Finding Beauty Along the Way

On the two-and-a-half hour trip home from a book signing Denver's Tattered Cover Bookstore, my fifth signing in the previous ten days, I was exhausted and eager to just get home–the sooner the better. But by the time we topped 10,000-foot elevation Kenosha Pass, the first of the three mountain passes we cross on our way home from Denver, I remembered something worth pausing for.

"Let's stop to see if the fringed gentians are still there," I said.

"Okay," said my husband, Richard.

 I sat up straight as we sped down the pass into the wide expanse of South Park, a bowl-shaped basin surrounded by peaks, scanning the short-grass prairie intently. The low turf was turning straw-gold with autumn already, shot through with wide bands of sedges in bronze over copper wherever creeks cut through. But I was searching for another color, a shade of blue so deep it was almost purple, a hue so intense it is rare and not easily forgotten.

GentianpasturePast the tiny town of Jefferson, I spotted what I was looking for.

"There!" I pointed into the grassland east of the highway.

Richard braked and turned off on a gravel county road to park. I grabbed my camera as I got out of the car, shrugging into my pile vest as I dashed across the two-lane highway, scrambled down the steep road verge, and trotted through the rough grasses next to the three-strand barbed-wire fence.

When I drew about even with the patches of blue in the grassland, I looked for a gap under the bottom wire and tucked myself up small the way I've often watched pronghorn do and scooted under the fence.

I straightened up on the other side and picked my way over to the nearest clump of flowers. Then I squatted for a closer look. Each plant was no more than a foot tall, but bursting with blossoms shaped like narrow bottles, that is if a bottle could open into five silky and fringed petals, each the size of my thumbnail, at its neck.

GentiansWhat had me breathless though was their color, a shade so intense that it seemed to vibrate in the gray light misted with passing rain showers. Richard came up behind me and I leaned back against him, just breathing in the smell of the damp soil, the feel of rain hinting at snow, the grasses gone gold–and the miracle of these impossibly blue fringed gentians opening their blossoms just as all other life was shutting down in anticipation of another harsh high-country winter. As traffic whooshed by on the highway, I stood still, feeling Richard's heartbeat against my back and absorbing the transitory beauty of flowers only days away from the first killing frost.

We lingered for a few more minutes, and then turned and picked our way across the grassland, through the fence, and back up the road verge to the car. As we drove on home, the rare blue of those fringed gentians lingered in my mind's eye, reminding me of the blessings to be found when we take the time to stop along the way. Those are the nuggets from which I craft my stories, the seeds which sprout into understanding and wisdom worth sharing.

This particular nugget reminded me that the old saying is true: Life really is about the journey, not just the destination.

6 responses to “Finding Beauty Along the Way

  1. What a beautiful way to start the day! It’s encouraging to know that those beautiful wildflowers thrive in spite of the difficult times we’re experiencing now. Posies are apolitical but I hope they’re a sign of things to come.

  2. Thanks, Beverly. One of the wonderful things about being aware of what is happening in nature is that it offers so much hope and so many wonderful lessons to help us through tough times. Those fringed gentians remind me of how resilient the world is, and that gives me a great deal of hope that we humans will figure out a way to muddle through.

  3. Susan, this so reminds me of that wonderful poem, “A Blessing” by James Wright. ( The last line always hits me squarely in the solar plexus, which is where your story got me when you spoke about leaning against Bill and feeling his heartbeat against your back. Beautiful, just as the flowers are. Thanks for sharing. — js

  4. I love “A Blessing,” and haven’t read it in years! Thanks for reminding me, Johnett. It’s the small moments like that one that give me some of the best material for writing. I think that’s true for us all. Finding the universal in our experiences is so much of what writing our lives is about.

  5. Hello Susan: In reading this, I was struck not only by the beauty of the journey, but of the steady presence of your companion on the journey–driving you to your destination, agreeing to stop where your heartstrings pull you, following you down into your valley of wonder, and backing you up as you stood in awe. His presence was subtle, yet powerful, in your story. I’m glad that you were able to show the him in your her-story! Thanks to both of you for opening this window of beauty for us. In peace, Zaynab

  6. Hi, Zaynab, Thanks for noticing the way I sketched the character of my husband without having to say how supportive and generous he is. One of the most powerful ways to reveal a character in writing is to show who they are through their actions. That’s the “show, not tell” rule that writing workshops often talk about. And yes, I am fortunate to have as my life’s companion someone so strong that he can be generous and gentle. His presence in my life is a beautiful gift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s