The Ryder-Walker office lies in a quiet valley deep in the heart of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Snow capped peaks, irregular rock formations, bubbling streams, placid lakes, dark forests, waterfalls, and grassy meadows characterize this landscape that we call our backyard. Just out our backdoor, for example, stand three mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet of elevation. Forests of spruce, fir, and aspen blanket the shoulders of these summits and provide a home for bear, lynx, hawk, grouse, elk, deer, beaver, and coyote. The rivers and ponds teem with trout during the summer, and wild mushrooms grow in profusion following an autumn rain. It is hard to ignore the call of the natural environment here, and when the moon shines with intensity like it did last week, then I feel that I must answer that call.
Every winter I head out the back door of the Ryder-Walker office and unroll a sleeping bag in my own snowy corner of the Rocky Mountains. It can be quiet up here on a January night when the thermometer hovers around zero, the moon explodes with brilliance, and the snow sparkles like a million diamonds. It can also feel a bit lonely when a coyote’s solitary howl makes the only sound for miles around. Cold nights are the best nights, in my opinion, because each noise hangs for a moment, amplified, as it pierces the winter stillness and then stands alone.
Mornings also provide something special when they dawn cold and clear like they did last week. The sight of a lone snowshoe track across an empty expanse of unbroken whiteness never fails to stir something electric in my soul. Could the image be a reflection, or a glimpse, of the inner workings of my psyche? Does the old snowshoe trail symbolize a lone memory, vivid at first, which eventually blends and fades into a vast field of past experiences? Maybe I’m attracted to this picture for the same reason that I’m drawn to our hiking tours; the trail represents a metaphor for life’s journey, with its many twists and turns, toward adventure and endless possibility.
I’ve often heard book and magazine editors lament that nature writers consistently stretch for metaphors and hidden meanings within their surroundings. I’m not a nature writer, and I’m not a philosopher either, but I do know what a quality outdoor experience can do for a person. I’ve experienced it first hand with our guests, and I know it within myself. The summer hiking season may seem like a long way off, but don’t forget about the opportunities that lie beyond your own back door.