July 4th, 2016
I have had the most surreal experience here in Phantom Canyon. I can hardly keep track of the days and time anymore it seems. In all actuality, it hasn’t really been much of a concern to me. Essentially it breaks down to, time when you can see and time when it’s dark. Such as it is, there are certain activities and duties I reserve for particular times of the day. In the early morning, I arise to the gentle glow of the morning sun creeping over the Colorado valley. The various birds begin their dawn ritual of chirping and squawking. The same damn squirrel comes up to my tent and begins angrily scolding me. I believe I have used a tree of his to construct a makeshift awning from tarp and clothesline. He is definitely different from the squirrels I am used to back home. This one is much smaller, juvenile looking in fact, and with coal-black fur.
When I first arrived, I scouted out two potential campsites. One had a large open space which would be more conducive for a family’s use. I decided on a location nestled between some trees. I set up my tent and began running rigging across a couple of branches. My tarp was thrown over the rigging and staked to the ground on the other side. From there, the free end was secured by running lines perpendicular to the ground, and at a 45 degree(ish) angle. I learned my lesson from my first week in Phantom Canyon. Having a reliable source of shade was essential to me this time. With my camp fairly well established, I took the time to explore the amazing scenery. During my stay here, I have seen hummingbirds darting around, exploring the multitude of wildflowers in bloom. In a portion of the stream farther downriver, there was a deeper pool where I saw several trout swimming through the clear water. As beautiful and exhilarating as the landscape was, I feel like my most memorable times were yet to come.
Shortly after my camp was set up, I made the short trek up the rocky trail and got back in my car. With windows rolled down, radio turned up, I began my short drive to Canon City. The roads snake and bank their way through mile after mile of canyon walled perfection, and the journey only gets better (or worse, depending on your outlook) as you get farther away from the main entrance. Canon City has pretty much everything one would need for their camping requirements, although I haven’t been able to find a store with “higher-end” camping gear you might find at REI or any of the larger outdoor specialty stores. With that being said, the local grocery store provides me with my basic living requirements of food, water, and internet.
As if my drive down the canyon wasn’t blissful enough, now I get to do it all over again. I could live with this commute. Making my way up the narrow road, I pass through the 2nd single lane tunnel bored right through the rock. I knew I was close to my campsite after passing through the landmark, and as I approached my parking space, I see that I have a visitor. There are multiple fire pits and solid locations to pitch a tent, but my initial instinct is to believe that I don’t want other people around my spot. I have a habit, like a lot of people I know, to be “on guard” about meeting new people. I worry not about being mugged or robbed, but my main concern at this moment was simply whether or not this new camper was going to be a douche or not. As I made my descent on foot into the valley below, I was greeted by a barking dog. He wasn’t aggressive by any means, but he was very curious about who this stranger was coming down the path. Introductions were in order and I was happy to become acquainted with Dave and his faithful, furry companion, Winston. He offered to make coffee and we talked at his campsite for some time.
A couple of days later, two of his friends showed up to camp for the 4th as well. It was interesting to me to meet complete strangers and carry on meaningful conversations. I have always tended to keep to myself when around multiple people, especially people I just met. I immediately felt comfortable with them though, and on several occasions they invited me to their campsite for dinner or coffee. I felt like a had developed meaningful connections in my brand new state. In fact, one of my new friends gave me her business card and said she knows a lot of people in the area that may be able to help with finding a job. What it boiled down to is in one or two days, I felt like I had done more for my potential career outlooks than I had done in the previous three months of searching. The kicker is that I was out doing what I wanted to be doing anyway. They all showed me a lot of kindness and I truly appreciate that they shared their holiday with me.
I have done my fair share of blowing things up in celebration of our independence, but this time was different to me. I feel that this will go down as a fond memory, even though I didn’t see fireworks at all this year. I will tell you what I did see though. I saw a tiny hummingbird nest with still tinier baby hummingbirds resting inside. I saw the most fascinating moth while I was walking along the rocky stream in front of my tent. I saw my tent and myself hold up to an intense, driving rain that transformed my path into a stream of its own. And then after the storm, the runoff flowed back into the stream and the clear water became reminiscent of the Missouri I was used to from my youth.
I felt transcendent. I felt more clear minded than I can recall, and its an indescribable sensation, to fall asleep to the sound of water gurgling and cascading around trees, over rocks, and through the land itself. For essentially as far as I can remember, I had always had various levels of depression and chronic insomnia. Since I have been living so closely to nature, I haven’t ever felt better. My sleeping patterns and mood have drastically improved. I know millions of my fellow American’s were celebrating this auspicious day in much the same way as I had formerly done. To each their own, of course, but remember that you are the sons and daughters of the revolution, you are children of a rebellion, and even if your ancestors came to these shores much more recently, we were all born of a common spirit of wanting a better life. I don’t believe philosophy should judge who is worthy of redemption or happiness, that is religion’s job, but ask yourself this, “What did you do with your independence this year?”