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A Mountainous Love Affair

sun begins to rise behind the mountains as a lone hiker traverses across a snow field

I've always been fascinated by mountains. I used to sit and look at pictures of these majestic behemoths in the Rockies and the Andes and the Himalayas for what seemed like hours.

There was so much to take in from every photo; the contours, the shadows, the cliffs and valleys and peaks. So much terrain to absorb in a single shot. I grew up on the Plains so I would wonder what it was like to be there. Mountains also intimidated me. I really didn't know anything about them except that they could be very dangerous.

Maybe, in my mind, they represented the great unknown or beckoned to my inner adventurer.

From the beginning of time up until approximately the mid 1800's the ocean represented adventure and the unknown to most people. The seashore was where journeys began and ended.

It was a great barrier between cultures and civilizations.

It was a vast nothingness, a wilderness inhabited only by pirates.

Dangers came from other lands by way of the shore. Then, with the industrial revolution, the seaside went from a place of danger and mystery and a source of food to a place of recreation.

It went from a place that heightened people's senses to a place where people go to dull their senses.

There are individuals who still go to the ocean for adventure or for a challenge, just as there are those who go to the mountains to recreate or just to enjoy their beauty. Still, there was something...something about the mountains that drew me to them and I didn't know what it was.

I recently spent over two years living in a sea of mountains and I saw the distinct and unmistakable season changes. In the mountains the winters are long and harsh and very quiet. The summers can see the mountains bustling with visitors. Autumn turns a green hillside into a golden spectacle.

I saw how the clouds or the time of day would alter the look of the entire landscape. The Milky Way is visible to the naked eye while this giant rock hurls through space. The sky often explodes with color at sunrise or sunset, but only for a few moments and then it's gone. It's easy to miss if one is not watching.

I had the opportunity to learn how to read and to navigate different and constantly changing topography, to have an idea of what to look for concerning avalanches and avalanche terrain.

The sheer size of the mountains reminds me of how small I really am.

There were new sounds, like the sounds of a lake freezing over or an elk bugling in a nearby meadow or hearing a bear rummaging through the camp site that would wake me up in the middle of the night.

I heard rock slides in a basin as I was passing nearby.

The most amazing sound was the sound of pure silence as I stood and listened. There was no traffic, no people talking, no wind, no electricity buzzing.

Absolutely nothing.

Only my own breathing. It was almost spooky at first. It is a complete and utter silence, the likes of which I feel like very few people today have ever heard.

The mountains were swarming with majestic, yet dangerous, wildlife. Animals that reminded me that we are not necessarily at the top of the food chain.

There was the coyote that was passing by that stopped to exchange looks with me, trying to determine if I was a threat or not.

There was the moose that I was watching with my dog as it grazed, slowly getting closer to us until I could see that its hackles were raised. Knowing that the moose sees a dog just as it sees a wolf or a coyote, as a mortal enemy, I began to cautiously back away, looking for an escape route through the aspens in case it decided to charge at us.

There were the bears that walked right by our camp site as they tried to pack on 20,000 calories a day before going into their winter torpor, and we knew that if they get a hold of human food then our problems would quickly escalate.

Or the unseen mountain lion that I knew had seen me when I had the palpable and eerie feeling that I was being watched while walking the dog. I looked around and saw nothing. But after turning to make our way back, even the dog kept stopping and looking behind us, confirming to me that we were, in fact, being watched by unseen eyes.

Maybe what drew me to the mountains was all of these things. Maybe it was none of them.

Maybe I still haven't figured out what it is that evoked my curiosity.

One thing that I'm certain of is the mountains represent adventure and the unknown to me, just as the ocean once did to so many people.

The mountains are peaceful one day and intimidating on another day.

They are beautiful on this day and dangerous on that day.

They're majestic one day, yet humbling on the next day.

The mountains are a frontier full of extremes.

The mountains constantly changed and challenged me, just like life. They taught me things about myself that I didn't even know I needed to learn, as long as I was willing to listen.

My senses are heightened in the mountains which makes me more focused. That makes every experience richer, more intense, more vivid. The mountains perform a daily symphony of sights and sounds that need to be experienced, not just witnessed.

They challenge me and let me know that I can do hard things.

The mountains let me know that I'm alive.

Photo by - Grant Krasner


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