Walking the World: Above Treeline

This is the movement of the alpine
tundra, of presences which are
only seemingly motionless.

With the glaciers above and the forest below, I walk
the pause between two great movements of earth.

As vast sheets of ice pull back, the cone-shaped figures of dwarf, solitary
trees venture out in advance of the rising forest below. This is one of the
slowest movements of which we can be aware, one phase of a single cycle
taking perhaps 10,000 years or more. Coming back, year after year, one can
actually see signs of change, a direction in the movement: a pile of rocks left
behind at the glacier's tongue, or new seedlings growing higher up than one
noticed them before. Of course, from their point of view, this complementary
expansion and contraction of forest and ice is but an in- and out-breathing
of geological time.

Coming as a temporary guest, the space in between these two immense
waves is now filled with the alpine tundra. This is the treeless, open
country of crisp air and sharp extremes. Here, the sky can be so clear that
distant peaks seem only a few steps away. Plants forgo stems and vertical
growth all together, retreating into isolated, dense green mats, which then
suddenly leap into the brissance of cushion pink and gentian blue. Snow-free
for only two or three months out of the year, in the alpine tundra, summer
wakes with the intensely glowing eyes of a maiden lost to love, with but
a moon or two before her beloved departs to the distant brightness of
winter stars.

But now, the flowers are gone and a thick mist grays the space in between
lichen black and the faint blue of crevassed ice. Stopping suddenly, a few
steps away, a cluster of granite rocks takes to the air. "Ah, ptarmigan, seven
of them," I think to myself. Not yet finished with their fall molt, only their
wings and undersides are the white of freshly fallen snow. An auspicious
sign! No snow till November this year. They climb steeply, flying as one
swift arc which then descends and instantly disappears as the birds land
on the side of a nearby moraine.

Yes, this is the movement of the alpine tundra, of presences which are only
seemingly motionless, at rest. For deep within, energies brood and prepare
themselves for a surge, a flash. From out of the nowhere of the background
gray, an unexpected flutter of life fills the air with all the luminescence of a
comet's tail, and then just as quickly vanishes into the stillness of trees and
rocks, and of the space where crystals are said to go after the snow has
melted, and, once again, turned to ice.


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| see also another 
Walking the World essays at, Backpack Pilgrim;  The Devil Stands on the other Side | The Pause | 
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(created: XI.30.1999 ) (Last update: III.7.2002)