Perched High Above
a valley in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, I see lakes sparkling in the distance, below the sharp ridges of the mountains. The sun plays hide and seek among thick clouds of summer and the breeze carries the smell of pine and distant rain.
Next to me, Turkey stirs, her ears picking up marmot chatter. At attention, those normally floppy ears become mule-like, swiveling to catch the most distant chirps. I gently plop my palm on top of Turkey’s head to catch her attention. She glances at me, then away. I sometimes envy Turkey’s moment-to-moment existence, her ability to live for the current second and not dwell on anxieties past or future.
WHERE I CAME FROM,
planning each ticking second meant everything. One never settles for the present in New York. It’s a state of existence stuck between the reality of now and the story of tomorrow. New York is a place that waits for no one.
Here, in the ancient yet ageless Rockies time is measured by the call of birds, the rumble of afternoon thunder, and the gnaw of hunger after a day-long hike. Here, I am human again.
Nathan Nee and Turkey are based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Nathan grew up in the Southeast before working in the advertising industry in New York and Chicago. He became disenchanted with this type of work and city life and decided to reinvent himself. He applied and was accepted to veterinary school in Colorado. Living in Fort Collins as a veterinary student, Nathan felt he needed a dog in his life. He went to the shelter and found Turkey, 8 months old and a basket case of nerves. He got her a Ruffwear harness for training and they began exploring the outdoors together, initially hiking, then backpacking, and eventually trail running, too. Nathan witnessed Turkey’s confidence grow as they worked on training and spent more time in the outdoors. They started in the Front Range near Fort Collins and as they both became more confident, they explored deeper into the Rocky Mountains, as well as Canada and the Pacific Northwest. In the mountains of Colorado’s Front Range, Nathan first discovered a new pace of life. With Turkey, he learned how to live in the now as he watched her happily trotting along through mud, meadows, and moose poop for the first time in her life. Every scent is always new and exciting, every marmot call worthy of absolute attention. Together, they found a new home in the mountains, where there’s a whole world between earth and the heavens, a coda to daily life that reminds Nathan to live alongside time, rather than holding onto the past or anticipating the future.
THIS IS THE ALPINE WONDERLAND
that taught me how to feel the land and truly walk across its geography. It’s the mountain home where a shy, newly adopted Turkey dog first learned the joy of romping across snow fields and rolling in meadows of wildflowers. It’s the rocky ground that brought a city kid and a shelter dog together to find meaning in the bounty and beauty of the earth by putting one foot and one paw in front of the other, step by step, moving forward from sunrise to sunset.
It’s time to start the journey down to the trailhead, back to the car, and back to a world that is constantly pushing for the next thing in life.
MY HANDS PRESS
against the rock and I feel the land pushing back. Turkey tugs against her leash as we press forward. She negotiates the snowfield confidently as I carefully drop each foot into the crunchy ice, following her.
And then suddenly there’s the talus field descent to the wide, soft meadow below. Turkey and I love the maze of rock hopping. My shoes grinding against the granite, her claws getting purchase on the finer form of rock that my trail runners will never appreciate. Each rock is independent of the next, and past rocks never predict future rocks, the path ever changing and never the same.
to keep up with a happy dog, I can feel my heart lift with each rock hop. Each massive boulder shivers as I am a momentary passenger - a reminder of feeling the land, an equal and opposite force, as I touch off and land on the next island. Marmots chirp and scatter as Turkey bounds and bounds.
We finally reach the end of the talus and my legs are ready for that soft meadow and the predictable tread of trail. Turkey is waiting for me on a boulder that forms a giant step up and then nothing, except the drop to green grass. I scramble up to her and stop to rest, the two of us perched as if on the bow of a sailing ship of old, not quite ready to step into the sea of grass ahead.
I plop my hand on her head and she looks up at me with her soft, brown eyes. What matters right now, in this moment, at the edge of the universe in the mountains? Turkey throws a paw at my arm and for a moment, we are arm-in-arm, beholden only to each other – her looking at me, me looking back at her. I feel like we could live here like this forever, just a boy and his dog in the late glow of summer. If Turkey could talk, she would tell me that this was the best moment ever, and she wouldn’t be wrong.