There comes a time in the summer when everything goes from a natural order to a bit of chaos at my elevation. Chaos is a strong word, I know, but I’m referring to the plants in my garden.
We live at 7,400 feet and everything at this elevation seems a bit wilder and more unkempt. The temperature in the mountains is generally cooler, the wind is stronger, the snow lasts longer, and my gardens grow more slowly and bloom much later in spring.
When my perennials had finally begun to bud, this summer, the small sprouts and green leaves made me hopeful for the flowers I envisioned as the summer unfolded. Weeks of watering and sunshine and warmer temperatures brought everything into bloom. There were evenings when I just stood and gazed at the palette of colors, flowers painted on a 3D watercolor canvas, right in my backyard. It was exquisite and stunning and fleeting all at once.
And then I was away for a bit, and it rained more than usual in July, and it grew hotter, even in the mountains. And somehow the plants in my garden became massive and gangly, their tendrils spilling over the retaining wall, colors now pouring onto one another, satisfied and saturated, and yes, a bit wild and unkempt.
As August spills in front of me, I feel a bit wilder and more unkempt as well. I spent three weeks in Alaska this summer working as a public information officer for a fire on the Kenai Peninsula. I had an opportunity to work with an amazing team. Long work hours and constant daylight made it difficult to keep track of time. One day blended into the next, giving the summer a seemingly timeless feeling. I noticed that each day, I felt a little more in tune with the daylight and a little less concerned about appearances.
Camping and sleeping in a tent can do that. I’d wake up each morning and throw my hair into a ponytail, dress for a day of being outdoors and traveling from town to town—focused more on the work and purpose and less on myself. I loved meeting people of all ages and experiences, visitors and residents, spending time in Alaska in the summer. Many were curious and concerned about the fire that was burning near the Sterling Highway and pushing smoke into towns and communities nearby. The smoke often hid the magnificent views and landscape from those who knew what was there and also from those who hoped to catch a glimpse of this part of Alaska before they left.
As time passed the air quality improved. The fire was managed closer to town and pushed its way up north and east into more remote wilderness. Eventually, it rained a bit. Even the landscape here wasn’t static. It was just a matter of time before things changed and nature moved the focus from firefighting to mop-up, weeks and weeks after this wildland fire had first begun from a lightning strike.
I arrived back home, tired and satisfied, and noticed how summer had progressed without me. The grasses were tall and brown, the plants spilled over their pots, and the colors had changed from a light green to a dense earthy tone— watercolor to oils— deeper and richer and filled with the time it took to grow.
In a way, the summer hadn’t progressed without me. It had progressed all around me. I came home feeling a bit more “seasoned” and grateful, and also filled with the time it took to grow.
Living at elevation intensifies everything. Every season seems to be magnified and filled with its own kind of crazy beauty. And the weather seems to drive much of this. As summer peaks, the plants in my garden seem to mimic my own rhythm and feelings. During long, hot days, the plants seem to grow in a frenzy, with desire and purpose, soaking in the light, the heat, creating their own claim on the land before the days grow short and the growing season ends. For me, my growing season means spending time outdoors, learning something new, and taking time to soak in these fleeting summer days.
As August spills over the last weeks of summer, are you feeling a bit wilder and more unkempt? If you are, I hope it is because you’ve immersed yourself in something new or have had a chance to spend time outdoors taking in the light and perhaps too, have worried less about appearances. If, however, you are feeling frazzled from too much work or too much time with family and friends (or not enough), or you find yourself still moving at a fast pace, I encourage you to find some time to soak in the last days of summer and see what you discover.
It won’t be long before the days grow shorter and the light noticeably slips away a little earlier in the evenings. School will begin again, days will start to cool, and our focus will move inward and back to the things that hold our attention in autumn.
Early morning is one of my favorite times of day in summer, when the air is still a bit cool and only the birds can be heard from the back porch. I like to lean on the railing with my coffee and take in the stillness, follow the sun as it peaks over the horizon and watch the day unfold. It happens so quickly and soon the light changes, and my thoughts drift to what lies ahead.
As I gaze over at my gardens, a bit wilder and more unkempt, I am grateful for the colors spilling over into my life. They are great reminders of crazy beauty and the passage of time. There are so many lessons to learn at elevation, every elevation really, and so many things to notice and discover along the way.
Here’s to living at elevation, your elevated life, right where you are.