Andersen: To enjoy such lands as these
Last week, in the heights of Star Basin, the sun cast brilliant rays into a huge reflector of snow and mountain. Skiing across it was breathtaking, and not only because we were above 12,000 feet.
Some say that life is only lived in the valleys, that the mountaintops are foreboding and forbidding. This was the ancient view of mountains, which struck fear into mortal man and made the lofty aeries homes of the gods where human trespass could prove fatal.
In Star Basin last week, the corporeal transcended to the spiritual, something Albert Schweitzer and Goethe spoke of as the highest progress of man. Converting matter to spirit has been an enlightenment quest for millennia. When it happens within you and without you on a mountain, the elation is euphoric.
If you could bottle and sell this experience, there would be no end to capital gains. But this elation is not for sale. It is free and available to anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to seek the surreal beauty of sun and snow and rock, all under a sky so blue, so clear, that it is nearly black.
My son, Tait, and I, along with three friends, spent five days last week ski touring above 11,000 feet. We visited four rustic mountain huts and crossed three high passes. We were as tiny ants trekking through a vast mountain kingdom. In this realm, humility is deeply impressed by enormous landscapes, with peaks lined out in every direction.
It is true that life is mostly lived in the valleys. That’s where the thrumming of motors and the roar of commerce pool into an incessant human enterprise that seems to know neither limits nor appropriate boundaries.
But it is up in the high mountains where the spirit soars, wafted by winds that sweep the ridges, scented with the sweet fragrance of tall evergreens. Up here in the thin, cool air, the wonder and awe of living provide an imprint on the whole being that has incalculable reach.
To have such lands as our National Forests and wilderness areas is a blessed gift of our forebears who had vision enough to set them aside in their natural state. There are those who despise such vision, who rail against saving landscapes for their children. But they are a minority, blind to ethereal beauty, deaf to the voices of nature. Perhaps their children will one day teach them how to love it.
Our tour began atop Aspen Mountain on a cool, snowy morning. We launched off the backside and skied 8 miles across Richmond Ridge. The weather delivered a diversity of intermittent snow, dappled clouds and god-rays of sunshine streaking across distant ridgelines. Nature’s curtains opened and closed in an atmospheric peepshow of revolving spectacles.
The glazed snowpack of an early spring was covered by several inches of soft fluff through which our skis glided silently. We carved arcing turns through these crystalline feathers on gladed slopes where our tracks mingled like calligraphy and wrote our progress in white script.
Day after day in wild country either heightens or coarsens one’s deeper instincts, emboldening the ego or imbuing the soul with reverence. Lucky are those who are ennobled rather than debased by the wildness that touches their spirit.
These wild, open, inviting lands are legacy not only of historic conservation and stewardship. They reach into our 2 million years of evolution, conjuring deep human memories of murky origins, eliciting instincts and sensory prompts that attune us with the first pulse beats of life.
My son and I and our friends skied together, traveling as a group. But we were individuals within that group, alone with our pack and skis among the echoes of creation, able to explore our places in the greatness and wholeness of it all.
We are all children of nature, born of the same womb, guided by the same sun, gazing at the same moon, led to wonder by the same stars. To enjoy such lands as these provides us a perspective to live fully.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not trekking across a serene wilderness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.