The Stones Cry Out
“Mountains are not fair, or unfair, they are just dangerous.” -Reinhold Messner
The mountains are part of me. Not the hills out East, beautiful though they are, but the towering, rugged, isolated, imposing rock monoliths of the West. While navigating the rugged, isolating, stone monoliths of a different sort in Washington DC, the mountains were never far from my mind. There are few things that bring a sense of peace, wonder, and contentment like responding to the call of the landscapes that shape us.
The last few months have been a trying time for us as a nation, and serious reflection is demanded of us. Our country is struggling with re-creating itself, writhing in growing pains as we revisit old racial wounds, rebuild flooded cities, recognize new class conflicts, and restore torched landscapes and relationships. We are tempted to despair at the unfairness of it all.
Instead, I suggest returning to (or finding) that landscape that calls to us. If we allow ourselves the space and time to immerse ourselves in these landscapes, we rarely emerge without a new perspective, a re-creation of ourselves to face these times. What follows are the wanderings of my own mind during a 40-mile trek into the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming.
Day 1: Trailhead to Camp, 8 miles.
I bought a new pack this year. My old exo-skeleton had travelled on my shoulders since I was 15. It was broken in multiple places, in multiple ways. Yet, I hung on to that pack as if it were a talisman, as if letting go of it would display a diminishment of my backcountry prowess. It wasn’t long until I realized what I had been missing. The weight distribution. The correct fitting. The breathable mesh back! To survive in the wilderness requires the right tools, but also the intentional effort to seek - and use - new ones. Sometimes doing so is only about increasing comfort; but sometimes, our very lives are at stake. How often do we cling to world views broken in multiple places and multiple ways because letting go threatens a sense of self that no longer applies?
Day 2: Camp to Summit, 8 miles, 13,166 feet above sea level.
The climb to Cloud Peak is not technical; it does not require special know-how. To summit requires only the motivation and determination to climb, climb, and climb some more over fields of granite. Oh, and it also requires the cooperation of Mother Nature.
The summit is completely shrouded - hence the name I suppose - and the promise of panoramic reward is lost in the mist and rain. The expert climber, Reinhold Messner, wrote of his sheer exhaustion while climbing, an exhaustion that overtook even the desire to reach the summit. But putting himself in the position of looking back at his life, he would ask “if what I am doing is important to me,” and so would carry on. The summit was not the reward on this day; rather it was the looking back on the will and motivation to overcome that offered a reward far more vast than open vistas. How often in politics do we strive for the summit, only to be disappointed in the results and lose our fo