A century ago, John Muir asserted that “going to the mountain is going home” and that “wildness is necessity” for “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”
And doesn’t that last phrase describe us all even more now than then?
When I was growing up in the Texas hill country, the words most often repeated at graveside funeral services were those of the psalmist of the Old Testament, who wrote: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
As we mourners stood in the picturesque Sabinal River Canyon, we could see blue hills against blue sky in several directions. That sight and the poetry of the familiar words comforted us.
Not all cultures through the ages have respected hilltops; John Donne is supposed to have called mountains “warts upon the landscape”. But, along with the ancients who visited mountaintops as part of a religious or ecstatic experience, many others have found both comfort and exhilaration in the heights.
What’s not to like? We gain both a view of the mountains and a view from the mountains.
Mountains serve as metaphor for both the trials we face and the heights we reach.
Sometimes the peaks are shrouded in mist and mystery.
We have a delightful array of words to describe aspects of mountains: crags, hillocks, foothills, buttes, rises, bluffs, crests.
The names of specific mountains, actual and legendary, paint rich images. Speak these names aloud, hearing them as they roll off the tongue, and think of the associations each name conjures: Olympus, Caucasus, Ararat, Sinai, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Popocatepetl, Machu Picchu.
Different shapes display their own personalities, and often it seems as though the earth itself is trying to speak to us.
Muir promises us further rewards if we can just let go of our tunnel vision and lift our eyes–and perhaps our feet–unto the hills:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
This autumnal equinox strikes me as a fitting time to lift our eyes unto the hills, when our days and nights are balanced, when the subtle change of light highlights hill against sky. There’s a brief moment of stasis, as we reach a sort of pinnacle of barely perceptible time, before we continue on toward more darkness than light.
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Photos above, starting at top, were taken at: Taylor Reservoir, Colorado; Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado; Dillon, Colorado; Colorado National Monument; Shout of Relief Pass, in the Sierra Nevadas, California; Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Think of names associated with hills and mountains that are meaningful to you. Describe them.
Do you have associations with equinoxes or solstices? Do you think of the earth as it completes these cycles? Write down your thoughts.