Meeting a Mountain

Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart,
but in thin places that distance is even shorter.
The New York Times, March 11, 2012

Last Wednesday, Johnny and I arose a bit early to get a head start on the sun. We were hoping to miss all of the “leaf people” by going on Wednesday and still get up to Guanella Pass before the aspen leaves pass their peak. Johnny is fussy (or so I say) about light. He only likes his light for photos at dawn and right around dusk – first light and last light.

Anyway, the drive was gorgeous, we continued to climb toward the pass. Who doesn’t love a mountain drive, in fall, along a rolling river? I began to get anxious, however, believing that we hadn’t left early enough for him to get good early morning shots. All of a sudden we came up over a tall hillside and stretching out in front of us was a tundra-like landscape and a several tall mountains. No aspens here. We were above the tree line! I hadn’t expected that. The last photo outing had been up a neighboring pass – lots of trees up there. But we couldn’t stop to take it all in – we had some light to catch.

The short version of the story is that we arrived in plenty of time. This time the views from the road and neighboring woods were wonderful enough – we didn’t need to hike in any distance to get our photos. As usual, I ran around like a nut for a couple of hours looking at every possible perspective on the hill full of golden aspens and taking random shots while Johnny stayed put, focused on one thing and got spectacular photos of the mountainside. (There is a fairly obvious metaphor for how each of us approach our lives in that description.)

We continued down from the pass, stopping a couple of times for new perspectives. We parked at the base of the mountain in Georgetown, enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then walked around window shopping. It was the perfect fall day. Happy people milling about, chatting, smiling. Sunny, but delightfully cool air.

Then we headed back up the hill. One of our thoughts had been that if we spent enough time enjoying ourselves we might catch some acceptable afternoon light filtering through the leaves. As it turned out, that was indeed the case. But it was not what made my afternoon unforgettable.

We made our way back to the summit and parked in the busy lot so that I could use the restroom. Coming out, I could see that Johnny had set up the tripod and was taking some pictures. So, instead of getting back in the car, I headed over the nearest hill. As soon as I stepped over the top and onto the trail that headed into the distance, I was awe-struck. The plain, golden “moose bush”-covered landscape stretched out before me and Mt. Bierstadt’s rocky presence pulled me in.

I sheepishly returned and asked Johnny if he’d be willing to hike a bit up there. “Sure!” he said. Minutes later we were winding down the hill toward a large pond in the distance. As we started downward, he asked, “Just exactly how far did you want to go?” I smiled. Clouds billowed and rolled. The top of Mt. Bierstadt looked alive in the distance as wisps of rain clouds filtered through the high valleys. We got far enough along the trail to feel the mountain in front of us. I sat in the wind and breathed in the energy, the presence. Wow. I was certain: this is a place I will return to.

The magnetism of the mountain still has not left me – that trail winding upward in the distance is still calling. Our reverie was, however, broken by the drops of rain that began to fall as we quickly covered up Johnny’s new camera. A little sprint for him and speed walk for me and we were back up the hill in no time, headed toward the car.

I’ve been pondering the moment of communion with the mountain since then. At last the right term popped into my head: a “thin place”! As my geologist daughter once said to me about Point Reyes, “Mom, it IS a thin place! Not just a metaphor.” And then she talked about tectonic plates and subduction and so on. I’m not sure but what she missed my point. Her point was well taken, though. Mountains, too, have lots of crazy plates, thrusts, and geologic activity. As my daughter says, it is a thin place and I want to get close. Yep. It is.

Mount Bierstadt (Photo: John Gatlin)
Mount Bierstadt (Photo: John Gatlin)

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