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Chasing the Wild

Matt Sandin  // JUL. 19, 2021

6 min read
6 min read

Matt Sandin  // JUL. 19, 2021

"I was becoming more aware of the healing powers of nature, when I reveled in the fresh air my mind was forced to sit still and recognize just how miraculous life is."

The Sagebrush Sofa

The stress sat upon my shoulders as I shuffled past sagebrush; this was until I found my place of refuge. As I settled into the dusty cushion beneath, my eyes drifted towards the sunlit mesas ahead. At that moment, whatever fabricated burden I was carrying seemed to melt away with the evening light. My racing heart began to settle with every breath of fresh air. This same air blew away the façade of uncertainty that defined my stress. It was as if the barren landscape had sensed my affliction. I was becoming more aware of the healing powers of nature, when I reveled in the fresh air my mind was forced to sit still and recognize just how miraculous life is. Whatever the catalyst was, it kept propelling my pilgrimage to the dusty, old couch. The couch was an oddity, the drab colors blended into the environment, an environment that should not host a sofa. However, the couch played one important role, it invited the passerby to stop for a moment. Whenever I did accept this invitation, it was as if time stopped with my footsteps. My senses were acutely aware of the natural orchestra around me. The orchestra was always playing; I was just often too engrossed in mankind’s mechanics to notice it. This sense of settling into my environment was ecstasy. So much so that when my departure from the weathered couch drew near, I knew that I must capture this newfound connection with nature.
As I departed Rangely, Colorado, I left behind the sun-beaten sofa, but lessons I learned in the sagebrush steppe remained in my soul. With every revelation that happened in Rangely, came with it a question. And with such inquisition came an inner demand to seek out the nature that had ignited such wonder and awe. My transition away from Rangely meant that my seat of refuge was now mobile; both literally and figuratively. I was now the captain of a 1975 Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter. More importantly, I was a voyager who knew that nature was not confined to a place. Rather nature is the breath of existence and the framework of our reality. This very principle is what led me to the road.

Revelations on the Road

I naively, or brilliantly depending on who you ask, turned down several lucrative jobs and began my voyage. The driving force behind this decision was that I swore to seek the natural world, firsthand. With no real plan or expectations in mind, other than a desire to understand Colorado’s landscape better, I decided to head South. I suppose I always had an infatuation with the slower side of life. With top speeds of 55mph, I was certain to notice the nuances that define the Colorado landscape. While traveling along the one-lane highway, I often gazed into the meadows. A collage of wildflowers seemed to paint every roadside. I was baffled that I never saw this hidden beauty before, but ultimately jubilant to see my new mindset in fruition. While my newly keen senses spotted grazing deer and avian overhead, the Collegiate Peaks served as my compass. I was longing to spend time in the mountains before the fall frost came. Personally, I was never opposed to the cold, but now I was bound by the limitations of 1970’s engineering. In retrospect, these constraints are primarily what set the structure for my journey. I never saw them as anything restrictive or negative though; rather, they encouraged me to slow down and experience the environment.
Underneath the Collegiate Peaks, I found refuge by the Arkansas River. After a morning of connecting with the road’s natural inhabitants, I was in some sort of trance. The river’s melody was alluring to my hypnotized mind. The persistent rippling ensured that nature was the theme of my cognition for the moment. As this river became embedded into my stream of consciousness, I began actualizing how valuable this piece of the river is. Without this segment, valuable snowpack would not be distributed, and surely the whole ecosystem would be different. The diatoms would disappear, as would the trout, and just saying that is a poor representation of how drastic the changes would be. If this were the case my several next meals would look awfully different. I suppose this would be the situation for all my new neighbors. The inevitable link between organisms and their ecosystem was a concept this river helped me understand. Even in my domesticated state, I relied on the river to quench my thirst and provide tranquility. Now I cannot even fathom how deeply the Arkansas River Valley locals revere this waterway. I like to imagine the fauna approaching the river in a state of nirvana while the riparian flora gracefully watches over the valley. This water positioned the landscape in a place of equilibrium. Such balance was dependent on a magnitude of factors that I could barely comprehend. This moment was the product of many marvels and mysteries.
Following several days of awe and learning the habits of the local brown trout, I woke up to a frost. The type of cold that keeps you horizontal no matter how much light peeks through. Eventually, an internal beckoning for breakfast forced me to embrace the elements. After much dispute, the reality was more pleasant than I had villainized it to be. There was a sharp chill that numbed my skin, but this freeze made me realize just how human I was. Human, of the genus Homo, order Primate, class Mammalia, kingdom Animalia, domain Eukarya. I was intimately related to everything around me. The natural world I was seeking was a piece of me, always. This revelation reminded me how synthetic distractions hinder the beauty of every day. Such beauty is composed of the likeness and diversity that compose the natural world.
Driven by this marvel, I decided to cross over Monarch Pass before the cold nights became a theme. As I climbed in elevation the once grassy landscape was now dominated by golden aspen leaves. This golden glimmer would not exist without the long, chilly nights. Another reason to see that morning’s cold war as a thing of beauty. As I ascended, the icy air found its way through the permeable floorboard. With anesthetized phalanges, I found refuge in a cup of tea. As the warmth settled into my body so did a sense of wonder. I was simply perplexed by the drastic change of landscape. I had traveled no greater than 40 miles, but it was as if I had been teleported to a new world. Green (and unfortunately brown) conifers offset the golden glow of the aspen groves. I was no longer gazing into the mountains ahead, rather I was a piece of them now. This realization was warmer than any material supplement.
As my body and soul thawed, the cold air became damp, this was my sign to summit Monarch Pass. I had to have only been a handful of miles from the summit when the frigid sky became speckled with snowflakes. Within moments of noticing these first flakes, the landscape became that of a snow globe. I could not help but empathize with my roadside companions that were experiencing this freeze firsthand. I suppose such drastic shifts in the weather define the mountains, something I later experienced many times. Nevertheless, I was eager to summit. Reaching the top of a mountain pass, especially in foul weather, is always a monumental moment. It helps provide perspective of just how wild the world really is. Even powered by gasoline, an effort was put forth to “conquer” the climb. Such realization was humbling, and with it a greater revere for the mountains arose.
After much concentration, I finally did reach the summit, or so I thought. The once radiant landscape, now monochromatic, was blanketed by autumn snow. I never had visual confirmation that I reached the summit. I only realized I was heading downhill because of a shift in equilibrium. What a marvel it is that we have been blessed with an array of senses. These very senses are what allow us to connect and experience the world around us. It is almost as if the natural world is begging to be noticed, valued, and protected. She proclaims, “I am here, and I have been here, before your yesterdays and beyond your tomorrows.” This same voice resonates through my consciousness. In fact, that voice has only gotten louder, or rather I am more attuned to her melody.
"I am here, and I have been here, before your yesterdays and beyond your tomorrows."
Led by yet another ecologically induced revelation, I descended into the Gunnison Basin. I suppose it would be ignorant to ignore the fact that the slippery road shifted my mindset. I was no longer seeking adventure, instead I was embedded into the dangers of itself. I was one with the landscape. I had romanticized this moment insistently prior.
Even when the pavement became bare and the colors reemerged, my cautious heart remained still. I was becoming more aware of just how complex my home was. Nothing about this world was static. Our home, this biosphere, was the sum of an indescribable number of organisms reacting and responding to one another. Every moment is filled with harmonious chaos. And this made me feel alive, along with the perils of passage now behind me.
"Our home, this biosphere, was the sum of an indescribable number of organisms reacting and responding to one another. Every moment is filled with harmonious chaos."

