Photo credit: Linda Garrett

My husband and I hopped out of the car, excited to explore a stand of aspens, trees that outdoorsy friends had called magical. Because one root system connected the plants, each colony was a single organism. It gave the appearance of many where there was only one.

My pace slowed as I approached the grove; Ben wandered off ahead. White trunks, slender enough to embrace, flanked me. I leaned back and craned my neck for a view of the canopy. Round leaves quaked in the mountain breeze, pinpoints of green strobing against the blue sky.

Careful to avoid trampling ankle-high sprouts, I crept toward the center. As the edge of the stand disappeared, the roar of traffic diminished, and the faint tap of a woodpecker replaced my internal chatter. My sense of direction fell away, then my sense of me. Without others nearby for comparison, I was no longer Democrat or Republican, introvert or extrovert, clever or dull. Was my outfit stylish? My hair combed? In the absence of someone to call it, did I have a name? My palms were dusted with white powder rubbed from the aspen trunks. Rocked by the mountain breeze, I was an anonymous sapling springing from the common root.

We’d flown to Colorado so Ben could officiate at a wedding in Durango. The groom put us up in a house that belonged to friends––photographers vacationing overseas. The couple had built their home at the end of a winding dirt road on the outskirts of town. Designed it with expansive windows in every room, sweeps of glass that commanded views of high desert. Off the kitchen, they’d added a deck and installed bird feeders, where hummingbirds sipped nectar alongside human coffee drinkers. A garden beyond that, fenced in for protection from deer. Beyond that, the plateaus gave way to the San Juan Mountains.

Image by 5460160 from Pixabay 

At first I savored those views, but by the third day, little irritations filtered into my chitchat. “With all their money,” I said to Ben, “you’d think they could afford curtains.”

No matter where I planted myself, the great outdoors threatened to devour me. I wanted solid walls, with nature kept at bay.

I thought the bathroom offered sanctuary, but noticed a window near the ceiling, facing the toilet. A blue jay perched on the sill.

I stormed into the bedroom where Ben was napping. “This house has boundary issues.”

A closet served as my dressing room––not a walk-in, but a storage space lined with shelves. In there among the sheets, I cracked my elbow and stubbed my toes whenever I squeezed into my jeans.

“What are you doing?” Ben asked.

“Not stripping down in front of that.” I pointed to the bedroom’s floor-to-ceiling window and the walkway on the other side of it, which wrapped around the house.

“There’s nobody out there.”

“It’s looking at me.”

“What is?”


I was lost in it. I longed to reclaim my self-importance.


Back home, during group meditation, my visual perception shifted. As our sangha settled into the silence, our edges blurred. The circle of individuals coalesced into a single organism. Chests rose and fell on a common breath—a stand of aspens shivering in a mountain breeze.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes to incite compassion. Whether she’s challenged by Mother Nature or the nature of her wild mind, she hopes readers will recognize themselves in her stories—and then lovingly accept their own wild minds. Downey is the author of Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room; Searching for My Heart: Essays about Love; From Dawn to Daylight: Essays; and Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over My Principles on the Road to Transformation. Learn more at