Nature in Colorado

Well, it’s finally time to return to the things worth paying attention to.

God’s creation is absolutely wonderful, and Colorado has plenty of it to offer. As terrible as the floods and fires have been, Colorado is not only home to hell and high water. There is still much beauty and fascination to be had at the feet of the Rocky Mountains. Here’s just a little of it that I managed to photograph. I hope you enjoy it. By all means, go outdoors and see what early autumn is bringing your way.

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Lilacs.

Lilacs.

I think this is a young spadefoot toad.

I think this is a young spadefoot toad.

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A small tiger salamander.

A small tiger salamander.

An unusual moth.

An unusual moth.

Have a lovely day, and God bless!

Colorado’s Beauty: Visual Inspiration

I had a few more photos to share with you, as visual writing prompts. I hope you enjoy some of this beauty Colorado has to offer.

Books and Storytelling

Just about everyone loves a good book. Writers love them, of course, or else they wouldn’t be dedicating so much time, blood, and sweat to creating them. Readers love them because of the chance to find escape, or romance, or comfort, or bravery, or beauty. Whether you love stacks of dusty tomes or the efficiency of a Kindle, royal biographies or serial mysteries, books that are like hundred meter dashes or like long winding trails through a primeval forest, books and the stories they tell are so beloved because there are so many ways they can appeal to us.

We all recognize the import of a great story, even if we can’t quite understand why something so intangible could be so vital. Even if we don’t read them or understand them, stories as varied as Beowulf or The Grapes of Wrath, from The War of the Worlds to Pride and Prejudice, carry something that we sense humans want to create, and need to create.

The stories that will last are labors of love, combined with excellent craft and the sharpest of wit. A storyteller raises his tale like a child, ages it like wine, and sculpts it like art. He will work at that story, his heart straining with its emotions and his mind tinkering with its components, until it becomes a living thing that will shine and sing. Stories can be cranked out quickly, their pages splattered with ideas and interesting angles, but thankfully there are still many authors who will take the time to give their work a soul.

And the strangest quality of a soul is its immortality. Orson Scott Card has said that the greatest books stand the test of time. I am quite certain that every author should strive to place such books into their readers’ hands, books that will not only be enjoyed but cherished. The world still needs imagination and passion in its stories. That need has never lessened with time, even though it can be ignored or pushed to the sidelines once in a while.

To every writer and reader who reads this: I pray for the very best for you tonight. May your stories be timeless, may your minds and hearts always be ready to create, and may you never lose touch with the power of books and storytelling.

A Need for Nature

Image courtesy of Wyldraven on deviantart.com

Caught in the throes of the information age, with smartphones galore and the distractions of the digital revolution, it can be easy for someone to forget the intimate connection all of humanity recently shared with nature. Even in the West, where industry and technology found their deepest roots, there was a great deal of interaction and familiarity man had toward animals and plants, enough humility to kneel before landscapes and weather. And it was not limited to pets or what a man could see in his backyard. Children still had to go outside and play, since Halo and Skyrim were not around to entertain us.

For one example among many, look at how we view the consumption of meat. Decades ago, killing animals for their meat was a matter of survival. When your meat is prepackaged and available by the truckload at Safeway, on the other hand, there’s no reminder of what it is to take an animal’s life: grim, but useful and often necessary. So, the death of any animal, even to provide food or medicine or clothing, seems cruel and unfair to someone who has never had to kill something. And that is how some people begin to see slaughterhouses as concentration camps, and react with moral outrage when they are reminded of where their meat comes from. However, except for rare cases of cruelty to animals before their death, such a reaction is unwarranted. Hunters and farmers have a greater exposure to nature and know better than that. They kill animals quickly and humanely, and know that a butcher is not always a cruel figure. I doubt most vegans would last a week in an Inuit camp, where almost every scrap of food is some sort of meat or fat.

Another way we have been deprived of nature is the staggering number of children who have been raised away from it. Most kids have grown up with video games and sports for pastimes. Particularly in urban areas, only camping trips and the meager offerings of the local park are there to sate their appetite for any world aside from the artificial one, the one carefully sculpted to please human sensibilities and comfort zones. If you want anything more exotic, you’ll need to rent Planet Earth DVDs or watch National Geographic specials. Good luck convincing an overprotective parent that their children are impoverished by being kept indoors all day.

