Birds, Cats, and Dogs

Joe Grant writes about how time in nature can restore his sense of equilibrium and calm.

By on October 23, 2018 | Comments

I stop in my tracks, distracted by a flutter of feathers in the periphery of my left eye. I crouch down on the trail, grabbing dog’s collar to mute the sound of her bell. We observe in silence the majestic bird perched on the branch of a burnt tree. Its brown-ish, dark, copper-toned plumage contrasts with the blackened limbs of the dead aspen. From this perspective it looks huge, big enough it seems to pluck an unassuming mutt straight from the meadow. That would be highly improbable, of course, but speaks to the size of the specimen.

A golden eagle, perhaps? I’ve seen them around here before, but always soaring high in the sky.

We inch our way quietly toward the bird in an attempt to get a closer look. It doesn’t linger long though, pushing off into thin air, a blaze of red in tail. A hawk. Each flap of its wings is heavy, slow, rhythmic. The tempo resembles that of the labored breathing of a distance runner, but completely effortless–a lofty display of the art of flight. I marvel at this sublime exhibition of mastery. One can only dream of such perfection of movement, of total attunement to the medium.

I resume my run, fixated on the fleeting image of the hawk in flight. I try to replicate such grace with my own footsteps, but come up short as my body interacts more crudely with the earth.  

It’s around dusk as I pass through town, the streets blanketed with the first snow of the season. Fall colors, splashes of green, yellow, and red persist, but winter has come early this year. My breath condensates in the cool, evening air, resembling the smoky chimneys of residents’ cozy cabins.    

I wonder if I have enough time to punch it up to the lookout to catch the last rays of sun on the Continental Divide. I quicken the pace to keep my own furnace aflame. I plunge step down the steep trail, covered in just enough snow to soften the blow of the ankle-biting rocks. Dog speeds up ahead playfully, her muzzle cutting through the trackless powder like a blade.  

As the grade steepens, the footing becomes more tenuous and I slow to a hike. Just as I thought we were alone, I notice a track emerging from the woods that intersects our own.     

I pause to inspect, curious as to what animal had came through here before us. I can’t distinguish any footprints. The imprint in the snow is that of a sinewy luge run, suggesting the animal moves close to the ground. As I round the corner, the prints become more distinct and are unmistakably those of a lion.

My gaze follows the cat’s line in the snow as I picture it in my mind moving swiftly and powerfully in its element. If the image of the hawk in flight depicts aerial perfection, then the lion represents its terrestrial counterpart.

As I reach the lookout, a faint bluish tint illuminates the rugged ridgeline of the Indian Peaks–a final brushstroke of color on the horizon before nightfall.

I feel the busyness and turmoil of this past month of travel, racing, and being sick gradually dissolving. My equilibrium was off and I was at loss as to how to restore it. In this moment though, I’m reminded of the power of simply moving on foot, of just running for myself, allowing space for quiet contemplation. I need more of these runs, the untethered ones, where I roam without a worry in the world, watching the birds, the cats, and the dogs move and play freely.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you found that the rhythm of the natural world can help restore your body’s rhythm when you feel a bit out of sync?
  • What elements of the natural world can you feel your body and mind align with?
  • Are there parts of nature which seem to beat at a rhythm that doesn’t match your own?

All photos: Joe Grant

Joe Grant
Joe Grant frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.