He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Rings
Thank God who seasons thus the year, And sometimes kindly slants his rays; For in his winter he’s most near And plainest seen upon the shortest days.
I scent my med’cine from afar, Where the rude simpler of the year October leads the rustling war, And strews his honors on the summer’s bier.
The evening of the year draws on, The fields a later aspect wear; Since Summer’s garishness is gone, Some grains of night tincture the noontide air. ~Henry David Thoreau, selected stanzas from “The Fall of the Leaf”
Wandering in a wild land of beauty,
especially in the coolness of autumn,
with the dry hot melting “garishness” of summer past,
God is most plain in these places,
His slanting rays touching
everything and all,
Light wakes us – there’s the sun climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley, finding our faces. It is July, between the hay and harvest, a time at arm’s length from all other time…
It is the time to set aside all vigil, good or ill, to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention as dandelions let seedlings to the wind. Wake with the light. Get up and go about the day and watch its surfaces that brighten with the sun. ~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”
Saying good-bye to July
is admitting summer is almost half-baked
and so are we
not nearly done enough.
The rush to autumn is breathless
and we want to hold on tight
to our longish days
and our sweaty nights
for just a little while longer,
Please, oh please
grant us light
just a little while longer.
He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire. ~J.R.R Tolkien from Lord of the Rings
I am so high in the windy sun, On the rock-boned back of the highest thing, That the mountains under me, every one, Are but wrinkled gestures …. westering. ~Thomas Hornsby Ferril from “One Mountain Hour”
Surrounded as we are in the northwest by so much raw and rugged beauty, I’m easily overwhelmed. My breath catches when I turn my face to these monoliths of stone and ice.
There is no sound up there except my heartbeat. No birds. Even breezes are silent with no trees or leaves to rustle. Twenty foot walls of snow.
I am content to gaze at these peaks from afar, now and again to visit awed at their feet, to listen for their stories of near-eternity.
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.
For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.
“Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.”
I am easily lost in a horizon of blue mountains
or a vivid sky with clouds
or the innards of a blue iris~
these are landscapes in my mind
forever beyond my reach,
where I can never go,
but dwell nevertheless
simply by opening my eyes to see,
my heart forgets me not
my soul, once lost, now found.
I came here to study hard things – rock mountain and salt sea – and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend.
These mountains — Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula — are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world….
That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
Sometimes the mountain is hidden from me in veils of cloud, sometimes I am hidden from the mountain in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue, when I forget or refuse to go down to the shore or a few yards up the road, on a clear day, to reconfirm that witnessing presence. ~Denise Levertov “Witness”
Even on the days like today when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there. It has not moved in the night, gone to another county, blown up or melted down. My vision isn’t penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover today, but it will return to my line of sight, if not tomorrow, perhaps the next day. I know this and have faith it is true.
On the days when I am not bothering to look for it, too preoccupied so walk right past its obvious grandeur and presence, then it is reaching out to me and calling me back. There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there it is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness. I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.
It witnesses my lack of witness and, so mysterious, stays put to hold me fast yet another day. And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my veil, just one more time.
…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is opposed
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” ~Luke 2: 30-35 from the Song of Simeon
…Grant us thy peace. Before the stations of the mountain of desolation, Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow, Now at this birth season of decease, Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word, Grant Israel’s consolation To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow. According to thy word. They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation With glory and derision, Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair. Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer, Not for me the ultimate vision. Grant me thy peace. (And a sword shall pierce thy heart, Thine also).
~T.S. Eliot from “A Song for Simeon”
Simeon had waited and waited for this promised moment of meeting the Son of God face to face, not knowing when or how, not knowing he would be able to hold him fast in his arms, not knowing he would be able to personally bless the parents of this holy child.
He certainly could not know this child would be the cause of so much joy and sorrow for all those who love Him deeply.
That sword of painful truth pierces into our soul, opening us with the precision of a surgeon under high beam lights in the operating room where nothing is left unilluminated. We are, by the birth of Jesus, bared completely, our darkness thrust into dawn, our hearts revealed as never before, no matter who we are, our place of origin, our faith or lack thereof. This is an equal opportunity surgery.
It is terrifying, this mountain of desolation, all cracks and crevices thrust into the light. And it should be, given what we are, every one of us.
Yet God is who we wait for, longing and hungry for peace. We are tired, too tired to continue to hide within the darkness and conflict of our sin. We, like Simeon, are desperate for the peace of His appearance among us, dwelling with us, when we can gather Him into our arms, when all becomes known and understood and forgiven.
His birth is the end of our death, the beginning of the outward radiance of His peace, and wide open to all who open themselves to Him.