An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of December 29, 2006
Issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

AWAKENING ON LLANO DE CABALLO

A feature of the La Trinidad area's physiography is that here and there among the soaring peaks you encounter small flatlands such as the one on which La Trinidad is established. These flatlands are called llanos (YAH-nos), the adjective "llano" meaning flat. On Wednesday morning, my last day in the mountains, at around 7000 feet, I awoke on LLano de Caballo, or "Horse Flat," as it might be called in Wyoming. My tent was white with frost, the nylon above my head a solid sheet of ice where my breath had frozen. It was 25°F (-4°C). Through a slit in the tent's door I peeped outside and saw that the llano's grass was white as if covered with snow. I lay in the sleeping bag until a sunlight sliver stabbed onto the flat from between two peaks.

My tent is for summer camping. Its top is open netting to keep out mosquitoes while letting me see the stars. My sleeping bag is for summer camping, too. Despite wearing trousers over running pants, seven shirts and three pairs of socks, I was cold, but not as cold as you might expect. Instead of placing the tent's flysheet over the tent I'd wrapped it around me. It was amazing how such a thin sheet of nylon made such a big difference. During the night when it'd slip off I'd immediately awaken because of the cold. Little tricks like using that flysheet can mean a lot under extreme conditions.

I went and stood in the sunlight. The llano's grass sparkled like a world of diamonds. The freshness of the air filled me with wonder and a kind of nostalgia -- wishing to share it with someone, knowing it was all about to melt away, knowing that as I approach 60 my vision, hearing, smelling, all are dimming, all are dulling, and what I feel at the present will never again be as intensely felt as now. All melting away.

My breath didn't make a fog. When I peed, steam didn't rise from the wetness. I'm guessing it was because droplets of steam need nuclei around which to form, such as particles of dust or pollution, and in this pure mountain air there were no impurities.

When the sunlight shined on me and my body warmed, you should have seen the dust particles off my clothing waft into the air on vagrant curls of convecting warmth and soar upward, in the intense sunlight and with black mountains behind them, streaking like incandescent sparks at midnight. What a dustbin I was, but now I was being purified by coldness and sunlight.

What did it all mean?

This was my celebration hike for the beginning of the New Annual Cycle, which started with the Winter Solstice on December 21. I accepted the gift of the moment as an auspicious new beginning for a new year full of things to behold and treasure. Facebook Icon.