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 focus and motivation? Perhaps we should simply ask ourselves, “is what I am doing important?”, and carry on.
Day 3: Camp to Middle Cloud Peak Basin, 14 miles
I’ve never seen slabs of granite like these. Gigantic walkways smoothed by time with exposed striations cut by glaciers in the distant past. The designs were captivating, calling attention to an Artist that saw this design millennia before anyone was alive to marvel at it.
We experience reality in a linear and temporal way. I was in Middle Cloud Peak basin walking beautiful granite pathways; now I am not. Today I am at my desk, but the granite is still there. Tomorrow I will travel to Washington DC, but the granite is still there. For humans that come and go in a heartbeat, such permanence is difficult to grasp, but reminding myself of it provides a dose of certainty in uncertain times. How often do we focus so heavily on the political crisis of this moment that we lose sight of the artistry of the ages?
Day 4: Camp to Trailhead, 10 miles
The wilderness can humble you. I fancy myself a fit person, capable even in my advanced age of difficult and strenuous efforts. When approaching a river, I usually bound across it without hesitation, trusting completely in my own abilities. On this day, my abilities failed. With the weight of the pack on my shoulders I stepped into the river and stopped short. Suddenly I no longer trusted my legs to make the final leap with a rocky, rushing, icy river flowing beneath me. A fall could cause real damage. Fear crept in. Eventually I talked myself through it, and bounded safely to the far shore, but not without significant encouragement and offers to assist from my hiking companions.
Venturing into the mountains is not for the squeamish. You must have the tools, determination, fortitude, and knowledge necessary to survive. But above all, you need the people around you to see you safely through. There are those who go it alone, but that is a mortal risk.
How often do we try to go it alone? We give lip service to “reaching across the aisle,” to “building consensus,” but we cannot let go of our own egos; we see only the summit as the goal; we fail to recognize our small place in the arc of history, and; we turn away from those who might offer safe passage to the other shore. To paraphrase Messner, a life in American politics is neither fair, nor unfair, it is just dangerous. We are wise to approach it with the proper care.
Pete Obermueller is just a Wyoming kid, who came to DC with big ideas and a nerdy love of politics. In Washington he served as a Graduate Fellow in the Senate, an LA and LD in the House, and as Executive Director of an active House caucus. In 2013 he returned to Wyoming to work at the county level of government. He still has big ideas and a nerdy love of politics.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
This week, find a photo of one of your favorite outdoor spaces, one that reminds you of the "artistry of the ages." If you haven't already, frame it or post it in your workspace to remind you of God's unending goodness and the peace that can fill our days working in places of power.
If you want to take this a step further, plan a hike with your camera to that space, praying ahead of time that the endeavor will be a journey that takes you deeper into the peace of Christ.
We'd love to hear from you too. If you’d like to explore these ideas further with a community of other professionals in American politics, consider applying to write with us.
Liberatus is a community journal about bringing truth and beauty to American politics from the inside, because people who work in politics are tired of dysfunction. Writers who join us creatively explore healing for work culture, communication, and personal well-being.
Journal Entry #105