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Two Ways to See a Haven MAG
When I was five, Rainbow Trout Lake inAntonito, Colorado was my haven. With an airy lodge snuggled into theRockies, it was as close to home as I had ever felt when far from thesmokestacks and confusion of San Antonio. Although I only visited fortwo weeks, I clung to the memory as I did to my kindergarten name-tag,considering it a piece of my identity.
Foremost in myfive-year-old memories was a Siberian elm easily 120 feet tall; I recallhoisting myself among its sprawling limbs and blood-red leaves,clambering atop its soot-black trunk, and gazing across the expanse ofnature’s majesty spread before me. I imagined myself an astronautfloating in a new world, treating the elm as my spaceship and the landbefore me a moon.
Tucked among the tree’s roots was a holebarely large enough for the eye to detect. A pleasant aroma radiatedfrom it, bewitching my sense of smell as well as my imagination. I spenthours fantasizing about the wonders it held, locked away within theEarth. Past the hole where the shadow of the elm ended, the surface of acrystalline lake emerged, stretching into the horizon until it meltedinto the mountainous backdrop. All species of fish danced beneath thewater: speckled dace, orange throat darters, and one flying fish thaterupted from the placid surface and glided a full 20 meters beforeplunging back into the depths.
Even the memory of activitiesremained with me, especially one bull-wrangling competition for whichchildren were released into a football-field sized pen and ordered tosnatch a ribbon from the tail of a calf. I pounced upon the animal androde it like a pony. After being shaken off countless times, I finallyfelt the ribbon in my hand, the wind playing through my hair, and joy inmy heart.
I remember the paths, the log cabins, and themountains, slumbering giants with snow-capped hair. I remember thefreedom of sweatpants and t-shirts, the caress of mountain air flowingover my skin. These facets were what made Antonito my home when I wasfive; they and the sense of adventure and exhilaration had incorporatedRainbow Trout Lake into my identity.
But then came a day when Ireturned, a full six years older, when the beauty and excitementhighlighted by nature’s grace and my own sense of fancy ceased tospeak to me, and I walked through the same woods and mountains without atouch of joy in my heart. All the adventure, innocence, and mystique hadfled.
During my second visit, I again hurried through the woodstoward the Siberian elm. When I reached it, I expected my friends, Brianand Adam, to throw themselves to the ground in adoration, but they didno such thing. Dressed in the battle gear of teen culture, with cellphones and Gameboys, they simply rolled their eyes. Bewildered, I, too,did not feel the same sense of attraction toward the elm: it was as ifthe boughs were somehow lower, the trunk less like a spaceship, thewhole thing more like a tree.
Our reaction to the hole wassimilar: Brian dubbed it a rat’s nest, and Adam and I agreed thatthe stench issuing from its cavity could only be feces. After clompingthrough the elm’s shadow and finding the lake, we occupiedourselves by hurling stones at fish, cackling as they dartedaway.
That week I did not participate in the bull-wranglingcontest. Brian, Adam, and I decided it was too “kiddy” andthat we would benefit more from hiding out on the rocks above the pen,jeering at those who jostled for the ribbon. Although I protested atfirst, with all my fond memories of the event, as I looked at my friendsand then at the ground, 20 feet below us, I realized that jumping wouldbe a long fall - not only from the rocks.
My final memory of myvisit with Brian and Adam was of a 20-pound rainbow trout, for which thelake was named, that hung over a fireplace. I recalled my five-year-oldself standing in front of that fireplace, watching the firelight makethe trout’s scales dance before my eyes. Then, it was amagnificent emblem symbolizing my joyful experiences at Rainbow TroutLake; six years later, it was simply a dead fish with tarnished scaleshanging over a pile of wet logs.
Despite the superficialsimilarities - the paths, the log cabins, the mountains - this Antonito,Colorado - was not the same. No, all the majesty and life haddisappeared from the lake and its surroundings. My sweatpants andt-shirts had been replaced by white polos and rigid jeans; the feelingof the cool mountain air turned to the perpetual scratching of longsleeves.
Ever since those days, I have pitied the maturing teen.To them, what is the Siberian elm but something “kiddy” tobe ignored? To me, what were the simple delights of childhood butsymbols of immaturity? What I had found so wonderful and magnificentwhen I was five now appeared pointless and juvenile. It was the need forconformity, the need to mature and be like my best friends that changedthese objects and transformed me from wrangler to heckler. It is thissame need that forced me to throw away my kindergarten name-tag and theidentity attached to it. For the maturing teen, it is the craving forconformity that destroys life’s most innocent and delightfulpleasures, and don’t we ever wonder if we gain or lose more fromgrowing up?