Robert’s Horn and Primrose Cirque. Timpanogos, Wasatch, Utah.
The mountains are enjoyed easily from afar. Those distant, majestic, postcard views that pepper calendars and posters and of course, postcards. From the safe distance of a photograph we can imagine ourselves engulfed among the trees and meadows and rock and wildlife.
And some days I wonder if that is how the world experiences the outdoors – through print and television. A vicarious hike and bike and ski through a land overtly wild, difficult and much to far from the comforts of the RV to actually be a part of. And anyway, who wants to sweat and ache and be covered in dirt?
From afar the mountains are spectacular. But they are merely facades, props. They may as well be painted backdrops in some low budget Hollywood film. Precariously standing with only the rickety support of 2x4s hastily nailed together by some teenaged backlot rat as the only separation between upright utility and horizontal disaster.
In other words, a pretty picture only goes so far in telling the whole story.
The mountain story is a wonderful, ancient tale, one that comes in whispers and in wind. One perhaps different in the details, but similar in its broader ending. Which is a connection, a longing and belonging. Home. Like the desert, like the sea, the Rockies are an ancient, wise, indifferent presence. And to experience them for what they are, one must descend into the belly and into the heart. Rugged, vast, cluttered with undergrowth and loose boulders, thorny bushes and hungry animals, filled with snow light and deadly and beautiful.
Pictures from afar glass over the sharp detail of the surface. Of the dirt.
And yet, those far away horizons are the first that one sees of the mountains. Coming from the flatlands of the prairie, the first sight of the Colorado Front Range must have seemed utterly impossible. The sheer magnitude, grandeur and every other massive epithet of that sight ought to have dropped men to their knees. It does now. It must have then. So, while the story and its details are found within, the treatment is found without.
And together they create a world where men are humbled, beaten down, mortified and terrified. But also a place where one can rise, overcome, conquer (at least for a moment) and exalt.
And that contrast, that paradox, is why I love the mountains.