Mountains We Had Never Seen

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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

 

 

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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”

 

 

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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,
especially me.

 

 

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Ah, What Then?

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What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
~Samuel Coleridge  “What if you slept”

 

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This mountain, this strange and beautiful Shuksan flower that appears suddenly as we round a corner on the hour drive up the Mt. Baker Highway:  this mountain has one foot on earth and one foot in heaven – a thin place if there ever was one.

The only way to approach is in awed silence, as if entering the door of a grand cathedral.  Those who are there speak in hushed tones if they speak at all.

Today Mt Shuksan wears autumn lightly about its shoulders as a multi-faceted cloak, barely anticipating the heavy snow coat to descend in the next two weeks.

I hold this mountain tight in my fist, wanting to turn it this way and that, breathe in its fragrance, bring it home with me and never let go.

Ah, what then?

Home is not nearly big enough for heaven to dwell.  I must content myself with this visit to the thin edge, peering through the open door, and waiting until invited to come inside.

 

 

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To Shut Out the Immensity

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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 

 

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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”

 

 

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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.

I always retreat back home chastened.

So infinitesimal among such immensity.

 

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Peak and Valley

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One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.
— G. K. Chesterton

 

 

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It is all a matter of perspective
and what we perceive from where we stand:
it takes great strength and determination to climb the peak,
and look down upon the valley left far below
where even mountains seem diminished.

Yet what gives life meaning,
what encourages our faith,
and instills hope
is how we thrive while dwelling
deep in the darkest of valleys while
gazing up at the dream-like peaks.

 

 

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photo by Josh Scholten — view of Mt Shuksan from the top of Mt. Baker

 

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photo by Josh Scholten – dawn from the top of Mt. Baker, seeing its shadow to the west

 

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Only More Mysterious

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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

 

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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”

 

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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.

 

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Strange Visions of Mountains

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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 Ring

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

Perhaps we actually dwell in Middle Earth here in the Pacific Northwest where astounding, mysterious and dangerous places abound.
The mountains are much more than strange visions; they stand sentinel over our backyard.

For those who live in the unending horizon of the plains, this is the stuff of dreams.

I wake early each morning,  just in case the color explodes overhead.

It did today.

 

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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Never Enough

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Just as a painter needs light
in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, 

so I need an inner light, 
which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.
~Leo Tolstoy

 

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Let’s go I said.
I need to find some light, but not just any light I said — now.
Sure he said.
He loves to drive winding roads to breathe chill alpine air.

We headed east an hour before sunset to try to make it in time.
The highway so empty going up.
Gas tank nearing empty with no time to fill up.
Only tripod photographers still there, waiting for a full moon rise.

What we see from our backyard forty miles away overwhelms
when standing awestruck in its front yard.
My tank nearing empty slowly filled part-way.
This intentional overdose of light should last me until next autumn.
I am overcome even when it is never enough.

 

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Support for the Barnstorming Blog

Your financial support keeps this blog a daily offering and ad-free. A one-time contribution helps greatly.

$10.00