I haven’t lived here much time, but it’s confirmed by my neighbors and friends that in the past year there’s been lots of enormous changes in the valley. When so few people live around you, the impact of just one becomes magnified. And although we all live different lives, seemingly unconnected, we are connected through the fabric of this Place.
Just in the last year several long time residents (or part-timers) have died. Others have moved or are intending to sell. Friends I made amongst the ranch hands have left. The students I’ve come to enjoy doing the animal studies are closing up shop. And a few of the older permanent residents have gone to town where there are more health services.
The small forest on private lands next door to me was logged this winter for beetle killed trees. The left over devastation of debris, tractor compaction, blow down trees, channel-less streams, and icy mayhem seems a good visual metaphor for the human disruption in the valley. The beetles were moving silently in a natural tempo. The humans’ business is helter-skelter.
Change is inevitable, but so much is hidden when you live in a city or burbs. In the bustle of its’ cultural homogeneity, flow and movement is a fast tick-tock. Life just keeps going without pause and mostly without notice.
Yet in this Place where geological ‘eternity’ records time, every life is noticed, even the deaths of small things.
Like the lapping of the tides, the movement of mountains exudes a slow rhythm. The mountains, valleys, and rivers are sentinels, the guardians of this Place. Any perturbation in that cadence stands out like shouts or a piercing of the fabric. Every moment matters and its memories are vivid colors.
I now understand how my 86 year old neighbor, who grew up here, has such a great memory for details; details like the names of people he knew long ago, or the exact date when he took some dudes out to the Thoroughfare; or the snowstorm on Bald Ridge where he couldn’t see in front of him and had to follow the fence lines.
My memories are more muted, faded. So much was compressed and the colors were all human dramas against a setting of more human dramas. There was no eternal, unchanging, larger than life backdrop to hold the dramas within.
While I struggle to find my place again, make new friends, fill or mourn those empty spaces and regain a kind of footing, the mountains remind me of that which is unchangeable. And even though it’s all illusion–mountains and rivers, valleys and glaciers, do move and change in time–their mere presence connects us with our slowness.
I caught a story on radio last week about the Okinawans. Their island contains some of the longest living people on earth and have been studied up and down for ‘why’. The conclusion is not what you’d think. It’s not diet, or exercise, nor special herbs, or even genes. It’s their slowness. No hurry, no worries. Like the mountains, or the lapping of the tides, or the Bristle Cone pines, they live a long and slow life.