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.
Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Exodus 20: 18-19
It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry and the hills sing forth praise? ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
We have pushed God away, not wanting to see His fire, nor smell the smoke of His burning branches, nor feel the singe of our own eyelashes by His heat. In our fear and discomfort, we fail to listen to His voice coming from the fire. So we try to douse it by quenching our longing for Him. We fear submitting to Him when we may be burned to a crisp.
Yet we live empty lives without Him. We cannot relight the smoldering bush ourselves; it is rekindled only by His ignition through His incarnation — God With Us invites us back to His mountain to remove our shoes on Holy Ground and face Him, trembling.
He asks that our feet and hearts be naked and vulnerable.
Only then can we can hear the wind cry and the hills sing forth praise — the voice of God Himself is heard in the cry of an Infant.
Autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of maturity; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance. What man can stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of this world and the meaning of the rolling hills that reach to the far horizon? ~Hal Borland
Summer, waning and wistful, has packed up and moved on without bidding adieu or looking back over its shoulder. Cooling winds have carried in darkening clouds spewing long overdue rain. Though we need a good drenching there are still onions and potatoes to pull from the ground, apples to harvest, tomatoes not yet ripened, corn cobs just too skinny to pick.
I’m not ready to wave goodbye to sun-soaked clear skies and the lush richness of summer.
The overhead overcast is heavily burdened with clues of what is to come: earlier dusk, the feel of moisture-filled air, the deepening graying hues, the briskness of breezes. There is no negotiation possible. I steel myself and get ready, wrapping myself in the soft shawl of inevitability.
So autumn advances with the clouds, taking up residence where summer has left off. Though there is still clean up of the overabundance left behind, autumn has brought its own unique plans for display of a delicious palette of hues. It is an eternal corrective for what ails us.
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. He began to say to himself ‘Perhaps I shall cross the river myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied ‘Not yet.’ ~J.R.R. Tolkien — Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings
When you live in Whatcom County, as we do, it is possible to cross the river (several times) over 90 minutes of two lane highway switchbacks to arrive in these wild lands, breathless and overcome by majesty.
Visions of mountains from our dreams become an overwhelming 360 degree reality.
God touches every square inch of earth as if He owns the place, and He does, but these square inches are particularly marked by His artistry. It is a place to feel awed by His magnificence.
As we crossed the river to return home last night, I was left to wonder, much like Tolkien’s Frodo pondering of wild land dreams, what bridges God is building to bring us back home to Him.
(these are photos I took yesterday of Mt. Shuksan from Heather Meadows and Picture Lake, as well as Mt. Baker and Table Mountain from Artist Point)