I’m not sure when my not-so-secret love affair of the mountains began, but I know I have always been in love with the mountains – especially the mountains of Colorado. Over the Easter weekend, I got the rare opportunity to visit the San Luis Valley and get a touch of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range by visiting Zapata Falls. There is something that puts me at peace about the mountains – even when taking the extremely small walk of a quarter mile with people that did nothing but bitch and complain the entire way up (that’s another topic, so I’ll simply let it go at that). I experience the truest form of Serenity when I am in the mountains.
I remember growing up and going hiking with my dad and siblings in the mountains. I always imagined myself as an elf – a protector of the woods. I imagined being among the trees, climbing mountains, appreciating mountain lakes and streams, as well as embracing all that nature offers. I remember the countless camping and fishing trips I took with my grandparents, I remember going with my parents to various mountain towns, going skiing with my aunt, and on and on. I was a Coloradoan, for sure. There was something about being connected to nature that just made sense to me for as long as I could remember. Even as I approached adulthood, I always knew the mountains and nature were special to me.
I always saw God, in nature.
But sometime, somewhere I fell out of touch with nature. I fell out of touch with the mountains and I seemed to have lost that connection I held so closely at one time. I am not sure if it was my growing responsibilities, I’m not sure if I became disinterested because my life took on other areas of interests or if it happened to be the explosion of people that came to Colorado over the past 20 years (and the last 5 or 6 has been an even more rapid increase). But I lost that connection. I’ve been trying to get it back in a lot of ways.
For example, almost six years ago I climbed my first 14er (those Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet) and have been able to do three more since then. I knew I was in love with the mountains, but I had forgotten how much I loved them. This event, right before my 40th birthday, was the most amazing thing to me. Granted, I was still battling some major demons (I’m still engaged in that fight), but it gave me a sense of being able to accomplish something again. I have hopes of tackling all 58 (or 54, or 53 or whatever number people claim) peaks before I die, but the mere fact that they are there and not going anywhere gives me some peace. But I’ll be honest too – they are inundated with people.
I find this to be the case with a lot of hiking trips I go on. What I remember to be peaceful and serene from 20 or 25 years ago are no longer bastions of solitude. It is rare to be on a hiking trail and not encounter people. I totally understand while people hike – trust me, I get it – but it’s not the same as I remember. And as I write this, I have a memory of a trail my dad took me and my family on when I was a kid (And when my dad took us hiking, it usually lasted all day long). If I remember right, I think I was probably 10 or 11 years old and we were hiking this trail – somewhere in Summit County, I believe, and I have this memory of complete solitude.
We were hiking along, up a mountain side through Aspen trees and eventually we came upon a clearing of the trees into a small meadow. My dad and brothers had gone up ahead a little and my mom and sisters were trailing behind as I entered the meadow. And it was quiet, except for the chirping of birds. I remember standing there in the middle of this meadow and turning in circles and noticing the small wild flowers, the green wild grass, the white bark of the Aspen trees and thinking to myself, “This is perfect, God! This is the most beautiful thing I could imagine.” I don’t remember much of the rest of the hike, but I do remember this meadow. I’ll never forget the imagery etched in to my mind.
It is that feeling, that I have always wanted. This feeling of solitude and being alone among God’s creation. It’s also what I feel I can never experience again. It’s something I feel I have been searching for my entire life and yet can’t find. I come close to experiencing it, when I sit on a mountain top, but it lacks the solitude I once found. I have not given up hiking, like I had at one time, because I know how I feel when I do it. It has been almost a year, since my last hiking trip and over a year, since the one before that, so it’s hard to tell when I’ll get to go. I need that, however, I need that experience and I feel like there is always something that keeps me from it…
…maybe, some day, I’ll confront those things that keep me from peace and serenity…
49 days sober.