Natural beauty and quiet reflection can combine in a way that opens up all the channels of our minds and allows us to take in the world for what it truly is, a delicate, fragile paradise. It is like stepping out of the cave for the first time and opening one’s eyes to the vastness, fragility, and beauty of our world. In my most recent adventure, I have seen beauty beyond description. Not just beauty from the flowing colors and the richness of spectacle, but from the intuitive significance and quiet lessons absorbed by slowly basking and melting into a place.
The place is called Hanging Lake, a deeply secluded, lush mountain oasis near Glenwood Canyon in central Colorado. Only a few hundred people a day may walk the trail to this hallowed realm, for it is an easily disrupted ecosystem and heavily protected. It is a 3.2-mile hike with about a 1,200-foot elevation change so the trail is quite strenuous but well worth the pilgrimage.
This high, nestled lake is part of a tributary that feeds into the Colorado River. This elevated lake was formed by travertine deposits, a type of limestone, over millions of years. The particular mineral composition of the water gives it a crisp, clearness with layers of turquoises and greens. I’ve never experienced water quite like this. As the water flows, these vibrant colors melt into each other, dancing off of the shapes and mounds of the lake floor. You can’t help but be hypnotized by its splendor and allure. It has the illusion of being able to heal all of your ailments, if only you could touch it, bathe in it, taste of it. There in the afternoon sun, its illustrious majesty took ahold of me and filled me with all of the whimsical, magically thinking of being a child again.
I remember reading that places like this, secluded watering holes and flowing tributaries, were considered sacred among the Ute people and other Native Americans who lived in the area. Basking in the moment, closing my eyes and listening to the flowing water, I could completely understand why. It’s not even just a spiritual or religious thing. It’s pragmatic. It’s intuitive. Water is creation. Water is life. Fresh water especially is the fabric of our existence. The trickles, babblings, and roaring thunderous sounds of its movement are our holy songs. These songs are old and viscerally calming, and probably have been since the dawn of life itself.
There is a section of the tributary called Spouting Rock, just a few hundred feet from Hanging Lake. Here the mineral composition of the water has slowly eroded away the interior of the rocks. Water comes shooting out of holes in the rock itself, creating a series of waterfalls. You can walk directly up to and underneath these waterfalls. As I walked under the falls, taking in the whites, greens, and greys of the life caked on the rock walls underneath, droplets of water would hit me from the seeping rock above.
I had been recently watching a mini-series on microscopic life found in droplets of water. I have found that the complexity and behavior of life on that level are both wonderful and strangely familiar. It had opened my eyes to the micro-cosmos of life in a single drop of water. I was reminded of the richness of life in these drops as they were hitting me and it made me have a most unusual feeling. It suddenly altered my perspective. I began to see each droplet not as a simple drop of water, but as its own world, its on ecosystem of wonderfully complex life, living harmoniously in their own aquatic bubble, unknowing of the chaos of flowing water above.
Then I scaled back and imagined the waterfalls as spouting out entire worlds, ecosystems, galaxies of life. It was like being at the Pillars of Creation, like witnessing the birth of a million galaxies. I was reminded of the phrase “As Above, So Below” and it opened my eyes to the infinite expanse of our inner and outer world. It was a spiritually significant moment for me as I was bewildered by contemplating the infinite detail while simultaneously feeling the flow of the whole.
As I started to make my way back, I turned around for one last look at the falls. I was reminded that the plant life on the rockfaces and the plant life around the area can only live in that specific area. There is a reason the place is heavily protected. Any slight change to the environment could have a devastating impact on the ecosystem of the area. The plants that reside near the water are only found there. They require a constant flow of water in order to survive. I thought about how precious and amazing they were as I looked back at them.
I was reminded of how delicate and fragile this secluded, specialized ecosystem truly was. If that particular section of tributary’s water supply dried up, that would be it for the life there. The ecosystem would collapse. Just like that. This magnificent place of splendor and magic would be no more. I thought about that and then I thought about humanity and I realized that there is essentially no difference between these fragile plants and us. Our energy supplies including fresh water, the sun, and oxygen are neither automatic nor eternal. We are just as fragile and precious as those plants, clinging to life from the generous, flowing source of environmental energy.
Our environment is giving but it not without its vulnerabilities. It’s important to understand the delicate nature of our own existence. We cannot live without the things the environment provides for us and by that token, the environment should be treated as an extension of our own flesh and blood, for we are part of a grand phenomenon deserving of both our respect and care. This trip has given me much insight into our larger world and I harbor within me a greater appreciation and connection to everything else. It’s a marvelous world we inhabit. <3