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Sites of Insight

Sites of Insight: A Guide to Colorado Sacred Places

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Sites of Insight
    Book Description:

    Co-Winner of the 2004 Colorado Endowment for the Humanities Publication Prize. In these eighteen illuminating essays, some of Colorado's most accomplished novelists, essayists, and poets write in intimate detail about their most poignant experiences in the Colorado wilderness. Readers are given access - both physically and spiritually - to settings that inspire reverence for and contemplation about one's relationship to the land. From above tree line in the Rawah Mountains down into the broad San Luis Valley, from the Western Slope to the high plains in the east, the reader is taken on a vivid journey through a rich assortment of Colorado's awe-inspiring landscapes. Essays by Tom Noel, Fred Baca, Kristen Iversen, and Reyes Garcia are historical in makeup, while those by Sangeeta Reddy, Merrill Gilfillan, and Amy England feature engaging spiritual and philosophical explorations, even epiphanies. Reg Saner and Nick Sutcliffe share experiences of pitting themselves against nature. And in the tradition of Thoreau, John Muir, and Annie Dillard, all of these essayists explore the intense and vibrant relationships people have with the wilderness.Sites of Insightbelongs on the bookshelves of tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, and Coloradoans - both longtime residents and newcomers - who seek to apprehend something in nature that is larger than themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-799-1
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, American Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)
    James Lough

    The task of characterizing this book reminds me of an ancient Irish legend about the god Lugh, also known as the Many-skilled, or the Shining One. One day, Lugh wanted to attend a big feast held by a local tribe. But it was a private affair. The skeptical gatekeeper who guarded the walled banquet hall asked Lugh what he could contribute to the tribe that it didn’t already have. Lugh said he was a blacksmith. The gatekeeper replied that they already had a blacksmith. Lugh said he was an athlete. The gatekeeper said they had plenty of athletes. Lugh went...

  4. [Map]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Western Wind
    (pp. 1-17)

    It’s snowing sideways. My skis leave a trail, blown over in minutes. Good.

    “Let me get this straight,” says the mind’s other side. “You like mountains best in December and January? When there’s nothing up here but sudden weather and snow?”


    “And another thing. Why so keen on skiing alone? The obvious motive is fear, isn’t it? Alone, you’re afraid, a little. You know you are. Admit it. Isn’t that the attraction?”

    The mind’s other side has that twentieth-century quirk of supposing base motives are truest.

    No use replying that a taste for the out-of-doors isn’t always juvenile. Against...

  6. Chatelaine
    (pp. 18-30)

    On March 7, 1935, Baby Doe Tabor—a western legend from the moment she set foot in Colorado in 1877—was found dead on the floor of her Leadville cabin. Her frozen body formed the shape of a cross. The one-room shack held a wood-burning stove, a rocking chair, an iron-post bed, and a lace-covered table that stood before a gold-framed picture of the Virgin Mary. The cabin was an out-post, a solitary companion to the Matchless Mine, once the richest silver mine in the world. Baby Doe had hidden books and magazines under the bed and, for insulation as...

  7. Little Bethlehem
    (pp. 31-36)

    The cloud holds the hill like a vague thought. It brings a softer focus to my morning eye. The land is massaged by fog, its own innate softness touched. The effect is spirit. When I am in the forest among the trees in the mist, I know that the trees whisper. Whispering is an act between sentient beings. I don’t pretend that the trees are aware of me, but I know that some atomic action within them is a kind of communication. Electrons leap from one to another like a contagion. Electrons do leap, and sometimes I am in their...

  8. Mists of the Huerfano
    (pp. 37-43)

    Augustino Garcia salted the top of his perspiring Coors can and nodded a welcome as I entered the dimly lit tavern. He was the only person to be seen, this cantina the only flicker of life in the southern Colorado village of Gardner.

    Once a busy ranching center, Gardner is now little more than a ghost town of crumbling adobe. Glad to find another human being, I bought Augustino a beer and took the stool beside him. We sat surveying the silent main street through the murky tavern window.

