John Muir, still credited as the Father of the National Parks here in the States was famously quoted in a letter to his sister that “The Mountains are Calling and I must Go”. I don’t think you can ever appreciate such words until you’ve had the opportunity to visit places like the Rockies or here in Denali to understand the draw to such places, places that have cost many their lives in seeking not just the thrill of the adventure but a call from deep within to the wildest places of our own lives and theirs. Although I could never even begin to fathom the undertaking of those that descend more than 20,000 feet to reach the Summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley), there is something within that captivates you to such beauty and majesty, that when you’re in their presence, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of them, as if they have this innate quality to seduce you to a deeper mystery of and recognition that there is something not only beyond but deep within that is much larger than I can ever begin to grasp.
As we ascended today into a much colder climate, walking along Pika Glacier, it was hard to know where to look next, trying to absorb something that is beyond words. For a moment I drew my camera from my pocket, but I still know that the lens will never quite capture an experience that not only took us to the height of the mountains with thirty-some degree temperatures in late July, but at the same time into the depths of my own being, touching something that is known and yet remains so much a mystery. Of course, it was capped off by flying nearly 11,000 feet to capture a glimpse of the majestic peak of Denali, with a blinding sun bouncing off the pure white of snow to the deep blue skies only known to this Easterner during the months of January and February. But there it was, in all its glory.
Even as I sit here this evening, I can see outside the window part of that same Alaskan mountain range, not nearly as high and cleared of any signs of winters wrath. Of all the excursions that we have the opportunity to participate in on this trip, for me, this was number one. Like Muir, there always seems to be the call of the wild and nothing much like the call of the mountains. For someone who spends a great deal of time around concrete and macadam, it so often seems that the call becomes more faint. Some would say that we become nature deprived and when we do, the call only becomes louder and louder within. Today I responded to that call to go to the greater heights and depths all at the same time.
I really cannot imagine what it’s like for those who scale these mountains and peaks and the harm and danger in which they put themselves all in response to this call. No, we aren’t all called in the same way. For some of us, it’s to share the experience and lead others to those very places within, to the Denali of our own souls that takes more than a plane with skis to truly reach, but a symbol and metaphor nonetheless for the seeking of God and self. So there we were, a mere 5,800 feet up standing on the glacier, trying to take it all in. But that’s the challenge for us even in life, knowing we can’t possibly take it all in or know the depths of such beauty and mystery. All we can do is each day respond to the call of the mountains and then go. Despite the risk or any danger of living life with such courage, the more we respond the more we are seduced by the beauty and depth, as if this Mountain has somehow captured our hearts and souls without us even knowing it. For those who choose to stand by and ignore a God of such majesty, it must be hard to explain something so magnificent in a scientific way or the movement of tectonic plates and earthquakes over the years. No, there is something much more here and it captures the minds and hearts of everyone, from the first moment of catching a glimpse.
Today, it was more than a glimpse. It was literally touching and smelling, breathing in something that remains unspoken and yet experienced in such a deep way. As we flew through, shivering at times with fingers chilled, none of it seemed to matter. Nothing seemed to matter because you knew you were in the presence of something great, of something beyond words, of something beyond explanation, and yet, seductive beyond belief, drawing each of us into to the more we seek and desire in life. Like Muir, when the mountains call, you go. Otherwise we torture ourselves, trying to control and direct our own lives, rather than stepping out of the plane into an unknown place within the heart of the Mountain, to have hearts, minds, and perspectives changed by the simple gift of responding to the call of the Mountain.