Seeing Mountains and Visions

It is a revelation (pun intended) to hear the Himalayas have become visible from 125 miles away for the first time in 30 years because of reduced air pollution. The decreased air pollution is the result of decreased fossil fuel use as people shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Closer to fifty years ago I had a life changing vision related to mountains and air pollution. A horrific vision of my beloved Rocky Mountains hidden in clouds of smog, the very thing that did happen to the Himalayas. I couldn’t contribute to that pollution so I haven’t owned a car since then.

My vision was related to this photo of Long’s Peak rising above Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. I developed this film and print in an actual darkroom, back in the day. The reason my vision is related to this photo is because I see it so often, hanging on my wall. It is a poor substitute for actually being there, but serves as a reminder.

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I am very grateful my parents chose to take us on camping trips across the United States for our summer family vacations, specifically selecting National Parks to camp in.  Actually camping in the Parks was key to the whole experience.  Our first camper was a King camper, which was an aluminum trailer with a canvas covered framework that unfolded to form the top half when we stopped at the campsite.  Being in the woods, hearing the sounds of the wind and wildlife, the glacier streams rushing over the boulders, feeling the clear, crisp, cold at night, smelling the pine trees made the experience so much better than traveling into the park during the day and returning to a motel at night. Immersive.

Hiking through the meadows and forests and upon mountainsides with countless, stunning vistas, were life changing experiences for me.  I was overwhelmed by the intense beauty.  Rocky Mountain National Park was our favorite, and we returned there time and again as we were growing up. We quickly found not many people traveled too far from the parking areas. So with even a short hike we were practically alone in the woods.  Hikes of just a mile or two brought us to lakes, canyons, waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, snowfields, boulder fields, and rock walls to climb. Places we were able to appreciate in relative isolation.

I hadn’t reflected much on why we sought opportunities to be by ourselves in the mountains. It just seemed a much better experience that way. Now I think it was related to feeling closer to God when we were deep in the quiet of the forests. Having grown up in Quaker communities, I was used to worshiping in silence, as we do so we can hear the whisper of the Spirit. Being enveloped in the silence of the mountains was a natural relation to Quaker worship. Or as I think of this now, Quaker worship is a natural extension of the silence of the mountains. Silence in the sense of quiet, but at times loud with the voice of the Spirit.

This was a reciprocal relationship. I was always challenged to find ways to share my spiritual experiences with others. These experiences are ineffable, that is they can’t be adequately expressed with words. I’ve found art can often better express spirituality. So I hoped some of my photographs might evoke glimpses of the Spirit.

From Robert Reid’s book, Because It Is So Beautiful:

The writer’s lonely, harrowing struggle to give shape to his or her elusive vision of the world—to complete a book, to discover among the fragments of a thought or a dream the precise image needed to breathe life into a poem—is a familiar chapter in the annals of pain and grief.

How can we save the wilderness? I was a mountain climber whose affection for the high peaks had evolved gradually into political commitment to the cause of preservation. I was, too, a fledgling writer searching for direction. I knew the importance of craft, experience, doggedness, and the other familiar requisites for literary success, but I lacked vision—an understanding of my relationship to the world.

How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? (Barry) Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West . Counterpoint. Kindle Edition

Although I just said spiritual experiences can’t adequately be expressed in words, two phrases come close. Above, “one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there And to travel deep into the mind of the heart below.

We are asking you:

To travel deep into the mind of the heart;

To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?

To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?

To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?

How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?

 “An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans” by K. Flyntz.

The Himalayas are visible in parts of India 125 miles away for the first time in 30 years after coronavirus saw pollution levels drop across the country
The Asian mountain range can now be seen more than 125 miles away in the Jalandhar district of Punjab
Residents say the air has cleared because of the country’s 21-day lockdown, which was imposed on March 24
They flocked to social media and posted pictures of the snow-topped mountains taken from their rooftops

By ALICE CACHIA FOR MAILONLINE, Daily Mail, April 8, 2020
The snowy mountain rang can be seen clearly among billowing clouds as the India's pollution levels drop

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2 Responses to Seeing Mountains and Visions

  1. peterovisoke says:

    Thanks Jeff! Beautiful photos of the Rocky Mountains! Colorado has also been a very special place for me since I was just nine years old. Someday perhaps we can visit about our different experiences of the Colorado mountains. Have you ever read any of the journals of Everett Ruess? He disappeared at the age of 20 in 1934 somewhere in the Four Corners region of the southwest. I think that you would find much to inspire you in this young man’s passionate words about traveling in the beauty of the natural world. You can find out more if you look online and search for Everett Ruess. The clearing of the atmosphere so that the Himalayas are now visible from far away is a wonderful metaphor for so much! Will human beings begin to see all things with a new clarity and to make changes toward living in harmony with Mother Earth? I hope so. It is a moment of possibility. That is also very clear.

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