Fall Issue 2022
Autumn in the Rockies by Carmel Mawle
I’m crouching in worn leather boots and jeans on a lichen covered boulder in an aspen grove. A lodgepole spreads its dark green branches above me, but this little spot at the base of the ravine is dominated by aspens. Their root system permeates our 2.5-acre parcel and the wild land that borders us, their smooth white trunks marked with black eyes and crowned with tremulous viridescent and golden leaves.
Below the ravine, just beyond the remnants of 19th century enterprise—the stone foundation and notched log structure where loggers rolled the stripped giants onto wagons, and the trail that still bears the depressions of their heavy wheels—Panhandle creek winds along the valley floor. Back then, the creek was a wide and deep river, capable of floating logjams to lower elevations. Now, tamed by beaver dams and the long dry summer, it meanders through orange and yellow willows, dark evergreens, and the bare gray skeletons of conifers that succumbed to past beaver ponds. A gust of wind rustles through the trees and an aspen leaf flutters to my knee, a gift of gold. The leaves rattle and glitter against the gray sky.
We hoped for rain today. While I heard a few drops fall through my leafy canopy, they weren’t nearly enough. Over the ridge, the Cameron Peak fire rages. A growing roar drowns out the call of the Steller’s Jay as a tanker flies over to drop a load of retardant—the third today. Day and night, courageous pilots and firefighters work to protect this grove and my home in it. Like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, they fight to hold back the impact of global warming.
Where I sit, in this aspen grove at the foot of a ravine, is a major thoroughfare. Moose and deer are common, as well as coyotes. Bears leave their scat and claw markings, mountain lions leave tracks in the snow, and we’re told that wolves have been spotted in the area. We were saddened to learn that three of them were killed after crossing the border into Wyoming.
Just this afternoon, since I settled on this rock, three chipmunks and a squirrel have skittered over to have a look at me. I reach into my pocket to scatter a few sunflower seeds. Sensing a presence behind me, I turn to find a rabbit watching from a stand of reddened holly and silvery-green mountain sage, his brown and gray coat already winter-plush.
A sprinkling of drops falls through the branches to land on the junipers and dried grasses. Wind gusts through the valley, stirring the leaves in the ravine, and the rain increases to a steady staccato. I move my camera under my flannel shirt and curl over my journal to protect its pages. The loamy smell of earth rises. Rain permeates my gray braid, trickling down my neck.
And I wonder, is there any sound lovelier than that of rain falling on a dry mountain?
Carmel Reid Mawle is the founder of Writing for Peace, and serves as president of the Board of Directors. Carmel lives in Colorado, where she and her family enjoy hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park. She is a member of the Denver Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she is focusing on completing her first novel.
Mawle has an English Literature Degree from the University of Washington, and a varied career that includes piano instruction, as well as operating a martial arts school, teaching women’s self-defense, child safety awareness, and traditional Hayashi-Ha Shito Ryu Karate. She served as executive director of a youth orchestra, and as president of a chamber music organization.
Mawle is a nominee of the Pushcart Prize for her short story, The Calisia. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly Review, Contemporary World Literature, SPACES Literary Magazine, Rocky Mountain Scribe Anthology, and is forthcoming in KNOT Literary Magazine.