Evoking the Spirit of Adventure With Music and Sound
By Joshua Mendrala
Adventure has a sound. After spending the last eight months in the San Juan mountains, I discovered this. At the top of Engineer Mountain in Durango, CO, I heard clouds speak, singing over the beats of the sun while my footsteps tried to join in. In open green fields I have listened to the dirt play rhythms. In Utah I have heard the desert sing and watched it dance, felt it cry as I paddled through its unlikely rivers. And I have listened to people try to compete with it, try to drown out the sound of adventure with 35 volt power adapters in windowless rooms.
My three greatest loves in this life are storytelling, adventure, and music. This very piece exemplifies the first, but I craved to merge the others in harmonic polyamory. Quickly, an idea formed, a challenge to conquer the outdoors with a guitar on my back. I wanted to find harmony with the natural sounds of Colorado and its neighbors alike, to play in key with the chaotic wonders of nature. Over the month of May I began this self-issued challenge, and what follows are the two experiences that stood out to me as particularly special. As the summer progresses, I plan to take my guitar to more extensively difficult, unique, and isolated terrains, to listen to this beautiful land and learn to play in key with it.
Three Sisters Trail, Brother’s Lookout
I drove the serpentine road from Morrison to Evergreen, my windows rolled down as my favorite band’s new album played loudly for the twentieth time. The 45 minute drive felt like nothing, overwhelmed by the smells and sounds of the front range as the sun dipped lightly behind the growing hills. It was the perfect time of afternoon where just after passing the polite entrance to Red Rocks, I was home free; just myself, an empty light, and the road to this first stage of my experiment.
I arrived at the furthest parking lot to the Three Sisters Trail in Evergreen, CO—tucked away timidly about 20 miles southwest of Denver—where I met up with a friend of mine. With my homemade travel guitar slung over my shoulder in a half-zipped backpack, I handed my small djembe to my companion and we embarked on our short hike to the Brother’s Lookout.
The previously 81 degree day quickly cooled to a kindred 68, the wind seeming to die as the temperature dropped. We wove our way through the pines, enjoying the smell of spring sap and new life as we struggled to remember which of the trails led to our desired destination. The moderate hike allowed for kind conversation and appreciation of nature’s beauty, with a gentle thanks for the arrival of the warmer season.
After a short hike, we reached the Brothers Lookout, rounding the few twists and turns until arriving at pale rock, jutting out of the mountainside to provide a stunning panoramic view of Evergreen. We sat down near the edge and began to play, shamelessly lifting our voices in song with the setting sun. The sound in that spot felt strangely personal for such a wide-open view. I felt embraced, looking out at the surrounding foothills now glowing orange as the minutes ticked away, shimmering with each chord that strung out of my petit travel instrument. I felt at beautiful odds with myself, having found such a paradise where vastness and singularity met in the resonance of a nylon string and a shameless song.
Saint Mary’s Glacier
The fingertips on my left hand cried out at my, ripped calluses pulsating in the chill air that accompanies the afternoon’s arrival. My right hand strums a D chord and my lungs exhale the first words of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” In that moment is bliss, found at the top of a rock jutting out over the clouds reflected by the lake below; found in the sound of wind, the rustling of trees, the crunch of a rock beneath shoe that sets tempo for me in my wonderful minuteness. Nothing matters here.
The day had been brutal, a barrage of mind-numbing data entry and thoughtless work that threatened to kill the romantic in me. I had only to look forward to 3:15 when my good friend Jack would pick me up for us to make the afternoon hike up Saint Mary’s Glacier—a timid, but challenging nonetheless glacier and lake within half an hour of Idaho Springs, CO. When I saw his car pull up in front of my dirtied office window, my heart leapt with relief, overjoyed as I grabbed my things and jumped in the passenger seat.
After a short drive, the two of us began our ascent, keeping a fair pace for two hikers with guitars on their backs. A short trek later, and we had reached the base of the glacier. The lake below was unmoving, a perfect, undisturbed reflection of the peaks and trees surrounding it. A few hikers stood and observed at the bottom, smiling and looking about. I looked up to see a skier making his way down the glacier, I listened to see if I could hear the scrape of his skis carried over the valley’s wind.
Wasting little time, my companion and I made the hike up the glacial face. Slipping occasionally on the summer snow, we had our sights set on a high point of naked rock which overlooked the lake, a spot we thought would prove wondrous to play at. The hike was filled with laughs as the leader’s feet occasionally sank to thigh level at spots where the snow wasn’t quite as compact, or by the exhales of neglected lungs. Eventually, however, we met our goal.
I stood at the edge of the rock, overlooking the lake, watching the clouds move in its reflection, noting how high I was above the mirror. The wind swirled lightly around us, I felt it against the hairs on my neck, I felt it sweep beneath my hoodie to cool me down. Most of all, I looked out at the hundreds of green, white, and grey peaks stretching to the horizons: my audience. When we began to play, I was met with a strange oneness, a natural accompaniment, the fallacy of meaning. My worries and concerns seemed to disappear in those moments. There is something fantastical about escape, about the natural harmony of the world, about the beauty of Colorado. Sometimes even the places that are easier to get to can prove wondrous when used the right way.
This small challenge has quickly brought forth a boiling love in me. There is something wondrous about playing as one with nature, and as this summer unfolds I cannot wait to see where this glorious land and its music will take me. The beauty of Colorado is stunning, that is uncontested. Yet, I think there is a part of nature that many forget to take advantage of, the beauty that arises when we all stop, take a moment, and listen.