    “A long time ago,” he began slowly, “there was another town...

  9. Walking in Yampa
    (pp. 44-58)

    When we get out of the car, I notice that Marguerite’s shoes match. This is a rarity, the first time I’ve seen it. In the middle of winter, I have often seen her in a “pair” of shoes—one a dingy blue flat that we would have called a boat shoe in high school, the other a Chuck Taylor Converse All Star high-top sneaker, at least two sizes too big. At first I thought that Marguerite was old and absentminded; sometimes she wears two unmatched lefts or two unmatched rights. When I got to know her better, she started telling...

  10. Pawnee Buttes
    (pp. 59-62)

    I spread the cheap East Indian sheet atop the east Pawnee Butte in Weld County, Colorado, and sit in the midmorning September sun. I have been craving heights like a cat. Meadowlark calls and Hereford coughs float up, faint and dislocated, from far below. Big cumulus clouds throw their eastbound shadows on the plains. Through field glasses I spy a badger shuffling and nosing along one of the arroyo walls in the fierce Pawnee Creek drainage pattern at the base of the butte.

    Up here, close at hand, flies drone; a Say’s phoebe family suns. Rock wrens, creatures of the...

  11. The Bear
    (pp. 63-68)

    I met her mother two years earlier in the middle of the night and watched as she, with sensuous concentration, cleaned the table scraps and birdseed off the downstairs windowsill, even pulling up the two-by-four I had nailed on with sixteen-penny nails to keep the bird food from spilling, intent on licking up the millet and sunflower seeds that had slipped underneath. My flashlight batteries were about gone, the light very dim, but I got a good view of her face, very close, just through the window, before the flashlight faded out. Then I went upstairs, saw her dark mass...

  12. Meditación en Dos Ojos: García Lake at Cumbres Pass
    (pp. 69-86)

    A few years ago, the day after Thanksgiving, my dead mother’s house on the river ranch where she and my brother lived burned down. My mother had spent the last thirty years of her life in that wonderful house, with its intricate oak woodwork, set back amonglos alamos, the cottonwoods, on the ranch next to mine. It was a short distance fromla casa de mi hermano mayor, the house of my older brother, and close to El Rio de los Conejos, The River of the Rabbits, which snakes down from high in the San Juan Mountains to the...

  13. Gore Canyon
    (pp. 87-101)

    A little south west of Kremmling, the Colorado River, which has swirled and tumbled with relative lassitude for the preceding forty miles or so, breaks into Gore Canyon and in an adolescent frenzy tears down this ancient cut for eight miles before regaining its composure on the plateau below. For whitewater paddlers, it’s one of the more challenging river sections in the state, and it’s probably the hardest whitewater I’ve ever encountered. I had a really difficult time my first time down and was uneasy about ever going back. But eventually I did return, and that trip stands out as...

  14. Their Place, My Place
    (pp. 102-113)

    “I can take you as far as Boulder,” I said, perhaps at risk of my life.

    “Okay,” he said. A slight twist to his nod seemed to add, “That’s a start.”

    The hitchhiker was a powerfully built man, square-shouldered, deepchested, big-boned. His hands were scuffed, cut and puffy, and his face, a perfect oval, was smeared with dried blood from wounds in three places. High, strong cheekbones emphasized his fierce black eyes, eyes like a hawk’s, eyes that looked like they could grip till whatever they gripped stopped breathing. Yet a quick evaluation told me that this recluse could be...

  15. Pastoral Emergence
    (pp. 114-128)

    It all looms now as a promise of immeasurable America, that summer of 1949 when I found in Colorado my spiritual—and future—home.

    Without fully realizing the nature of my quest, I had been looking for a home, for a sense of belonging. My parents had split. Durham, North Carolina, the hometown where I had been born and raised and which had been my anchorage until a scholarship to a private school uprooted me to Andover, Massachusetts, at the age of fourteen, had become a minefield of emotional turmoil.

    Another scholarship had swept me into college in New Haven,...

