I have met most of my best people through the mountains. Having this literal common ground is one of the brightest things in my life. We continually stumble over words to describe what it is that connects us—today I think that it’s as if we all discovered that parts of our hearts were painted in the same palette as the sunrise over a mountain range. Not identical, of course, but so coordinated and complimentary that the sum is ever greater than the individual parts.
If the world has any sense of justice, then I hope everyone has a place and community of this sort—like-minded people meeting and gathering in joy over an interest as common as breathing to this community. In the world of my mountain people, there is a combination of unspoken awe at the surroundings, a grateful delight in the strength and capabilities of our bodies to bring us to these places, a sweet riot of relief at having found others who share all this, and more. Somehow, believing that our hearts match, we open and are able to see and love each other deeply and easily. The knowledge of that common core, this rides out the stormy times, the silent times, this is what, after years of absence, allows us all to pick up right where the friendship left off, as if it had been the blink of an eye.
We are, as one of my dearest friends noted a decade ago, the best versions of ourselves in these places. But here is the trick: we can, none of us, stay statically in these places. Practically, the needs of life—water, food, shelter—are brutal when the temperatures drop and the snows come. Also, these places are somewhat obvious constructs, simulacrums of life. At times, the simplicity starts to feel limiting, like one is coloring with only the original eight Crayola colors. These places, they comfort, and after a time, they do not challenge us much—if we could stay, there would be a marked danger of complacency. And so, eventually, and with full hearts, we leave the woods and mountains for the real world.
I am increasingly disturbed that this “real” world is built in such a way that almost requires us to seek out refuges. My friends and I, we try to make the tensile strength of the community the refuge itself. Sometimes we succeed. We come together, unquestioningly, in times of joy and sorrow, we often keep our non-mountain lives still close to each other, and we flee to the mountains together as often as we can, touching the touchstones, reassuring ourselves that this other way, this other world, is real and possible.
What I see now, as we grow up and are puller farther away from this place, is how deeply we all crave it. People grow and change, other parts of our hearts pull us all over the globe, and thankfully so. But there is always something, when we return to the mountains, something that falls back into place. That, whatever it is, is the thing that we crave, the thing that we are almost always seeking and lacking in the world beyond the woods. I do not know what that thing is—I suspect it varies as much as the complimentary colors of our hearts. But this I know—we share the place where our things come alive.
And that is what I do not know how to bring out of the woods, down from the mountains. I try, as best I can, to keep that fire burning in my own heart and bones, to carry the haven I seek in how I act in the world. But, when what I find most lovely is the concert of hearts and bodies working together, I cannot fully bring this way of being, this possibility of a better, more authentic world out of the mountains, alone.
I have thought of communes, of farms, of founding schools, of any of a thousand schemes were my people and I could live and work beside each other, but nothing seems quite right. I am not seeking to go backwards—the paths we have all taken from the mountains are magnificent and diverse. But, nothing else seems to have come close to offering anyone the joy, the peace, the unspeakable thing of communal life and work in the mountains. What I seek now is a way to live the good life of those places, amid the salt and challenges of the world beyond the woods.
And I am open to suggestions and co-conspirators on how to do this. On that front, as they say, the latchstring is always out. Please, come in.
(Photo by the incomparable Mary Kuhn)