Suszynski: The topo of a shift | VailDaily.com
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Suszynski: The topo of a shift

Last Friday, I drove to Westcliffe, Colorado. Dusk had settled on the cows, turning them into shadowed cutouts — that point in the day that is not classified by time exactly but more by feeling.

In the distance, a golden glow pierced the trees. I could tell that I was coming upon something extraordinary. My two friends, Colleen and Caroline, perked up from the stupor of a long drive.  

I rounded the last bend and the Sangre de Cristo mountains were in front of us. Dark rain clouds sat atop the Sangres like witch wigs and stretched crooked fingers to the mountain points. Their cackles diffused in the path of those formidable rays.

What I had before me felt otherworldly. The rain clouds took on a faded orange glow from the sunset, trickling like milk into coffee. The mountains textured enough to touch. Burnt orange, purple, blue.

We reached the Venable-Comanche trailheads as night fell and camped there. Caroline read about one section of the hike that presented a few challenges to hikers and as we walked with our heavy backpacks the next morning, Colleen asked other hikers if they had any trouble. We only heard “no.”

The section is called the Phantom Terrace, although we renamed it Dead Horse Pass. At the beginning of the terrace, Colleen made the mistake of looking at the bottom and seeing the carcass of a horse.

I love being on top of high points. I like the shifts in the air, the slight emotional vertigo of being somewhere I should not be. I love touching the cool stone to remind myself that there are solid things up high. The sky is not just made of clouds. But behind me, Colleen’s breath became gasps for air, and she squeezed herself closer and closer to the rocks.

For some reason, at this point in time, as I held Colleen’s hand and helped her over the section in which the trail had fallen away, excerpts from “The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard came to mind.

Bachelard in the first chapter states, “For our home is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.”

I was trying to understand what made my experience of the terrace so different than Colleen’s, not from a fear perspective, but from the perspective of the poetics of space.

Bachelard goes on to say, “we shall see the imagination build ‘walls’ of impalpable shadows, comfort itself with the illusion of protection — or just the contrary, tremble behind thick walls, mistrust the staunchest ramparts. In short, in the most interminable of dialects, the sheltered being gives perceptible limits to his shelter. He experiences the house in its reality and its virtuality, by means of thought and dreams.”

To my left, the trail dropped down cruelly. Perhaps where my mind had built a protective wall, Colleen had constructed a wall of mistrust. Maybe rightfully so, because whenever Colleen asked me if we were close to the end, I responded every time without hesitation, “Yes.” Whatever the case, all three of us summitted Venable Pass. At the top, Colleen lighter after hurling a comical stream of expletives at the dead horse.  

The following day back home in the heat, I felt silly pulling the tomatoes off their stems, cutting the basil to a tuft, and trying to spot every last padron pepper. I bundled the plants up in plastic and watched as the clouds came swiftly, dropping the temperature degree by degree.

Just like the onset of the honeyed light, when I could see it coming over the mountains yet could not feel it, the snow came in early September. Tuesday morning, I marveled at the flowers with their slushy hats and the way the cold crept into my bare feet as I ran through the grass. Things were transforming before my eyes.

Bachelard says, “In this remote region, memory and imagination remain associated, each one working for their mutual deepening.”

If the seasons, if the Phantom Terrace, if the golden room inside an extraordinary sunset, are like homes we enter for a moment, the poetics of space tell us a few things. When we enter a new season, or a new year for that matter, we are unsure of the shape it will take — how it will fit into our lives. So then, how should we greet a new season, especially one that comes so soon and recedes again, teasing?

 “Because we must also give an exterior destiny to the interior being … we should have to undertake a topoanalysis of all the space that has invited us to come out of ourselves,” Bachelard says.

Fear of drastic change, the frenzied heart pounding that precedes the fear, fear of approaching beauty and its concomitant expectations, accompanies every seasonal shift. When shifts occur, the air moves to accommodate this new cosmos. Perhaps that is what fear is in its essence, a shifting of the cosmos.

Colleen and Caroline both bravely made it over the pass, Caroline silent in her fear of heights, Colleen more vocal. Me in awe of my two friends. All of us confronting the eager storm that freezes with the promise of thaw.


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