  16. Written on a Piece of Butcher Paper: El Rancho, Antonito
    (pp. 129-137)

    In my sleep I think I hear roots of grass being torn from the wet earth. When I wake, roll away from the cold plaster wall toward the window, I am looking directly into the eye of a horse, his nostrils steaming in the cold May dawn, the grass vanishing behind his pink tongue and yellow teeth. I think,This is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

    Shlrump, shlrump: over and over the Appaloosa rips and chews, and we stare at one another, less than three feet apart. He stares deeply into my sleep, a sleep scattered now...

  17. Where Form Meets Flux: Soft Eyes and Boulderʹs Four Cardinal Directions
    (pp. 138-157)

    Boulder is my hometown, but I don’t feel at home there anymore. Something has packed up and left, something wild—not in the nature, but in the people—something that was untamed and experimental.

    I was only a child during Boulder’s swinging Sixties. But I remember it vividly. The wildest thing I remember was a natural phenomenon: the violent windstorm of January 1969. Wind funneled down through Boulder Canyon at speeds up to 160 miles per hour and blasted the city. It peeled the roof right off our next-door neighbors’ house and sent it crashing into ours. It knocked our...

  18. The Road Through San Luis
    (pp. 158-171)

    On the outskirts of Taos is a Hanuman temple that we heard about early during my parents’ summer visit to Denver. Not only were they intrigued that it was housed in a renovated adobe building, but that it was started solely by American devotees. So a week before we were to leave for New Mexico, when a phone call comes out of the blue from a gallery in Taos (that I had sent my slides to months ago), everyone declares it propitious, and canvases tied firmly to the roof rack of the car, we set off in great spirits.


  19. Into the Rawahs
    (pp. 172-177)

    It’s a bright and chilly sunday morning in October. Our kitchen table is typically cluttered—laptop computer, a phone bill, little hills of crumpled receipts and notes on paper napkins, stacks of books, a pair of mugs. Marmot and Weasel, our miniature dachshunds, take turns trying to jump into our laps and then onto the table, where they hope for stray crumbs or—Marmot’s unfathomable favorite—balled-up Kleenex. On top of this chaos of plateaus and massifs, canyons and escarpments, we’ve spread a road map of Colorado, and with a purple marking pen we’re tracing the places we’ve been together....

  20. Blanca Peak
    (pp. 178-188)

    Leaving Denver, I climb through slow traffic into the foothills southwest of the city, traveling along Route 285, where impressive mountain homes give way to dusty ranches, and strip malls to general stores. Once past the suburban sprawl, I breathe a sigh of relief at the wide, high-altitude expanse of South Park, and eventually arrive above the central-Colorado town of Buena Vista, with its indeed “beautiful view” of the Collegiate Peaks framing the western side of the Arkansas River Valley. Turning south, I follow the Arkansas to the beginnings of the San Luis Valley.

    At the deserted hamlet of Villa...

  21. Lumpy Ridge: Buson in the Rockies
    (pp. 189-198)

    Haru no mizu, the waters of spring, is a commonly used indicator of season in Japanese haiku, understood to mean the season’s swollen streams and rivers rather than the rain that swells them. In the haiku of eighteenth-century poet and painter Yosa Buson, the waters of spring are slow, warm, and silent, wetting violets and reeds, muddied by the crossing of clumsy, weak-ankled feet.

    Haru no mizu

    The waters of spring

    yama naki kuni wo

    flowing to their end

    nagare keri

    in a mountainless country

    Yama naki kuniis the land or country without mountains; the particlewofollows the...

  22. Belmar Park: Where the Sidewalk Ends
    (pp. 199-216)

    I am dreaming that my childhood home is full of murderers. I know that my entire family is dead, beyond my help or anyone else’s, but the killers have not seen me. I crouch behind my mother’s armchair in the darkened living room and then maneuver toward the door. If I can get a head start, I might be able to run past the dead end at the south end of Carr Street, a block away. I know that if I can make it into the wild place of weeds and darkness and soft, gray-brown dirt beyond the end of...

  23. About the Contributors
    (pp. 217-222)
  24. Index
    (pp. 223-228)