For the first time in six months I’m back in the mountains. Tuesday I drove to Chicago and stayed a couple nights and saw some friends, then beelined it across the Plains to the Black Hills before turning south through Colorado. This week I’ve powered through hailstorms, spent a night in my car at a rest area in Wisconsin, seen (or didn’t see) a fogged over Crazy Horse Memorial, and visited a wolf sanctuary. I’m bound for LA where I’ll be staying at a friend’s beach house while he’s away. Life is not bad.
Saturday morning I was in Boulder. I walked around after breakfast with my friend Jace, who had recently moved there himself. Boulder reminds me of Ann Arbor – verdant, relatively dense, walkable and bikeable – except with mountains in the background. I said this to Jace and he said that living there you find yourself looking up a lot, and that does something to you. I recalled how last year when I would drive up to stay in the Catskills I’d fret in the car about feeling lonely once I got there, but then I’d round a bend in US-23 and suddenly see the mountains directly in front of me and I’d know: I’m going to be okay.
It’s not just visiting the mountains we’re talking about, or having access to them. It’s specifically living with mountains as a backdrop. Just them being there. They’re orienting, like a tall skyscraper. Except where skyscraper reminds you of man exerting his will against nature and gravity, a mountain reminds you that there are things much bigger than you. You can climb to their peaks without conquering them, you can photograph and map them without knowing them. Every time your eye goes to the snow-capped peaks above the traffic signals you acknowledge the plate tectonics of the unknown, unconscious, untameable.
I spotted a book about vision quests earlier on my airbnb host’s shelf here in New Mexico. I opened it to a random page and landed on a chapter called, You Must Go to a Natural Place That Is Sacred and Apart.
I think I’m already here.