I believe in portals. The kinds that don’t require passwords, only presence. There are famous portals like the ones in the Narnia Chronicles or the Harry Potter series. I have portals of my own: my garden is one and Independence Pass is another.
When I was small my parents would take two days to drive from San Antonio to Aspen. They would haul four children in a packed station wagon up through West Texas, then to Santa Fe for the night, and over the border into Colorado the next morning. Eventually we would summit Independence Pass. We would spill out at the top, next to the sign that still stands today, and try to run the road trip agitation out of our bodies. It was always cold, there was always snow and it always meant we were coming home. There was an old movie of all four kids running at full gallop into snow, though in my case it was a toddle. My mother was belly laughing at some antic, my dad invisible behind the movie camera. That film got lost somewhere along the way, but that memory remains in perfect suspension, a treasured reminder of a family formation that no longer exists. My parents loved the Pass and the hikes tucked up and down along its curvature. Their gratitude for this place is expressed in the Alpine Garden just below the Top Cut dedicated in 2013 to their eleven grandchildren.
The magic of any portal is that it offers transcendence. You can step over a threshold and reemerge a different soul. I get up to the Pass as often as I can, especially when I need to quit myself. In the summer, I often pass the director of the Independence Pass Foundation, Karin Teague, pulling up invasive weeds, or at least her small truck on the side of the road, as I wind up 82 to a favorite hike. I am delighted that I can step away from cell service, from the to do list, from a world that reveres data, status and a crisp resume.
And it is here I can escape the clatter of egos. When I am feeling compressed I see this world as a place of scarcity and my creativity is sapped, but when I step into the wilderness, I am once again in a place of abundance. I often hit the trailhead with a full backpack and stuffed mind, and always emerge with a clear head filled with flowers, color, wonder and space — with a reminder of how so much is just noise. I marvel that even though I am insignificant in, and to, the high alpine landscape, I pull so much power from it. It is a guaranteed reboot.
There is of course a long and illustrious list of artists who celebrate the spiritual vitality and necessity of wild places, but this is a conversation that we should never quit holding. Nor should we take access to these places for granted or forget to thank all the exceptional people and non profits, like IPF, who work to preserve these portals not only for us, but for the planet.