See What I Can See

Sometimes when I cannot find the time to climb the Black Mountains, I watch the sky darken around their edges as daylight fades from my porch view. I dissect the range by memory, pulling on images of hikes I’ve taken over the past four years. Sometimes this brings me a little closer, other times it saddens me, still other times it motivates me to up and hike them mountains the very next day.

When the leaves are full on the trees, their chlorophyll hands flapping like kites in the wind, from my porch I can discern the summit of Celo Knob and a good portion of it’s south falling slope that gives way to Deep Gap. I am close enough to the summit to make out individual trees from my porch perch. I am close enough on a clear day after two days of heavy rain to see the white splashes of springs giving way to creeks that carve down the range like silver snakes. But still, I am far enough that I cannot tell where the black bears sleep. Far enough that it’s guesswork deciphering whether the uppermost spring on Colbert’s Creek Trail has run dry in our drought summer (an important fact, seeing as how it’s the last chance for water before summit).

My friend helped me study a map of Colorado this morning, as I described with eagerness my winter trip to Denver and Crested Butte. “Jesus, God!” Willy said, his smooth, tan fingers tracing the lines of the Rocky Mountains redundantly, as if the fingers themselves had already grown numb from frostnip at 12,000 feet. “Crested Butte? How are you even going to get there?” This from a man who has no-joke-literally driven every inch of interstate in the continental United States. I do not have to say anything. His fingers, released from the topographical tease of the Rockies, trace out the most direct route, cutting across gravel roads and mountain ranges even the maps of which invoke shit-your-pants views and hairpin turns.

And in this moment I have to ask myself what it is that I’m after. Mountains have always tugged at my soul. I have always known they were where I would end up. There’s something to the mystery of it – the challenge that each summit symbolizes. I am reminded of the children’s song about a bear that climbs and climbs and climbs a huge mountain, just to see what he could see. What did he see? “The other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, was all that he could see.”

Endlessness. Cycles. A vastness that is greater than the human predicament. Isn’t that what we’re all seeking? Some find it at oceans in the endless tides. Others in cities, the endless noise and bustle and growth and sweat. But make me a bed of rock any day and if for some reason it is too flat, I will carve the rest of the earth down around it so that at last, a summit is decipherable, a point from which to see what I can see.

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