I was breathing harder than I should have been, so I took a short respite from cutting up a large dead pine tree. Shortness of breath is easy to come by at 9000 feet when one is not acclimated – which I am not. I'm not sure how long it takes to acclimate to 9000 feet, but I can assure you that it takes more than three months. This was my 16th summer at 9000 feet, and I didn't feel any more acclimated than I did the first summer. Perhaps being 16 years older had something to do with it.
My dog Nina had been exploring the area, but was now lying in a soft patch of grass between two juniper bushes, keeping an eye on me from a safe distance. When I shut off the chainsaw she came over and joined me. I sat on the downed tree trunk, with her at my side, and marveled at how quiet it was. The sun was about an hour away from setting, and it was already casting its orange sunset glow across the mountains to the east. I had a good view of several mountain ranges to the east, south and west.
It was snowing just five days earlier to welcome my arrival in the mountains from the world of the flat lands and metropolitan congestion of the east coast. There was no snow on the ground now, but being early June, there was still considerable snow on the mountain peaks. The temperature had been hovering around freezing at night and in the 60's during the day. Above 10,000 feet the mountains were still looking powdery white.
I had not experienced silence like this since I left Colorado the previous August, and it never fails to impress me. Most people never get to experience an environment where there are no man-made sounds, and some folks are even uncomfortable with it. For one thing, it makes people notice the low background noise that is generated in the human ear, called tinnitus. Almost everyone has some level of tinnitus, but for most it is masked by competing sounds from the everyday environment. Out here in the mountains one becomes very aware of it.
Nina and I had been sitting for about 10 minutes when a grey fox appeared out of some brush approximately 50 feet away. She was as surprised to see us as I was to see her. Nina's view of the fox was blocked by the downed tree, and I don't think the fox saw her. I said, "Hello there!" in what I thought was my soft, non-threatening voice. She took a few hesitant steps towards me and then, like most females, thought better of it, and trotted off. She looked more silver than grey, and was quite large for a fox. At first glance she looked like a coyote, except for the telltale, pointed head and nose.
A Stellar Jay landed on a nearby branch and eyed us curiously, as did a ground squirrel from another pile of brush. I decided they were all coming near to thank me for shutting off that horrible chain saw noise, or perhaps coming to see what the noise had been all about. In either case, I decided that I had done enough wood cutting for the day. I still had about 103 dead pines to cut down, but it wasn't going to happen quickly – perhaps next summer. There was no rush. The silence was better.