Mountains Diagnose the Human Condition ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mountains Diagnose the Human Condition

AJ looks at the Keyhole

Anyone who is even slightly self-aware comes away from a trip to the Mountains feeling as if a doorway of some kind has been opened. Typically, in my experience, the portal reflects an otherworldly glory that seems to be in short supply down in the flatlands. Something about the mist and the thin air and the hugeness of the peaks makes the human condition seem secondary and causes the unseen to rise with haunting life.

I've written about this before, though.

The energy that drives a person be first to the top is one of the more subversive and surprising of impulses.

On this latest trip, the mountains were transcendently bittersweet as always, but they also reflected human nature in a fascinating light. Have you ever considered that among the more unchanging elements of a trail are the human responses to it? Admittedly, the eight-mile (one way) path to Long's Peak, with its thrilling 14,000-foot altitude gain and numerous opportunities for sudden death, hasn't changed much in the seven years since I last climbed it. But I can't imagine that the emotions of the hikers have changed all that much either.

For example, there will always be a handful of people hauling themselves up vertical inclines at a deceptively measured pace, glancing furtively over their shoulders. The unexpected desire to be up front and stay there emerges in the most modest of psyches. (Believe me, I know.) The energy that drives a person be first to the top is one of the more subversive and surprising of impulses. Why? Because it's painful to indulge, the rewards are limited, and it appears in the most unexpected places.
When you cross the rocky saddle between Long's and Battle Mountain, and see the infamous half mile Boulder Field stretched out in front of you, adrenalin starts pumping.

When I tried to line out a simple explanation for the phenomenon, the best answer I could give was "glory." Mountains reveal that most of us, even unknown to ourselves, want to get some - even if we wouldn't put it in those terms. When there is no one in front of me on the trail, and everyone else has to look over my shoulder to see the top...there is something very good about the scenario. Something that, in my experience, runs a little deeper than the ego, although I'm not saying that organ is totally inactive at high altitudes.

Another observation had to do with the way new bursts of energy appeared when we encountered changes in terrain. The first couple miles of the Long's Peak trail (which you traverse with flashlights, having started the hike at 4 a.m.) run through vertical stacks of aspens. When you reach the tundra zone, and watch the first glimmer of dawn splash over the treetops, the glow is also internal. And when you cross the rocky saddle between Long's and Battle Mountain, and see the infamous half mile Boulder Field stretched out in front of you, adrenalin starts pumping.

I was struck by the fact that novelty strikes a deep chord in the human heart. The scenery changes and the heart jumps - and not just that - apparently the calves get a boost as well. In consumer culture, the Athenian obsession with "something new" gives novelty a bad rap, and deservedly so. But hiking through changing mountain zones, it became obvious that the desire for fluctuating beauty is not purely cheap and artificial.

I've been debating how much to say on these topics, and how carefully to draw out the main gist of this post. Bittersweet protocol tends to be understated, though, and I guess I won't deviate from it now. So draw out the implications yourselves. That's right. This is the end.

I'll just say that the light mountains shine on our hearts points up Heaven in striking contrast.



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8 comments:

R. Sherman said...

Nice.

e-Mom said...

Nice writing. Just the right length. We're hikers too, in the Pacific Northwest.

Anonymous said...

"On this latest trip, the mountains were transcendently bittersweet as always, but they also reflected human nature in a fascinating light." True in many ways. Even the more reserved hikers cannot contain the ebullient response to the sights at the top. However, perhaps the most 'fascinating' is the existence of hikers who would choose to restrain natural instinct to bring others to new heights of glory.

Will Robison said...

I feel abandoned. You got to the tundra zone and the boulder field... and then you left off. Did you reach the top? What was it like up there? You must have a Part Two!

Ariel said...

"However, perhaps the most 'fascinating' is the existence of hikers who would choose to restrain natural instinct to bring others to new heights of glory."

That's one of the more insightful anonymous comments I've read around here recently. If a Christian, such a hiker could only be motivated by love, which in turn is driven by a desire for greater joy, i.e., joy that is shared...and in the end, this too is linked back to the elusive longing for glory, don't you think?

"I feel abandoned. You got to the tundra zone and the boulder field... and then you left off."

I'm flattered, Will. You noticed the incomplete narrative and you actually care? I'm touched, and will post some more photos and hike account as a result... ;)

Anonymous said...

"the elusive longing for glory" This thought has had the audacity
to plague my thoughts this week, leading me to come back to comment again, or rather to question. Is it only a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of glory to observe it solo, and the greater view comes through Christ displayed through His people?
Sitting across from my loved one in the hospital bed has caused me to wonder, can I see new perspectives of glory by fighting with her for joy?
It puts a new perspective on the idea of 'new testament church' in modern day. Perhaps the unity of the believers came more from the 'elusive longing' to see His glory and experience it together, than the fact that they gathered daily and shared possessions.

Anonymous said...

"the elusive longing for glory" This thought has had the audacity
to plague my thoughts this week, leading me to come back to comment again, or rather to question. Is it only a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of glory to observe it solo, and the greater view comes through Christ displayed through His people?
Sitting across from my loved one in the hospital bed has caused me to wonder, can I see new perspectives of glory by fighting with her for joy?
It puts a new perspective on the idea of 'new testament church' in modern day. Perhaps the unity of the believers came more from the 'elusive longing' to see His glory and experience it together, than the fact that they gathered daily and shared possessions.

Ariel said...

"Is it only a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of glory to observe it solo, and the greater view comes through Christ displayed through His people?"

When Christ talked about heaven, he spoke about a "city" - which causes me to conclude that the "perfect" social structure will finally be communal, interpersonal, rather than solitary.

On earth, it may be easier to see glory in a mountain, because mountains don't verbally insult you or fail to laugh at your jokes. Humans are much more sophisticated in their sin than the mountains are. But given the precedent that Christ set, your suggestion is right: In the economy of Christ, people are better and truer transmitters of glory.

"Perhaps the unity of the believers came more from the 'elusive longing' to see His glory and experience it together, than the fact that they gathered daily and shared possessions."

I think this is also true. Even the best of friendships deteriorate without the magnetic attraction of Christ.

Good thoughts.

 

Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife