Friday, August 12, 2011

Late Summer Perspective from a Mountain Pass

A mountain goat ten feet away looks up at me with curious eyes and tilted head, as if to ask, “what are you doing up here?” Behind him the horizon recedes to infinity beyond Lake McDonald, 3,300 feet below. We stand together atop Lincoln Pass in Glacier National Park, sharing a spectacular panoramic view of the Whitefish Range.

My morning hike began at the historic Sperry Chalet, a rustic stone compound that was finally opened for the summer season the day before. It had been nearly scraped off its lofty perch on Gunsight Mountain by a winter avalanche that swept an adjacent pine grove into oblivion with unimaginable force.

Fresh grizzly tracks in the snow next to mine -- perhaps left by the mother bear and her cubs spotted in the area the day before -- enhance my ability to see, hear, and smell. Every hair is on full alert. My heart and lungs labor in the high altitude. Warm sunshine takes the chill out of the breeze coming off the snowpack. Distant waterfalls, fed by hanging lakes and rapidly melting snow, whisper a background track for the bright songs of alpine sparrows and finches. Clumps of brilliant green and yellow glacier lilies push up through the snow at my feet.

No AT&T bars exist here to imprison my mind with unimportant emergencies and unnecessary information. Spared from breaking news, email, texts, and phone calls for the past few days, my mind is clear, relaxed and focused.

My surefooted companion scampers easily where I have to tread clumsily with crampons and ski poles to avoid sliding down the snowfields. His cloven hooves, evolved to spread apart and grip the snow, serve him well as he frolics in his realm without a care.

My eyes soak in a scene with infinite detail at all scales, from the luminous fractal lichens on the rocks in front of me to the layered colors of mountain ranges rolling out like waves in the distance. Some are painted with the brilliant golden light of the morning sun, while others are gently caressed by the shadows of watercolor clouds. How many thousand millennia have passed in the making of this glorious scene? No photo could ever capture the grandeur and abundance of this view. I could stand here for a lifetime and not see it all and I know it will change in the next moment.

“What am I doing here? I am trying to be present in this lovely place with you, my woolly friend. Thanks for sharing your home with me.”