Suszynski: What is a gully anyway?
Two weeks ago, my friends and I hiked to Hasley Pass. We were supposed to catch a hidden trail and hike the loop counterclockwise, but we missed it even though Nicole was gripping the guidebook.
Instead, we found the second turn-off farther in and then followed what seemed like an elk trail up through shoulder-high wildflowers. The clouds were hanging low, casting a yellowish lens on the landscape.
Anne Poe, the author of the guidebook, claims that, “Hasley Basin is … the most stunning valley in the book.” As we hiked, we asked each other at every bend, “Is this the most stunning?”
After a wrong turn, we finally made it to the top of the loop. Snowmass Peak and West Maroon Valley waived faintly from behind their shawls. I felt as if we found a castle in the sky, away from the dissonance.
On the way down, we hugged the ridgeline until a wisp of a trail appeared.
We read aloud and looked about: “A shallow gully heading south is your clue. Follow staying high on the western edge. You will find the trail continuing from there.”
The valley seemed full of gullies or at least valleys that resembled them. What is a gully anyway?
Later, I wrote the Merriam-Webster definition in my journal: “A small valley or gulch.”
My friends have been searching for gullies in their own lives. When we are not together, we leave each other voice messages filled with guffaws and visa issue laments, and often anecdotes of things we’ve broken or the sparse human interactions we’ve spoiled. Abby has been in Colorado since February. She normally lives in Chile, but the border is closed and if she can get in, she wouldn’t be able to leave her apartment more than twice a week. Nicole had to leave her viticulture studies in France this spring. She is fitfully deciding whether to still pursue an internship she had lined up in Madrid this fall.
These gullies that we are trying to find, to cull the information, to assess it, and then to make a decision, keep escaping us. We search, following a thin trail in the brush and look for the signal but like the guidebook says, “There is no sign.” And even though Nicole’s mom told us to “watch the watch” (with its GPS tracker), it was of no use. When we left in the morning for the trail, the watch was sitting comfortably in the cup holder of the car happily uncharged.
My personal guide is Mary Oliver and I clutch her books to my chest as if her words are a part of me. In her collection of essays titled “Upstream,” Oliver meditates on nature and the glimpses of humanity there.
In the essay “Wordsworth’s Mountain,” Oliver touches on her observation of the dimensionality of the natural world. She recounts an experience that happened to Wordsworth on a pond in the dark when he came across a familiar mountain suddenly changed: “All crag and weight, it perceived him; it leaned down over the water; it seemed to pursue him.”
I was not terrorized by the mountains surrounding Hasley Pass, but I was certainly humbled by them. In this combustible container of the now, in which decisions seem like sparks, I am trying to approach my decision-making on humble knees. For what is a gully anyway? Our minds keep worrying away the dirt like water, until there is a ravine of information leading to a decisive point. At the bottom of the gully, there is a new trail.
“What Wordsworth praised thereafter was more than the arrangement of concretions and vapors into appreciable and balanced landscapes; it was, also, the whirlwind,” Oliver says.
Comfortable in our own personalities, with our own decision-making patterns, my friends and I perceived what we thought was a gully and went for it. Then we got lost, followed an animal trail, came to a creek, pursued it but then crossed a wide valley around a prominent notch. Along the way, Abby kept pointing and asking, “Could that be it? Is it a trail?” To which I would respond, “I have yet to visit the eye doctor to get a new prescription.” Nicole hugged the guidebook tighter, worrying her eyebrows together. Her shift started in an hour. All I could do was glance at my watch (the archaic kind) and say, “We’re quick, we’ll get there.”
“But also the universe is brisk and businesslike, and no doubt does not give its delicate landscapes or its thunderous displays of power, and perhaps perception, too, for our sakes or our improvement. Nevertheless, its intonations are our best tonics, if we would take them,” Oliver ends with.
Gullies are difficult to find because they are difficult to define. Even if we are supposed to take a trail to our destination, or find the clue that will lead to a decision, it seems to me that we’ll find the parking lot anyway. The beautiful basin can be reached through a longer route. If something is hidden, it takes attentiveness, and if not attentiveness, worn hiking boots, to find the gully. Or we can make a gully ourselves. Our thoughts can be like a river, if we break the dam.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.