Natural Conversion

Come along for a walk in nature–and be inspired to create similar-feeling outdoor spaces wherever you build or live. 

As I prepare this report in early May, the snowfields still dominate the terrain in the high country. By the time the printed words appear in June, most of that winter cloak will have been shed, except in the shadowy areas and crevices on north facing slopes. 


If events occur in the usual timeframe, the forest road leading to Mariposa Meadows will reopen for traffic, and we will make our way up there to learn how well our efforts have endured another winter at over 10,000 feet. 

We enjoyed an exceptional snowpack this past season, reportedly more than 60 percent above normal—very good news for the streams and rivers that supply water to millions of parched users downstream. 

The county road crew has already begun the annual ritual of plowing with bulldozers the two to three feet of snow, even deeper in some places, that still rides on the surface. They pile it high on either side of the roadway in an effort to help it to dry out as completely as possible before pickups, camp trailers and other wheeled contraptions are allowed to traverse the path it cuts through the forests and grassy clearings. 

With great anticipation we will explore the property again for familiar clues of activity and the inevitable surprises. We can expect that robins have already begun to construct nests atop our porch lights, and mountain bluebirds may have returned to reclaim occupancy of the small wooden houses we have mounted especially for them on the tall posts that mark where the pasture fence previously divided the meadow into two parts. 

By that time, the stream will be surging with runoff from all around the drainage, bending the still leafless but budding willows in the direction of its confluence with the larger creek a few miles further down. 

The earliest tiny spring flowers will be in evidence for those willing to look closely, but it will be a few more weeks before the wild iris, lupine, larkspur, paintbrush and more than a dozen other species transform the rolling fields into a real-life impressionist’s masterpiece. 

More bashful perhaps: The exquisite columbine and similar shade-seeking varieties take longer to appear, and then only for those who will invest time in slow walks through the stands of spruce. 


Next, we will carefully climb the steep, winding driveway and approach the small cluster of buildings that wait in the aspen forest. We’re hopeful that our work has fared well. 

There will almost certainly be some lingering snow in places, including on the vast hospitality deck, and we can search them one by one for telltale tracks and droppings revealing the visits from moose, deer, and perhaps a bear, or even a large cat. 

The aspens will not have opened their leaves yet but will be marked by the teeth of elk who barked them for winter nutrition. The meadow grasses will reach pocket height before we realize it, and the whole landscape will be awash with clouds of brilliantly colored butterflies (the inspiration for the Mariposa Meadows name we chose). 

Wasps, bees, and a host of insects that will have magically reappeared to feed the ravenous songbirds, swifts and swallows–all this taking place before we’ve scarcely found time to tend the irrigation gates and ditches. 

We are builders, sure, but building must start with place. Our efforts there are just a small part of a much bigger conversion, one that repeats itself annually, eternally, and evolves alongside the music of the insistent flow of cold, clear water and at the indiscernible speed of trees. 

We are not the center of this; it is the center of us. If we deserve to be part of that, we will need to earn it.