As a child, I read and re-read a small volume of Aesop’s Fables I discovered in our family bookcase.
I enjoyed the illustrated stories and puzzled over the morals that accompanied them. I especially liked the tale of the city mouse and country mouse because it revolved around food.
The story began with a country mouse inviting his cousin, a city mouse, to dinner. The hoity-toity urbanite scorned the simple fare served and decided to give his backward cousin a taste of the good life by inviting him to a grand feast in the city.
The rural mouse enjoyed the fine cuisine offered, but was distressed when a marauding cat interrupted dinner, and the mice had to flee.
The next morning the country mouse told his cousin goodbye, saying, “You do, indeed, live in a plentiful city, but I am going home where I can eat my dinner in peace.”
I identify with the country mouse each time I return to Craig after a city stay, but Joel and I continue to visit destinations such as Chicago, San Antonio and Portland because of the fast pace and diverse opportunities they offer.
During a recent trip with Joel to downtown Denver, I tried to look at the city in a new way: could I find similarities between the works of mankind in Denver and the wonders of nature in Moffat County?
I began my search for the familiar when onrushing traffic surrounded us on I-70, pulling us out of the canyon as though we’d been swept into a spring-swollen mountain stream that plunged headlong, clearing away winter’s rubble: decayed leaves, discarded twigs, pinecones searching for a home.
Later, as the sun slipped away, we left our hotel to stroll downtown streets, and I noticed how lengthening shadows engulfed the buildings that towered above us, camouflaging them with massed sameness, the same way pine trees crowding a trail at twilight become anonymous: one tree made indistinguishable from the next by on-creeping darkness.
Ambling along, we listened to sounds usually echoed from trees: the staccato woodpecker cadence of women speed-striding in heels too high and voices leavened by drink rising from sidewalk cafes—the pointless chatter of blackbirds from chokecherry trees.
At times, we walked as if avoiding the droppings of animals on a mountain trail, stepping around city scat on our path of cement: stained wrappers, cigarette butts, flighty bits of cellophane, moist spots of uncertain origin.
A bulging dumpster lurked in an alley surrounded by swollen plastic bags; and I pictured a pockmarked cliff edging out of a mountain above scattered-boulder spawn.
Street entertainers persisted through indifference, stoic cottonwoods standing along a sparse stream, as faces drifted by diverse in their colors, high-mountain leaves blown by the wind.
Drifting conversations, fleeting notes of music and light-seeping lofts spoke to us of lives lived in cities the same way rustlings through heavy brush, bird songs sung in isolation and the clatter of pebbles dislodged by a deer remind us of the animals that surround us in nature.
Cities alter me: I become more intense, expect more, move more quickly, schedule the days more closely. At night, I drop into bed exhausted.
Rural areas settle me. When I slide on skis, step out on snowshoes or don hiking boots for a walk into isolation, I am soothed: I hear my breath, feel my heart beat, lose track of my thoughts and return refreshed.
When I spot Cedar Mountain from highway 40 and drive into a quiet Sunday afternoon in Craig—few cars on Victory Way, a lone bicyclist on Yampa, three teenagers skateboarding on 7th Street—I feel the familiar and know I’m home.
At heart, I’m a country mouse.
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