Mountains are central to so many myths and religions. Mountains are the high places prophets go to receive the word of God in one manner or another. An angel visits Moses on mount Horeb in the guise of a burning bush, then later in his story on mount Sinai he receives the ten commandments. The Transfiguration of Jesus takes place on a mountain. Muhammad receives the first portion of the Koran from the angel Jibreel (Gabriel), while in the cave of Hira on the mountain known today as Jabal al-Nour.
Ever notice the prophets receive the word of God or an angel messenger far removed from people and society and peer-pressure. I wonder if god and god’s angels are shy or if they are simply being selective by making you earn the message by making it up the mountain. Also, this suggests that street corner prophets who have not been to the mountainous wilderness are pulling your leg for a donation—if they have a good shtick, I suggest you buy them a cup of coffee and a scone.
In all my mountain hiking, I have never heard the voice or God or had an angel deliver God’s message to me, even though I have topped three 14s (a 14 is a mountain 14,000 feet high or higher) in Colorado—which are much, much higher than the mountains the aforementioned religious figures climbed. I feel neither happy or sad about the absence of God’s message from my mountain adventures.
I first encountered mountains on a family vacation when young. I have wanted to live upon or nearby the mountains ever since. Part of this is the raw size. A mountain is so much larger than a person, myself in particular, that it is a steady reminder that “life is much bigger than me.” (I have friends who get the same effect from oceans.) Also, I have always gained a sense of physical and spiritual safety living in or near mountains. It is like I sense some invisible force has my back and I can breathe easier—maybe it is the angels hanging out on high waiting to deliver messages.
Another factor I like about mountains is that it is easy to locate a trail where I am immersed in nature—far from rigors of civilization. I find this sort of immersion very rejuvenating of the spirit. I especially like aspen and ponderosa forests. I have to go high in the Sandia Mountains, near the top, above Albuquerque to enter those forests. It is worth the drive. The view is great when you stand at the granite rim looking across the Rio Grande valley toward Mount Taylor. Actually, looking any directional view is real good from on high.
When I was in my 30s and 40s and working through my depression causing tragedies, long walks on the mountain trails were a great help in processing life experience, so I took four to six walks a week. Amazing how spotting a stellar jay or elk at the right moment gets you over an emotional hump.
Mountain ranges I have lived in or near: the Sandia mountains at Albuquerque, the Sangre de Christo mountains around Taos and Southern Colorado, the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Over the years, I have walked chunks of the Appalachian Trail (maybe 1/3rd all totaled in NC, VA, MD, PA, NJ and CT), the Continental Divide Trail (maybe half), but only a mile or two of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The tallest mountain I have hiked to the top is Crestone Peak in Colorado. 14,300 feet tall. To be honest, once I clear the tree line, the sense of wonderment and connection is not as strong for me. Going to the top just to go to the top makes little sense. Spotting elk or deer or bear or birds makes the day extra special. Mountain lions leaving me alone (I’ve only seen one in the wild once—thank goodness—for a fleeting instant) makes the day special, too.
My favorite scary (and magical) mountain experience. I lived outside Walsenburg, CO in view of the Spanish Peaks. The dogs and myself hiked on the West Spanish Peak starting at the Cordova Pass trail head. We got a late start and I was not paying attention to the dogs whining after we cleared the treeline heading toward the top. The sky was clear. The sky was clear because the storm clouds hid behind the Sange de Christo mountains to the west. 1pm-ish showed up and true to their summer nature the storm clouds flooded over the Sange de Christo mountains and filled the mountain slope and valley below us. We were at about 13,000′ and the storm clouds were at about 12,500′ altitude. The thunder and lightning started. The dogs and I hid among some of the rocks—not much shelter. For twenty minutes to a half hour we watched lightening arch across the top of and through the clouds below us before the storm pushed northeast. If nature and air pressure had allowed the clouds to rise to 13,000’s feet where we were, we would have been toasted crisps in no time from point blank lightning. Got away with being non-observant (stupid) that day.
My favorite not-scary mountain experience. I lived in Taos at the time. I hike up to Williams Lake with a friend for a picnic. Along the way we passed a small group with pack lamas. Did not think anything of that at the time. Once we were at the lake we started our picnic and soon the group with the pack lamas arrived. The group was a man and woman and a string quartet. Rich people—gotta love them at least some of time. The quartet played classical music (I recognized some Mozart and Bach) while the couple picnicked and Williams Lake was its beautiful self in the bowl of the mountain. Lovely. Just lovely.
My second favorite non-scary mountain experience. On one of the Taos mountain trails I came into a narrow canyon minutes before the sun entered the canyon. As the sunlight crossed the damp greenery, butterflies erupted from their night places. Tens of thousands of butterflies on their migration. Sitting, I soon became a drying rack for a couple hundred butterflies as they flexed their wings in the sun.
If you do not appreciate mountains for any of my reasons or sporting reasons such as skiing, consider that snow covered mountains are the world’s best fresh water storage devices. Here in Albuquerque the land is in a drought and there is no snow on the Sandia mountains to melt through the year and keep streams trickling. It is May and the wild animals are beginning to come into the city in search of food and water—the mountain grass has not greened, nor bushes put out berries. City encounters with wild animals always go bad for the wild animal in the end. City open space encounters go a bit better for wild animals.
A spot I use to hike to and sit and contemplate life, the universe and everything was a rock formation off the Yerba Canyon trail in the Taos Ski Valley. I called that formation Deerkeeper’s Rock. Deerkeeper was a self-imagined variation of the Celtic Horned God. Here is a poem about that spot.
The Water Run
Across the stream—
many times, many times—
you walk with care
in your footsteps.
Not a single blade of grass
bends to the weight
of your grave.
Past the sunflowers,
the Black-eyed Susans,
under the fallen tree,
over the ground
marked with tracks
to the silent stone
in the morning glade
to the common stone
in the living ground
to the throne of kings
long lived uncrowned.
And there you see,
your opened eyes,
in the basking sun,
in the loving sounds:
tree and leaf,
bird and bee,
the wind-song sung
and the water run:
as he lifts his mighty face
and opens eyes to see your grace,
dart frighted back from whence you came
in fear that he will speak your name
and open up your handsome heart,
because as old things die,
new things start.
Over the years, I have learned to appreciate the river valley more and more. Especially when the migratory birds are along the river wetlands. As my knees grow older and achier, the flat of the river valley is easier to bicycle and hike. Who knows, maybe I will trade in my mountains for a big river, like the Missouri, Mississippi or Ohio, when I reach sixty-five. Most likely, I will stay here and enjoy the Rio Grande—sometimes called, lovingly, the Rio So-So due to seasonal or drought caused lack of water flowing in the riverbed.
Love and Light