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.
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.”
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.