John Muir said that the mountains were calling him, and that he must go.
The oft-quoted phrase came to mind yesterday while I was driving up Highway 34 toward Estes Park, Colorado. I was back in the state, for longer than a short visit, for the first time since I took a semester off school in Spring 2017. Before that, it had been since high school that I spent more than a month in the foothills of the Rockies.
I was driving up the canyon from Loveland because I had been sitting, reading, enjoying a day off. And I suddenly got cabin fever. I was sitting on the back porch of my in-laws’ place, overlooking Boyd Lake and the Rockies past it – impeccably clear on a cloudless, warm August morning – and I felt the urge to go there.
Many times during my five-plus years away from Colorado, people would say things like “You’re from Colorado? Why would you ever leave?” and “It’s such a beautiful state–what do you do there?”
But I lived in the foothills of the Rockies most of my life, and took them for granted. I vowed not to do so again, when I returned.
I got back into town a few days ago, and going into the mountains was near the top of my list of priorities. Now that I was doing so, I felt a fairly immediate sense of relief. I continued my reading, and general pondering, in a mountain park I had never noticed before, but must have crossed at least a hundred times in my life.
I started by looking for some good shade, and a nice couple, yelling from across the Big Thompson River, warned me that a mama bear and her cubs had been directly behind me just a few minutes ago. I thanked them, and continued forward cautiously. I didn’t encounter the bears, thankfully but disappointedly (I would have loved to see them from a short distance); I did, however, have a baby wasp and a caterpillar crawl on me as I sat and read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn.
I wondered what instincts a wasp follows, if a bumblebee follows the instinct to pollinate. To cause general discomfort to humans? But this one just wandered along the picnic table (of unknown material–if anyone can decipher this article, let me know).
Anyway, Muir’s phrase is usually abbreviated to include only the words above. As it turns out, there is more to the original quote, from an 1873 letter the naturalist wrote to his sister: “The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.”
I felt that too, yesterday–a call to explore, to broaden horizons, to be uncomfortable for the sake of growth and creativity. And while Muir felt the call to work for the preservation of natural areas in the United States (and thank God for him!), I too feel the call to work and study while basking in the breathtaking, luminous shadow of mountain peaks.
…Do the mountains call you?