Generally, I like my mountains far enough away that I can see a snow-capped range in season, but in Colorado Springs — from whence I returned yesterday — the mountain is in town. The mountain is Pikes Peak, and it’s probably the most famous mountain in the United States.
The 1859 gold rush named itself “Pikes Peak or Bust” because that was the landmark that said, “Colorado territory” eloquently, simply and unforgettably. And there was gold in “them thar hills.”
People in Colorado Springs tend to reach a point where they navigate according to the location of Pikes Peak. Even my friend — who’s lived there less than a month — is already finding his way around the city by locating the mountain. At 14,110 feet (4301 meters), it is a powerful presence.
In my personal life, Pikes Peak holds a very important place. When my dad was very ill with MS and had not been outside the nursing home in a year, he asked me to take him outside so he could see “the mountain.” It was November. A cold, blustery wind whipped around us and a storm was coming over the peak. It was very dramatic. We stayed outside as long as we could. Not long after, my dad got pneumonia, went into a coma and that began his trajectory to death three months later. He went in and out of the coma during those three months. Deep inside, I know what my dad had asked from me. The mountain gave him freedom.
As for me, the word, “mountain,” showed up twice on a list of favorite words I was asked to write during an encounter group/team building activity at the American Language Institute where I was teaching at the time.
In the early 80s, I had a very narrow view of what constitutes a “mountain” and didn’t think much of the “hills” that edged the “civilized world” in San Diego. Over the thirty years I lived there, my narrow view widened and I began to understand what about the word “mountain” and the thing “mountain” I love and I learned that a mountain can be 1500 feet in elevation and still be challenging, beautiful and (yes) lovable.
Today, if I go outside and walk about fifty feet I can see two large ranges of mountains, still with snow on them; the San Juans to the west and the Sangre de Cristos to the east. North (not far) is yet another range. I live in a valley made by two ranges pulling apart and a river runs through it.
People and mountains mix — but only up to a point. Mountains are not commodities or pre-packaged spiritual experiences or enemies to be “conquered.” They are humungous, big-ass piles of rock and weather, covered with life of their own, living a “life” of their own. In spite of their massive powerful presence, they are fragile and easily damaged. Mt. Shasta — another mountain I like — is reputed to have all kinds of “mystical energy.” Those who believe it has mystical energy have “loved” that mountain so much that the plant and animal life in the lower elevations of that beautiful cone have been trampled and the ecosystem seriously compromised. The same thing is happening to often-trampled mountains throughout the world. 😦
My favorite mountain poem is by Tu-fu, Tang Dynasty Poet. I used to have it hanging on a wall in my house, the calligraphy by a friend of mine in China. It uses the mountain as a metaphor for transcending the pettiness of human life in which we can become inextricably tangled. The last line became a kind of charm, or mantra, for me when I found myself being pulled down by gossip, competition or any of the numerous tentacles of human interaction. It explained exactly why, most days, I climbed a mountain.
“…When you climb to the highest point,
Look around; all the other mountains seem small.”
If you’d like to read about my life with mountains, I have a blog, “Running Up that Hill With Dogs,” https://marthaseverest.wordpress.com/
P.S. Here’s a nice mountain who posed for me in Switzerland. It’s the Eiger (Ogre).