The first movement of my symphony was inspired by an experience I once had looking at the side of a mountain on a jeep trip. I later thought of the experience as analogous to the insight process:
– One experiences something extraordinary and tries to describe it.
– One gets involved in the details of the event or object.
– After a period of immersion in the details, one steps back, and the event or object makes itself known in a new way. Insight.
The jeep trip came about because I happened to be hitch-hiking across the San Juan Mountains on the Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Ouray, when my parents happened to be traveling the same route. They had no idea I would be in Colorado at that time, so initially they passed me by, but then came back and gave me a ride. I spent two days camping with them and they took me on this jeep ride out of Ouray, Colorado. Here is a description of that ride from my story, “Crazy Concert” which is part of my Isla Vista, 1970 series:
The San Juans are newer mountains than the rest of the Rockies, but not as new as the Sierras. They have the steep dramatic rock formations of the Sierras, but also the broad sweep that is characteristic of the Rockies. Ouray is an old mining town, nestled into the foot of the mountains so there was very little time between leaving the town and being on old mining roads. Most of the trip was gradually traversing diagonally up the side of one mountain while looking at the mountain on the other side of the valley.
Nature is climate specific, and altitude is a big part of climate. As we climbed the side of the mountain the flora gradually changed. Once we were out of the trees, I could locate the strata we were passing through on the other side, seeing it in the context of the strata above and below. As we ascended that context expanded. Because the slope was so steep, even halfway up the mountain, we were close enough to the opposite face that it filled my whole view. The bottom was out of sight; the top merged with the overcast sky, and as far as I could see from side to side was all one immense side of a mountain. As I looked from top to bottom, the ore-rich stones at the top with their oxidized colors gradually gave way to the greens climbing up from the bottom. Gravity and sunlight, each at work on its own medium, constantly tugging in opposite directions over millions of years to form this perfectly blended, intricately detailed scene: every irregularity, a hard outcrop, or slight crack, highlighted over time into ridges and crevasses of every magnitude, all V shaped by the constant that is gravity. I couldn’t take my eyes off that mountain. I felt the need to describe it, to name it, to praise it, to proclaim its majesty.
Near the top we pulled into one of those irregular formations; the site of an old mine. I was first drawn to the flowers, small, tiny. On my knees I could see there were more than I had thought. The colors were brilliant, all of those colors I didn’t know the names of, but my daughters now tell me. I began to notice among the rubble evidence of human presence: an old spoon, a segment of a rusted stove pipe, a bolt no longer holding its fragment to anything; all remnants of the industrial revolution made possible by this ore which had followed the same path as the rivulets down the mountain, along the streams and rivers to the port cities; smelt, molded into utilities, then like a virus, spread rapidly back up the trade routes to this mine with more efficient ways to extract the ore, spreading even to the small town of Ouray, named for the great Ute chief who had saved his people by negotiating with the white man, until the virus destroyed his people and his legacy.
Lost in thought I got back into the jeep making sure I would be on the view side. The experience on the way down was different. The mountain was the same, but I was different; my mind was silent. I let the mountain speak to me in its untranslatable language; communicate directly to my being, impress its form on me in its immediacy, unmediated by words or thought.