Lessons from the mountains…
JOHN MUIR, renowned naturalist and preservationist, famously coined the phrase “the mountains are calling, and I must go” in a letter he wrote to his sister in 1873. The continuation of his quote, markedly less famous, is “and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” Muir was on to something, indeed.
Mountains are an incredible metaphor for life itself. They challenge us, test our strength and endurance, and leave us in awe, just as life often does. It is no wonder they inspire art, photography, music and the ability to persist through it all. There is much to be learned from them, and, if we are wise, we will study their lessons incessantly. Follow along as we share a bit of their wisdom.
Mountains make us stop and take notice. Anyone who has stood at the base of a mountain like Mt. Shasta knows that its sheer scale is enough to stop even the busiest soul in his or her tracks. Looking up at that massive, majestic wonder forces us to take a moment to process, consider, and take it all in – even if we had other plans. They remind us that there is no harm in stopping to catch our breath, no foul in enjoying a few quiet moments of admiration at the happy moments in life. The world will not cease to turn if we do. In fact, it will be all the better for it.
Mountains are not afraid of a challenge. Those mountains – Shasta, Lassen and Trinity, to name a few – have seen more than a few years and more than a few struggles. They have borne witness to the earth shifting beneath them, they have persevered through fires and eruptions. They have been frozen and unfrozen and frozen again for lifetimes, and there they stand – unwavering and majestic. They remind us that no matter the challenge, we can stand strong and live to tell the tale.
Mountains are made of the good stuff. These massive mountain ranges are comprised of some of the strongest stuff imaginable. Whether igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic rock, you can count on one thing – a mountain was built to last. Those rock layers have stood the test of time and have been the reason rivers and streams have had to change their course. They remind us to build ourselves, our families and our values on a strong foundation. They remind us that if we hold firm in love, even when the storms come, we will remain standing.
Mountains remind us to plan for the unexpected. We would not dream of going hiking without the proper tools. At a minimum, it is a good idea to have a sturdy pair of hiking boots, bug repellent, sunblock, a first aid kit, a camera, a few snacks and plenty of water. Although there is nothing wrong with a solo hike every now and then, it is always best to have a walking buddy (or 10) to add joy to the journey. A walk in the wilderness forces us to think ahead about what – and who – matters most. And life is just one big walk in the wilderness.
Mountains remind us that we are never far from danger. From wild animals to poisonous plants to slippery slopes, the mountain is full of rough experiences. We never know what is around the next corner – and that is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. When you are in the mountains, it is important to stay ready. While we are not likely to meet with the same kind of danger in life as we do in the mountains, we have got to anticipate that into every life, some danger will come. The key is to be prepared and always have an exit strategy.
Mountains remind us to take one step at a time. Whether you are on a low-impact hike or scaling the sheer edge of Half Dome, we can only make it to the top if we can safely put one foot in front of the other. Slowly, steadily we climb, making sure to step on solid ground. And that is how we have to go through life – taking it in bite-sized pieces. Sometimes we try to take three, four or five steps in one fell swoop. In that moment, we have the greatest chance of losing our footing. Focus on the step you are taking with determination and an end goal – and watch how high you can climb.
Mountains remind us to be responsible for ourselves. The rule when you are hiking is that if you pack it in, you pack it out. Leaving trash piled up for others to manage is bad form. The same rules apply in life. If you make a mess, clean it up. Take responsibility for yourself. Your happiness and well-being is an inside job.
Mountains let us be ourselves. The mountains don’t require us to be talkative, sociable or engaging. They don’t require perfection. They allow us to be as quiet, introspective and perfectly imperfect as we need to be. They give us the space and opportunity to be ourselves, without pomp and circumstance or apology. Perhaps that is why we are so refreshed after a few hours on a mountain. There in nature, we feel right at home with ourselves.
Mountains inspire our creativity. Blooms we have never seen before. The little bird that bends her head as she notices a passerby. The way the light finds its way through the leaves. The sound of our feet as they carry us along the path. The way our hearts accelerate when we finally reach that vista. There are so many imagistic and visceral experiences to be found on a mountain. We carry those experiences in our hearts and they come back to life in the form of creativity. That is why Ansel Adams found Yosemite such a fitting muse. In his photos, he captured just a glimpse of all the beauty that is to be found on a mountain and in life. It is why John Muir answered the call when the mountains called.