Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Eagle River - Absolute Freedom

Eagle River at Edwards, Colorado

Emerging out of the lofty Continental Divide, the Eagle River descends freely from the remote rooftop of the Rockies. There are no dams to impede its progress so the wild waterway rushes uninterrupted through Vail Valley’s western slope.

Early Native Americans observed that it had more tributaries than an Eagle has feathers, which is how the river got its appealing name. During the Eagle’s 60 mile journey to its confluence with the Colorado, as the number of tributaries increases so does the river’s size and speed.

I encountered the Eagle River at Edwards, Colorado the morning after a terrific snowstorm. Still dark and blurry under the cover of dense clouds, the vigorous creek wound its way into a black forest of frosted pine trees.

Treading lightly along the frozen riverbank, the thin ice cracked ominously with every footfall. During the dead of winter, the river runs at its shallowest so the rough edges of exposed boulders were softened by caps of fresh snow.

Blanketed in black and white, the Christmas Card setting was therapeutically serene. Just like its namesake nesting in the steep cliffs above, the Eagle River spreads its wings and glides quietly through the landscape, evoking feelings of absolute freedom.

A wild waterway

Vail Valley

After a terrific snowstorm

Under dense cloud cover

Winding through a black forest

The river is at its shallowest

Exposed boulders softened by snow

A Christmas card setting

Therapeutically serene

Gliding quietly

Absolute freedom

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Clearing Storm - A White Wilderness

A clearing storm

The morning after a fresh snow, I’m first to enter the white wilderness. Propelled by cautious footsteps, I break a powdery trail through the silver forest.

A sharp breeze sends temperatures plummeting to ten below. My bare hands feel as if they’re frozen solid and my exhaled breath looks like gray smoke.

Around the bend, below a row of bleached aspen, cheerful elk have gathered into an energetic herd. These hardy beasts are built for the cold so they celebrate by bucking, playing and prancing around.

Blue skies begin to show through as the milky sun wrestles with gray clouds. The winner will determine who dominates the local weather forecast.

Winter is a long and difficult season but after the last few days being mired in a gloomy darkness, there’s something comforting about watching a clearing storm.

The morning after fresh snow

A white wilderness

A silver forest

Temperatures plummet

An energetic herd of elk

Bucking and prancing around

A milky sun and gray clouds

Winter is a difficult season

Something comforting about a clearing storm

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Silver Fox Trail - An Enchanting Moment

Silver Fox Trail Sunrise

It’s a cold, autumn morning at Alderfer Ranch and the landscape is dark and blue. Suddenly, a crack of sunlight streaks across the foothills, permeating the web of tangled tree branches.

Shafts of that persistent light stream through a dense layer of clouds, illuminating the big peaks to the west. Due to the dearth of birds, the eerie silence is a noticeable side-effect of the changing seasons.

Draped over the rugged contour of rocky terrain, long shadows are in pursuit as I hike the Silver Fox Trail. I pass through a dormant grove of wiry aspen, glowing bright white against the dark woodland.

Slivers of low light continue to creep across the meadow until the valley is filled with a comforting warmth. During this first golden hour, fluorescent rays infuse the area with a tinge of orange.

Despite being an industrious night owl, the pre-dawn excursion is worth the chilling discomfort. The November sunrise is an enchanting moment, radiating encouragement and inspiration. It’s time to seize the day.

The landscape is cold, dark and blue

Sunlight streaks across the foothills

Shafts of persistent light

A dense layer of clouds

Big peaks to the west

An eerie silence

Long shadows pursue the hiker

A wiry grove of aspen

A dark woodland

Slivers of light creep across the meadow

Infused with a tinge of orange

An enchanting moment

Seize the day

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stellar's Jay Summer - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Stellar's Jay Summer" Colored Pencil

Perched within a coniferous forest, a solitary Stellar's Jay contemplates its familiar surroundings. Unassuming and reticent near home, this intelligent bird takes on a much different public persona.

When on the quest for food, it reveals itself by squawking boisterously. Now bold and confident, the Stellar's Jay will bully the smaller birds away from its favorite feeding areas.

This bird can become one of the forest's more raucous, year-round residents. While hiking through its territory, I've often found myself on the receiving end of an unprovoked scolding.

The Stellar’s Jay’s striking appearance reflects its obnoxious behavior. Its blue plumage is accented by dark bars of color, creating an interesting pattern on the wings and tail.

An unkempt tussle of feathers adorns the bird's head. From this distinct crest, a beautiful gradient of indigo blue blends down through the crown and chest into the cerulean coloring of the body.

This Rocky Mountain native shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range. The jays in our foothills are distinguished by white facial steaks that define the black eyes and beak.

Stellar's Jays have found their niche in the Subalpine zone between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. I frequently see them in the trees on Bergen Peak, especially in the transition area where forest meets meadow.

These birds symbolize intelligence and because it is thought that they mate for life, fidelity. Christian tradition also uses the bird to symbolize the human soul representing joy and goodness.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Noble Meadow Barn - A Resilient Landmark

Noble Meadow Barn

Constructed in a narrow gulch, the Noble Meadow Barn is a long-standing structure built to withstand the elements. The resilient landmark is a rustic reminder of the past that’s frequented today by various wildlife.

The exquisite architecture is erected from local timber, blending peacefully into the mountain environment. The wood work harmonizes gracefully with the flowing meadow grasses and broken forest that seeks to reclaim it.

Taking the brunt of arriving storms, the western wall is in shambles from the force of heavy snow. Just like an old bull elk after the rut, the weather-beaten barn makes its lonely winter stand on a windswept hillside.

The humble stronghold is reminiscent of a battered warrior rising from the earth as he’s born with the strength to fight another day. Storms that descend into the slender valley are intense for sure but most of the time the sky is clear, wildflowers abound and bluebirds sing.

Situated on a golden ridge, the insignificant touch of humanity gets lost in the vast wilderness that overwhelms it. Upon careful observation though, the building becomes a compelling element anchoring an iconic expression of the Evergreen landscape.

A long-standing structure

Built to withstand the elements

A resilient landmark

A rustic reminder of the past

Frequented by wildlife

Blending into the mountain environment

Harmonizes with the meadow grasses

Taking the brunt of arriving storms

The western wall is in shambles

The weather-beaten barn

A lonely winter stand

A humble stronghold

The storms are intense

Wildflowers abound

Bluebirds sing

Situated on a golden ridge

Lost in a vast wilderness

An iconic expression of the Evergreen landscape