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08
Feb 2018

The Mountains Calling

I get a lot of wonderful cards in the mail from my wonderful sister, for any number of reasons, and for no reason at all. She has a knack for finding really great cards that are arty, fun, clever, and touch on any number of my favorite things (France, gin, that sort of thing!).

I particularly loved this card I got today, which gets extra points for the very cool envelope. Many, I’m sure, can relate to the sentiment shared on it, particularly here in my outdoor-loving Pacific Northwest home. You might even recognize it as being a quote from John Muir.

Seeing those words when I opened the card made me instantly smile, with an accompanying tug at my heart. They are words found on our father’s gravestone, continuing to include “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 off like autumn leaves.” Set alongside the outline of some mountain peaks, there could be no better testament to my dad’s life and his love of the mountains. I don’t go visit his grave all that often, but I think about him pretty much every time the Olympic Mountains are crisply outlined and standing alert, not masked by clouds. He hiked those mountains from the time he was a young boy, I hiked there with him when I was a little kid (had my first backpack at age 5, still remember how brightly orange it was), and I hiked with him there just a few years before he died. That’s the way I love to remember him.

Until today, I’d never considered the source of that quote, beyond knowing it was attributed to Muir. I’ve since learned it comes from a book he published in 1901 called Our National Parks, itself apparently a collection of writings he’d done for the Atlantic Monthly. This popular quote shows up about midway in a chapter about Yellowstone National Park, in a paragraph lamenting places most visitors miss because they’re in too much a hurry to take it all in. “Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day,” he proclaims, noting what a “bewildering, swirling blur” that is “unrememberable” when we race through the wilderness. Instead, he says, “Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grass and gentians of glacier meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of Nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.”

Oh wow. And it gets better still after the dropping off like autumn leaves: “As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail. Like a generous host, she offers here brimming cups in endless variety, served in a grand hall, the sky its ceiling, the mountains its walls, decorated with glorious paintings and enlivened with bands of music ever playing.”

The timing of this card was poignant, just this morning before the mail came, I’d been picturing myself walking through the lush forest, hearing the heavy footfalls of my hiking boots, breathing in that distinctly rich tree-moss-stone-lichen aroma, sunlight making its way through the branches to dapple the undergrowth. Part of my work-in-progress new effort to meditate most days. That image helped me focus a bit, along with another favorite memory from countless hikes back when — sitting on a big boulder in whatever section of river we were camping alongside (likely the Dosewallips, a trail I think I’ve traveled more than any other). Hearing the gentle rush of the water, feeling its coolness, watching for the birds, chipmunks, other wildlife scurrying around. Being surrounded by nature, revived by it after a day’s hiking and energized by it after a not-always-sound sleep. Grateful doesn’t come close to expressing the degree of appreciation I have for all those times my dad led us into the Olympics.

I’ve been missing the mountains, longing to dust off the hiking books and get out on the trails. Today is giving me more motivation to do so. It’s not quite the same without my dad there just a few paces ahead. But I know he’s up there among the forests, alpine meadows, glaciers and peaks. I could use some of those good tidings.