Two mountains rise from the plains near Walsenburg, Colorado, twin peaks that point up to the sky like giant breasts. Native Americans —the Utes, Comanches, and Apache that once called this area home—named the peaks Wahatoya, which means Breasts of the Earth. The Europeans who settled the region were less poetic and less graphic and called them the Spanish Peaks, and that is their official name now, the easternmost peak being, logically, the East Spanish Peak and the western one the West Spanish Peak.
Native Americans believed that the peaks protected those who lived in their shadow. Of course, that didn’t quite work out—people still got sick, died, fought, lost money, had their hearts broken, and faced the same hardships and pain as those in less blessed areas.
We have a summer cabin in the shadow of the East Spanish Peak, so when I got breast cancer, I especially grumbled at this healthy myth. No health protection for me. Nor for Dominick and Ruth, neighbors we have recently lost to cancer. And no, I did not appreciate the irony of getting breast cancer when the breasts of the earth were supposedly keeping me healthy.
Protection comes in many forms, though, and I believe my summers in this beautiful mountain valley have been important in regaining my health after my diagnosis. We get our exercise by climbing the dikes that are scattered throughout the peaks—walls created by molten lava that radiate from the two mountains like wheel spokes. We hike in firs, pines, and aspens that are a palette of greens in the summer and a mix of yellows, oranges and reds in the autumn. And this is all under an azure sky.
We relax on our deck, looking at the mountain. Just looking, seeing the formations caused by trees and boulders that look like a pirate’s face, a skull, an eagle. And we watch eagles fly above us, bears walk the meadow across from the cabin, and hummingbirds fly in our faces when we don’t keep their feeders full enough.
Some folks like to call this God’s Country and it does feel especially blessed. But it’s not like God saw this pretty place, gave it a nod, and then shirked the rest of the world: This is my country, and the rest of you can just deal with it. No, I think our blessings are where we are and are what we make of them. Some of us are given more to work with—I give thanks every day for this beautiful spot—but I don’t think we’re given these gifts to just soak them in selfishly and be smug about our good fortune. We’re given them to appreciate, to savor, to share, and to protect.
You can’t help but get over yourself in land like this. On the one hand, you see how lowly you are—when you stand next to a mountain, you are literally and figuratively tiny. At the same time, you recognize your importance, because you are a caretaker of this great treasure.
It’s the same thing with our bodies. We’re caretakers of these wonders. We seldom contemplate the reality that we inhabit miracles every second of the day, until illness demonstrates that especially strongly. When our cells stop behaving properly and turn cancerous, we have to really step back and try to comprehend the complexity that we live in. That’s one of those truths we seldom consider—that our bodies are natural wonders. It takes a malfunction to make us recognize that. It's a frightening awaking at first, but it can grow into an awesome respect.
After my diagnosis, I realized that I needed to take care of this body better than I had been doing in the past. I needed to nurture it with nutritious foods, good exercise, and a healthy environment.
It’s all a circle of protecting, of caretaking.
As I sit and look out at the East Peak, at this breast of the earth, I think of my own breasts, my own tiny natural peaks, and I breathe in the mountain air, envision it filling those breasts with health. Then I go eat some blueberries before my mountain hike in the protection of the Wahatoya.
PHOTOS: Top: The Wahatoya, with the East Spanish Peak on the left, West Spanish Peak on the right. Center: The East Spanish Peak from our cabin, with clouds building in the meadow.