McAbee: Unmoving mountains
From most anywhere in Summit County you can see mountains, cradled as we are in the wrinkled folds of an unseen hand.
Every morning I get up and see the peaks of the Tenmile Range in the west and enjoy their superfluous beauty like so many from around the world have. Unlike those who come, take pictures and leave, I’m (and if you’re reading this week then likely you are too) here because the mountains are home and not just dates on a vacation calendar.
The Rocky Mountains are 100 to 200 million years old. That’s at least 36.5 billion sunrises, and geologists say the rocks that make the Rockies rocky are twice that old.
I am drawn to the mountains because they rarely, if ever, change. Yes, they become snow covered again and again. Yes, the alpine plants change from green to orange, yellow and red, but the mountains themselves reign over us in every season like a meditative old stoic.
If you look at photos of Peak One, the mountain looks about the same in 2004 as it did this morning. I’ve asked a few people older than I and they tell me that it even looks mostly like it did before I was born. This steadfast showing comforts me.
Compare this to the bitchy ocean, the subject of many poets’ verses, and you see she is never quite the same twice. Her tides ebb and flow and the beaches are assaulted by what Rudyard Kipling called “the heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash,” or the “crazy-eyed hurricane,” and he concluded “so and no otherwise hillmen desire their hills!”
And why is this?
For Kipling and me, no other landscape will do. In a world of impermanence, fly-by-night fads and falderal, the mountains prove unvarying and everlasting.
For the young girl who has lost daddy to death or divorce or the jilted lover who reaches for their partner in the night, “love” tragically becomes associated with “leave.” In this situation, he or she begins to withhold love in anticipation of the loss. The mountains hint that there must be something that we can count on with unwavering certainty.
This quality is the foundation of religion. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard some visitor to Summit County say exactly this: “How can you not believe in God living in this place?”
This absoluteness serves Christians as well as the seemingly new box to check, “Spiritual but not Religious.” Jehovah lived on a mountain, Zion it was called and the “Spiritual but not Religious” crowd that I know call the mountains their temple and crunching gravel their worship.
But the sheer indomitability of the mountains serves the atheist as well. They share with their religious brethren the desire for something, anything to prove absolutely so or not so.
“The mountains don’t care,” is a warning sign you see around here that reminds us that visiting the mountains carries with it much risk. It captures perfectly their benevolent indifference.
I say benevolent because I find it satisfying to know that something or someone can actually treat us all the same, yesterday, today and in faith, tomorrow. I am satisfied to know that there will not be differing measures for me or for anyone else when we ascend the same peak. We will either get to the summit or we won’t.
Jim Harrison, author of the novella “Legends of the Fall,” which they made into a film, said in a recent interview that “the singular pleasure of age is really not giving a shit.” And maybe that’s what I admire most about the mountains. At 200 million years or more, politics and other dramas, our individual lives, and any sense of entitlement bear little weight on this type of scale. Humility is the only reasonable response.
I am more like the ocean than the mountains. I am high and low, up and down, back and forth far more than I am steadfast and firm. Yet, at least each morning when I look out at the solid backbone of Colorado, I’ve got something to aim for.
Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.
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