But the forgotten world of animals, foliage, caves, and mountains should always be available to them. Nature will always be with us, and has taken root in the very core of human nature. We cannot afford to neglect it. Its benefits and beauty and complexity are forgotten and unheeded when we reduce it to a few weeks in summer camp, or neatly manicured lawns and houses where any species not under our direct control is labeled a “pest” and rapidly exterminated.

My parents gave me a unique gift by moving out into a rural area of Colorado, and letting me go outside. Zoos and natural history museums (and when we were still in California, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium) were our family outings. Fossils and rocks were pretty much the only things I thought were worth collecting. (Well, them and old dinosaur movies, but that’s for another post) I got to harvest tadpoles from the neighbors’ pond, and regularly caught toads and garter snakes and horned lizards and tiger salamanders around our house. God only knows how many ant farms and fish I’ve kept over the years. Our household has been home not only to the requisite dogs and cats, but to brine shrimp and goats alongside iguanas and corn snakes, rats and gerbils, geckos and grasshoppers. If Noah needed to stock another ark, we could have done it for him.

That appreciation for nature is not as strong in my current life as I want it to be, but it’s still there. The springtime song of a western meadowlark still relaxes me like no other sound can. I smile every time I see a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole and looking for prey. When a monarch butterfly or tiger swallowtail flaps by me, the world goes quiet, and I am at peace watching its color-splashed wings carry it onward. I relish the chance to see a thunderstorm raging above me, and don’t mind the rain at all.

Of course, when daily contact with nature is lost, one other thing you leave behind is a healthy respect of nature’s power, the raw fact that it follows its own rules. Nature will be taken seriously whether you like it or not. No, tsunamis and volcanoes and animal stampedes are no one’s idea of happy coexistence with the world. But we should face it: the world is not a tame place. Yellowstone tourists can get killed if they approach a bear or bison with anything less than an urgent reverence for the animal’s strength and unpredictability. Surfers can be crushed under the slam of a powerful wave. Hikers and hunters are more familiar with the dangers, and even they can sometimes find nature a lethal element to be in.

But there is still beauty there, indispensable and not meant to be forgotten. The kind of beauty that lends fire to poetry and emotion to paintings is always there, even in the most perilous corners of the natural world. And it will reward you if you’re willing to be brave and search it out.

I haven’t yet gone hunting, and my idea of hiking is pretty much restricted to a stroll around the local park. But what I have seen is truly beautiful, works of art more nuanced and captivating than anything a human imagination could conjure. Turtles floating serenely on the glassy surface of a lake while fish glide underneath; blasts of lightning throwing their glory over the plains in the depths of starless night; deer picking their way through fields with silent hooves; comet Hale-Bopp streaking its way across the heavens, bright as an angel’s wing, never to come back in our lifetimes. Those are the things I cherish, the things worth holding on to when nature and I embrace each other, like comrades, like lovers, like old friends.

The Majesty of Dinosaurs

At the time of writing, I am watching Jurassic Park on AMC. Good thing, too, since it’s the first time in ten years when I have seen the movie in widescreen. John Williams’ beautiful score never gets old, the CGI is still photorealistic, and Sam Neill is as awesome as ever. And beside the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite films again, it serves as a powerful reminder of how majestic dinosaurs must have been.

Sure, some of the traits Hollywood gave to the animals are purely speculative, like the poison-spitting capabilities of the Dilophosaurus, or are outdated, like the Velociraptors we now know were mostly coated in feathers. But something I will always be thankful for is how Jurassic Park made it “cool” to love dinosaurs again. Beforehand, these dragons of prehistory, these works of biological art, were mostly relegated to museums and paleontology departments, or were innocuous fantasies children would love, then outgrow. Then, when Michael Crichton wrote his novel, and Steven Spielberg took on the massive challenge of bringing it to the screen, dinosaurs raced back to the public consciousness. Thanks to Crichton and Spielberg (and paleontologists like Jack Horner and Robert Bakker before them), we started to look at dinosaurs as something more than voracious monsters. We started to see them as the animals they were. Even more than that, we sensed there was something transcendent and mysterious about them. Of all prehistoric creatures, they are the ones that captivate us the most.

May we never lose that awareness. I pray that we will always see these creatures in a light of reverence, as beautiful and strange as they were frightening and powerful. No matter how extinct they are, dinosaurs will always be alive in our imagination. I never grew out of that love for these animals, because it wasn’t something to outgrow.