My son, Jeremy, recently affirmed one of the notions that I’ve experienced quite intensely these last 6 1/2 months in Denver. He read several essays that inspired him to think of wonder. I told him that my life has been in a state of wonder since leaving suburban Chicago last summer. Habits are hard to break. I could practically drive through Batavia with my eyes closed, knowing what to anticipate on all sensory accounts. Thrown into a new community, the mold is broken and one begins anew. Every waking moment brings with it brand-spanking-new stimuli. By the end of some days, I am exhausted from keeping track of all the newness! It is exciting in many ways, but also disconcerting as I have gradually left behind the old and continue to assimilate to the new. My journey is not unique, for people do this all the time. It’s just that Jeremy’s reference to wonder really resonated with me.
Having been tucked tightly into a little cocoon of a suburban lifestyle for 32 years, one of the biggest adjustments accompanying our move to Denver has been a sensory one. If I close my eyes while sitting in a very quiet room, I can take myself back to our surroundings in Illinois and practically see my world there, my kids playing ghost-in-the-graveyard years ago throughout the neighborhood, the layout of the house, the warm Pottery Barn paint colors donning the interior walls, familiar nuances of a 20+ year-old home with its creaks and cracks, the drive through town with its usual stoplights, and the Congregational Church’s steeple standing tall as a beacon to the community. I can breathe in the scent of the colorful flowers in the gardens throughout the yard, especially the frilly white peonies from Mom and Dad, the transplanted Easter Lily from church, or the sweet scent of the lilac given to me on Mother’s Day in the early 1990s by Jeremy, Stephanie, and Steve. I can hear the familiar sounds of school children on the playground behind the “forest” on our street, the “Tuesdays at 10:00” tornado drill siren, a group of kids laughing themselves silly over a game in our rec room, or our friend, Bob, firing up his John Deere lawn tractor across the way. I can imagine the warm and delightful hugs of my children, whether as youngsters or now as adults, the soft touch of kitty Zane’s little paws on my lap, or the feel of the earth between my fingers as I tend the gardens. Taste is sometimes challenging, but as I breathe in the fresh Midwest air, there is a very earthy flavor, one that comes from the rich Midwest soil and thick, green vegetation, and which transports me back to childhood and the freshly plowed fields on the family farm in Iowa or to the east-side trails of Morton Arboretum.
Now….My State of Wonder! Crank up the bass and give me a kettle-drum roll! Abruptly from my state of a fairly predictable daily rhythm, I am surrounded by the unfamiliar. (Yes, we’ve visited Denver and Colorado dozens of times to visit my in-laws or to vacation in the high country, but residing here is distinctly different.) Living in a high-desert within 25-60 minute proximity to the foothills and Rocky Mountains is in itself a huge contrast to the Midwest. Away from the immediate neighborhood and at a vantage point on Evans Avenue near the DU campus, I see the snow-capped reaches of the Mt. Evans Wilderness, 95 miles to the west and Long’s Peak, 70 miles to the north. Out on the flats toward Denver International Airport, I see the massive chunk of rock known as Pikes Peak, 75 miles due south. When we’re in the mountains, the sky is more brilliant than any blue Crayola could muster. Paired with the snowy peaks and flocked Lodgepole Pines, the Winter views while we’re in the mountains, make a lasting impression. Closer to home, I see little white or pastel-toned bungalow houses all in a row lining Downing Street. Rocks are a mainstay in the landscape as is irrigation for 9 months out of the year. Our immediate environ of our rented home has the visual stimuli of peeling paint on our front porch, crumbling cement steps from the street level to our yard, and thousands of vehicles seen from our windows zipping along from north and south. Next door we occasionally see our neighbors and their little one, otherwise the neighborhood stays to themselves.
The sounds inside the house are not ones that I would aspire to have each day. The steady var-o-o-oom of passing buses and of vehicular tires begin as early morning commuter traffic, pick up pace over lunch, slow somewhat until mid-afternoon, crescendo in pace throughout the evening commute, and finally ebb to an occasional roll throughout the night. As I write this, the all-too-familiar sounds of loud sirens streak down the street from a firetruck. Fortunately, we have ways to enjoy our sense of hearing! The hiking trails at Highline Canal, Elk Meadow, Lookout Mountain, and Red Rocks Park bring with them the sweet tweets and chortles from feathered friends, the crunch under foot of the sandier soil, the soft neighing of a pony in its paddock, and the soothing sound of a mountain stream. Attending a recent DU hockey game, brought excited cheers from the DU fans. Hearing children playing at our neighborhood school is lovely and soothes my aching heart from missing the younger set at preschool. Recently, a gathering of Steve’s graduate co-horts at our home brought the loud sounds of foosball enjoyment in our 8 X 8 rec room. However, the gentle swoosh-sound of our skis as we meander down the slopes is one of the finest sounds this season.
I have no flower beds to tend here or earth to work! The country girl goes into withdrawal! Rock-gardening has replaced flower-tending. Grasping each one of my rocks from my rock collection and placing them in a large Peace sign shape, has been the extent of my gardening and closeness to the earth. It took all of 30 minutes last fall. Task done. Each rock brought me back to its origin on travels hither and yon. Daily my fingertips keep me engaged, whether flipping through pages of the Denver Metro map book to find my destination or through my Spanish books as I study. I probably pass too much time clicking away at the keys on my laptop. Hugs with Steve’s Mom are more frequent now that we live here. Gripping ski poles on several jaunts to the slopes has been the wonderful by-product of holding a season ski pass. Whether the poles are for skiing or hiking, I’m happy to have a reason to grip them as it means we’re enjoying the great outdoors! The chill from the mountain air as we hike or ski is a reminder of the difference in temperature that I can experience with the change of elevation, sometimes in a matter of hours as we drive westward.
The scent of Colorado is different. It is arid and somewhat dusty in nature due to the lack of humidity. Of course, vehicular exhaust is annoyingly noticeable. A 25 minute drive westward brings us to the Ponderosa Pines at either Lookout Mountain or Elk Meadow Park with their accompanying wafts of pine scent. Once we make our way to higher elevations, the Rocky Mountain air is very refreshing. If it is on a hike, we get the added benefit of the alpine vegetation and its lovely and more earthy scent.
Taste. Hmmm….unless it is away from the city, I cannot say that I can breathe in and experience a distinct taste that would be welcomed. Rest assured that while chocolate is close at hand in the house, our neighborhood does have a diverse range of flavors through eateries: Mideastern, Austrian, American burgers and hotdogs, Greek, Thai, Pizza, Hand-dipped Chocolate, Bakeries, or Coffee. Three blocks away we have the first Chipotle restaurant. So, I believe that our gustatory needs are well-tended.
While this has been a state of wonder for me, I ask myself, “Could I make this a permanent state?” Now that I’m more familiar with the streets, the traffic patterns, and the light-rail system, can the wonder continue? As I have become more connected with my new community through campus events and networking, can the wonder continue? As I become more engaged as a new member of University Park church or once I am employed (hopefully soon), can the wonder continue? As I embrace the daily rhythm on Downing Street even with the traffic, can I seek wonder in my immediate environment? No matter where I reside, how long I’ve lived there, or with whom, I challenge myself to remain aware and open to wonder. Wonder…..”in the eye of the beholder”. May I continue to be the beholder!