My favorite moments in life are those of serendipity. You know the ones--where you've carefully made plans & life surprises you with what seems like a miracle that you weren't expecting (& didn't even quite know you needed!). Such was my experience recently when I traveled to Canon City, Colorado with my family for a bike ride along the "Riverwalk", a groomed trail beside the Arkansas River. What's not to love? After an exceptionally rainy year, this warm day in mid-July was the first time in ages we'd seen the sun come out (talk about cabin fever!). We were all itching to be outdoors, and a bike ride along the swollen river seemed like the perfect day trip. Indeed, the nearby Centennial Park was filled with families picnicking, playing games & making ice cream, and a gentle mood of relief that summer had finally arrived seemed to linger over everyone like the sweet melody of an old favorite song. Yet to my surprise, after we biked a few miles beside the river, the trail abruptly ended at the railroad tracks with a large yellow barricade & a warning sign against trespassing. To my right, however, was a steep path ascending up a craggy mountain & another sign that read "Tunnel Trail." It appeared rocky & forebidding, but in the back of my mind I recalled hearing about this trail that had 3 tunnels blasted out of granite, which I thought my boys might be thrilled to see. So even though we were quite hot & pestered by flies near the river bank, something in me just HAD to go up that trail, despite the initial whining of my children...
What I discovered was the most gorgeous bike path I've ever seen. Soon, we were awestruck by the spectacular vista of the Arkansas River & surrounding wilderness that followed the Royal Gorge Railroad tracks, as well as delighted to pedal through old tunnels that had been dynamited a century ago for mining. Naturally, my children made wolf howls & choo-choo train sounds each time we entered a tunnel's depths, gleefully listening to their echoes. (I was secretly glad there were no bats. ; )
Now, bear in mind that I'm a middle-aged chick who's terrible at bike riding. Terrible at most sports, really--but of course, I fake it for my children so they'll grow up "adventurous" & enjoy the outdoors. Nevertheless, when the exceptional beauty of nature whispers to me, there's just something that takes over my spirit, despite my meager athletic gifts. I have to keep going, even though my lungs strain & muscles groan. So for the first time in my life, I found myself pedaling with such wonder & exhilaration that I surprised myself, eager to see the next bend, the next vista, each one a revelation for the eyes. For all intents & purposes, I became a pretty good biker! Not about to win any races, but thoroughly enjoying myself, and I marveled that I'd somehow managed to negotiate this sport rather late in life.
And that's when I saw them...
Cactus roses & blossoms of extraordinary color, rooted in the most prickly of desert plants.
Vivid Indian Paintbrush, whose scarlet petals covered several high meadows in a sea of red.
Wild roses displaying delicate, paper white blossoms, with lush green leaves regardless of the desert ecozone & Rocky Mountain altitude.
Geraniums that littered hillsides & every rocky crevice, waving their bright petals like flags.
Even the rare Coyote Melon below, found only in western, arid areas like the Mojave Desert, Baja & Joshua Tree, happen to grow in the wilderness near Canon City as well. They've been enjoyed as far back in evolution by such creatures as the Mastadon (scientists have discovered remnants of their DNA in animals' intestines). But their fruit is incredibly bitter, so Native Americans tribes simply roasted & ate the melon seeds.
But the one that really took my breath away is the Indian Blanket Sunflower below (which I featured at the top of this post). This wildflower bursts with rich hues, yet always grows out of the worst dusty soil imaginable.
Everywhere I looked on this trek were blossoms of staggering color & design, overwhelmingly lovely, and each one a late bloomer. You would have thought it was April for all of the flora that surrounded us, yet it was JULY! And how these sumptuous wildflowers persist in spite of wind, heat, altitude & soil that looks more like gravel boggles the mind. It's as though Nature was holding her own quiet celebration that day for those who persist, strive, and dare to thrive. If you've ever read any of my posts, then you know how excited I always get about wildflowers, but here in the high Southwestern desert, these exquisite blossoms whispered something unique:
Sometimes late bloomers can be the best of all.
These are the ones for whom life hasn't been easy. Every force of nature & trick of environment has conspired against them. Yet these factors have only caused their colors to become that much more rich. And naturally, I couldn't help taking a little solace for my own journey in the stories of endurance that these wildflowers tell. Like many of you, I was never the shiny young thing in high school or college--I'm the kind of person who took years to unlock her passions & find her way through the maze of life, coming into her own only after hard work & her fair share of setbacks. In a culture that worships glittering youth & overnight internet millionaires, people like me often feel lost in the electronic shuffle of social media & relentless, surround-sound boasts of success junkies.
Yet how could I not look upon this unsought moment of serendipity as surely a pinnacle of life? I'm healthy, my family's happy, and Nature was putting on a show for us that rivaled Fourth of July fireworks, if we were only willing to stop long enough to truly look. So as you continue on your own journey, I'd like to encourage you to pause for the quiet stories you see all around you of endurance & tenacity, along with the rich rewards of those that are the sometimes the slowest to bloom. The road is worth it...so worth it...no matter how long it takes. Though our paths are full of unpredictable twists & turns, and few have a smooth trail to the kind of fame or success we see peddled in media, these late bloomers can remind us that the unexpected does exist...
And often, their hard-won beauty is the brightest miracle of all.
"It's never too late to be what you might have been."
(Pen name of nineteenth-century English novelist Mary Anne Evans,
one of the greatest writers of the Victoria era. Her first novel was published
at age 40, and she had to use a male author name to be taken seriously.)
Allow the journey carry you to who you've always wanted to be...
Allow the journey carry you to who you've always wanted to be...