The Valley of Stillness

The road guided me towards a familiar sagebrush mosaic. It was as if the snowy voyage was an illusion, a reminder to acknowledge the inherent beauties and dangers of life. The world chose to guide me into the clouds to speak truth into my soul. The result of such awe exceeds my understanding. What I do know is that I entered the sagebrush with a different perspective. I was no longer seeking a spot to unload my stresses onto. Instead, I was captivated by interconnectivity of life; such marvel left no room to veil despair. This awe only grew with every interaction with nature. Marvel was the fabric of nature’s existence. I suppose I surrendered an aspect of novelty and gained a familiarity with nature. Or so I thought.
"The world chose to guide me into the clouds to speak truth into my soul."
As this journey continued, my theory of familiarity seemed to unravel. A new layer of enigma came with every interaction I had with my home, the biosphere. It seemed that the more I interacted with nature the more complex the picture became. It is both a relief and a virtue to understand that with knowledge comes novelty. A more naïve version of myself would suspect that my next place of dwelling would be much like my previous. After all, they were both by a river in the foothills. However, nature was keen on showing me just how complex she really was, and at this point in my journey I was set on learning from her. As I settled into my new site along the Gunnison River, I could not help but notice the curious red squirrel tracking my every move. I imagine this squirrel was just baffled that someone was interrupting his evening leisure. I had not even considered my impact on the routine of my neighbors at the Arkansas River. I can only imagine the surprise of the first deer that cleared through the sagebrush and was greeted by a metal box rather than her watering hole. I suppose I left an impact upon whoever’s land I traveled into. Surely, the land spoke into my soul; however, I could not help but to think I was not paying my dues to the Earth.
"It seemed that the more I interacted with nature the more complex the picture became."
I vowed to humbly accept the truth that I was dependent upon the landscape, not the inverse. I was reliant upon the land for my every breath. Oxygen fills my lungs and revitalizes my body while nature’s song speaks its breath into my soul. The wildness that lives inside me urges me to reconnect to its roots. The internal beckoning is what fueled such a voyage, and with it came revelation and hope. Nature is desperate to speak into the souls of those who listen. I hope that my heart remains eager to hear her call and respond. I awoke to the sounds of distant coyote yaps that night. A simple reminder that nature was alive and alert even when I was away.
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