Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Most Beautiful Place in the World

I was born in the most beautiful place in all the world! Seriously…according to my mom. Actually, she wasn’t wrong. Our isolated valley high in the Rocky Mountains of western Wyoming is pretty stunning to see. My great-grandparents on both sides of my family were among the original settlers. It has long winters, but even then the scenery doesn’t fail to meet the standard of spectacular. There are towering mountains, with red cliff faces, and other peaks that are blanketed with pine trees. The aspens form a fluttering skirt of pale green leaves at the base of these mountains all summer. Then those leaves turn a brilliant yellow in the autumn. A couple of rivers meander between the bordering hillsides, and supported the beaver that enticed my trapper/mountain man ancestor. Those same rivers also created succulent meadows that the farmer ancestor realized would feed dairy cows that could sustain his family. It remains a place of beauty today.

 But, when I left the Most Beautiful Place in the World, with my newly-wed Navy husband, we got to live in….the most beautiful place in the world: Southern California! The ocean! The mountains!  The sunsets! The endless fields of strawberries, tomatoes, and flowers!! Look at the black, rich soil! Why, all you have to do is drop seeds in the ground and they just grow like crazy. Seriously, I had gigantic geranium plants tumbling down the slopes of my yard. Till then, a geranium had been an exotic houseplant that my mother nurtured carefully in the south-facing windows of our farmhouse living room. Their brilliant red blooms were a vivid contrast to vast, white world that stretched beyond the glass for so many months of the world. I could never get enough of the ocean when I lived there. The sound of the waves varied from the gentle lapping in the flood control channel of Dog Beach, to the ferocious explosions when a storm smashed the roiling green water onto the rocks at Sunset Cliffs.  I couldn’t get enough of it, early in the morning, on a lazy summer afternoon with the kids, or at the end of one of those drenching rainy days, when the clouds broke up just before the sun went down, filling the sky with a whole palette of purple, blue, and gold. 

We got a job transfer. We moved 3000 miles east to the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was quite a shock. There were more trees in the county where we lived than I’d seen in my entire life, altogether. Each road was simply a tunnel of trees. Big, gorgeous, magnificent trees! Surely this had to be the most beautiful place in the world! Fall came, those trees turned red and gold and you almost had to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day just to deflect the flaming glow as you drove through those autumn tree tunnels. All the leaves fell off, eventually, leaving the tunnels just dark, damp trunks that glistened in the wintry rain. But one February morning, there were glowing, white bits of brightness peeking out from the forests of wet, leafless oak trunks. I pulled off the road to see what was catching the morning sun and gleaming out from the dull grayness. Dogwood flowers! Their symmetrical white flowers bloomed on the branches, scattered through-out the whole county. Shortly after that, we were treated to azaleas, lilacs and then more and more flowers popped up, and tiny green buds formed on the dark limbs of the maples and oaks. One afternoon, I came up over the top of a small hill, and stretched out before me was SPRING!! The stunning special greenness blanketed the whole world. Everything that grew had a blossom, then new leaves, and as the weeks moved on to the summer solstice, the green deepened and spread, and more plants contributed their blossoms to the whole effect, until it looked like what the Garden of Eden must have been. The flowering continued all summer and into the fall, as the leaves again began their changes. Even then, more plants found their time to bloom, until only the bright green holly leaves, punctuated with red berries were alone to herald the season of the herald angels. 

About a decade ago, we returned to the West. This time—the Mojave Desert. It is close enough to visit the grandchildren, but we’ll never experience 20 degrees below zero. Have you ever been here? Did you know that it is the most beautiful place on the earth? Dawn is spectacular…the sky gradually grows lighter, then the sun peeps up over the mountain obliterating all the long shadows that preceded its appearance. But sunset and twilight are even more captivating. There were so many colors of orange and purple that slowly fade from one to another. The palm trees are silhouetted against the last bit of the deep indigo blue as tiny bats swoop up and down and around, snatching their supper from the air. Desert mountains are mostly devoid of trees. Some have small, tough plants that find a way to pierce their roots through the sandstone, and grab a hold to sustain life. The tiny leaves soak up every drop of moisture that can be extracted from the meager rainfalls. But the mountains themselves are a wonder. Without the covering of plant life, their geologic story is laid bare. There are layers of colors, and patterns of swoops and swirls that reveal the upheavals of tectonic action eons ago. The colors change tones throughout the day as the sun’s rays travel across the surface of their jagged slopes. 

 How lucky can I be, huh? I’ve lived my whole life in The Most Beautiful Place in the World.