliness and embrace it. Here, solitude feels like a favorite sweater.