Editor’s note: Author/poet/recently retired teacher-writing instructor David Feela is a regular contributor to Telluride Inside… and Out. His latest book, “How Delicate These Arches: Footnotes from the Four Corners,” a collection of essays, is available at Between the Covers Bookstore. Here below, about spring, from “How Delicate These Arches.”

A spring thing   

The Geyser Springs Trail is a part of the San Juan National Forest, percolating not much more than 50 miles from the hot water faucet that fills my bathtub, yet I had ignored this lofty local wonder for nearly two decades of life in the Four Corners.

Once realized, my imagination filled with visions of Old Faithful. My parents took a much younger me to see that legendary billow of steam, the bubbling cauldron, the wooden walkways creeping across the encrusted stone, to marvel at the magnificent sulfurous shower that spouts off every 67 minutes. Wow, I thought, Colorado has its own geyser.

“Let’s go see the geyser before we’re too geezerly to appreciate it,” I urged my wife one evening.

“Too late” she replied, but she agreed to accompany me in case I lost my way back.

We drove early the next morning from Cortez, north on Highway 145, until we reached the West Dolores Road. Pam rode shotgun, guiding me with her modest visitor center brochure. I considered outfitting us with my cache of expedition gear, but then I reconsidered and we took a simple day pack and some water. Sometimes the natural world needs to be approached on its own terms, without all the high tech survival clutter that works mostly to keep back country equipment manufacturers alive. And besides, the hike was short and the directions appeared rather straight forward, with the exception of a warning that prompted me to silently question the simplicity of our expedition: The first part of the trail is on private land and difficult to follow—please do not stray from the path   Was it dueling banjos I heard in the distance? And where did that image of a shotgun leveled by an old miner with a trickle of chewing tobacco running down his chin come from?

After several failed attempts at finding the trail, we located a promising fence line and  followed it. Just as the directions indicated, it wound behind two private cabins and though we felt a bit like trespassers, we pushed on. Eventually I knew we must have hit pay dirt, because as the trail headed toward the trees I could hear the rush of water.

The brochure’s next warning immediately came to mind: Do not cross during high water.

We stood for a moment and admired the river’s meander as it snaked through an open meadow. I’ve always been drawn to the sound of moving water. Instinctively, I bent to touch it but pulled my hand back, as if shocked by the current.

“Cold?” Pam inquired.

I sent back a clacking Morse code message with my teeth: C—O—L—D, a puff of steam punctuating the spaces between each letter.

Still, we needed to cross. With our boots tied, slung over our shoulders, and our pant legs rolled as high as our calves would allow, we waded into the rushing current. The river quickly kicked at our knees, twisting its glacial muscle against our white, spindly legs. I nearly lost my balance in that first instant of contact, but we steadied each other as best we could and struggled ahead. Our legs immediately ached from the cold, but we managed the distance. On the far bank we sat down to tie our boots back on, and we laughed like a couple penguins as we tried to describe how numb our feet felt.

By now the geyser trail seemed obvious enough, worn by quite a few other feet. It started gradually rising as it headed toward the trees. Several seeps along the way made the ground soggy in places but to accent the dark mud, wildflowers tossed in their spring colors like tiny fireworks all along the way. The quaking aspens quaked with the slightest breeze and though we had been laughing, shouting, and chattering, somehow under the shelter of the trees we both turned silent during the climb, as if the canopy forced our thoughts inward.

My thoughts wandered into the trees, those tall sentinels that measure time by quietly adding another ring for every year of life. I believe that trees live inspired lives, their roots tight to the earth, their limbs loose and filtering the air for light. For me, walking in the woods feels like a kind of worship, as if the very idea of cathedrals originated in the human mind when early architects moved among these slender pillars and stared up at the vaulted sky.

But humans more closely resemble geysers.  Most of our lives we bubble and spout, then gratefully turn calm—at least that’s what I do if there is some pocket of wilderness I can climb into.

Though the trail spanned a mere mile, the internal distance I traversed seemed vast. If I left the earth and came back again, I don’t remember. Moving through the dappled patches of sunlight that filtered through the trees must have induced a trance where my feet functioned separately from my mind, as if on automatic pilot. I didn’t trip over any fallen branches, and I steered clear of the ruts where early spring rains had washed the ground away. Or rather, I must have levitated over these hazards, because I don’t have any clear memory of what difficulties lay along the path; I only noted them on the trip back down the mountain. On the way up I was elsewhere, circumnavigating the globe, for all I know, caught in deep canyons, listening to waterfalls, stopping in the rainforest where exotic thoughts came to me like so many parrots talking in my head.

Before I realized it, Pam tugged on my sleeve and pointed to an opening in the trees beside a tiny stream. We’d arrived with no one in sight, but we were hardly the first.  Perhaps the CCC had been here long ago and cemented stones together to shape a reservoir where the water pooled. We approached the edge where steam rose and mingled with the rank, sulfurous gasses that escaped into the air. A hatch of early flies hovered above the water, interested, no doubt, in what our intentions might be.

“Let’s go for a dip,” I suggested.

“In that cauldron of scum?”

We stood a while longer, watched the latent broth churn a little as it imitated a lukewarm bowl of split pea soup. Then, as if by a magic spell or a witch’s incantation, the water began to boil, furiously, and we stared, convinced that my suggestion to enter the pool had stirred the gods. I bent once again and touched the water.

“82 degrees” I speculated.

Whether I had been extraordinarily persuasive or Pam’s feet still felt like chunks of ice, I’ll never know for sure, but immediately Pam started taking off her clothes. I have never been the kind of man to stand around fully clothed when a beautiful woman is naked, so I stripped down to nothing, and we both stepped carefully into the water.

We found a tolerable perch on a rock below the surface and settled into the soup, up to our necks. The flies swarmed, the sunlight slipped through a crack in the canopy. I pulled two stems of bracken fern from the bank and set one up-side-down on each of our heads, a silly party hat to shoo the flies away. We laughed, the geyser splashed, we inhaled the sulfurous steam.

I don’t claim Geyser Springs has miraculous restorative powers, but it cured me. And what’s more remarkable is that I wasn’t suffering from anything in particular before I arrived, yet when we left I somehow felt better. Not healthier, but happier. Not invigorated, but strangely cleansed. I had gone down deep, like an underground seep, and come up with an ounce of wonder—that elixir of spring that consecrates new life.

  • Rod Balderree
    Posted at 12:36h, 07 April

    Beautiful writing. Thank you!

    • David Feela
      Posted at 07:48h, 13 November

      Appreciate your visit, Rod, even though it has taken half a lifetime for me to find your comment in this tangle of threads.

  • shower cabins
    Posted at 06:53h, 13 November

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    • David Feela
      Posted at 07:46h, 13 November


      The spam world on my blog seems to be something I just put up with, although I have learned NOT to click on any of the reported links under statistics that log which sites have been visiting. If I’m curious or it’s a new one, I search for it, where someone usually advises it’s a spam site. By clicking on it to go to that site, they often report that the spam site gains access. A sort of booby trap, curiosity killed the cat and all that:)