I just visited my friend Mark Graf’s great blog, and read with interest his commentary on mountains and the import and grandeur of nature, the role it can play in our lives. Mark prefaces his post with the legendary John Muir, so I’ll do the same:
“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail. – John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901”
While I think it’s a fantastic photo Mark posted, and a great post, (I’d ask that you read it and the comments that follow) I have to be the lone opponent in the discussion here; I’ve long loved that quote of Muir’s (and countless others from him), but I think the phrase “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings” and the entire point of Muir’s commentary MUST run both ways; i.e., it also stands as “Climb the mountains and offer them your good tidings”. If this isn’t true, the entire point of the phrase is lost, IMO.
The mountains do, I believe, need our awareness and appreciation every bit as critically as we need their grandeur, as we need the Robin’s crystalline song, the wolf’s wild eyes and the great grizzly’s lordliness. It’s a 2-way relationship, or there is no relationship at all; if there’s no real relationship there, then our appreciation of the mountains is merely another form of narcissism, of it’s a self-centered hedonism, our ego sneaking in yet again, relentlessly, through the back door.
I once had this conversation years ago with a great friend, camped high on a mountain top in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. As he swept his arms open to welcome the vast landscape before us, his comment that “all this benefits from our appreciation as much as we benefits from it’s beauty” rang profoundly clear – how could it not, I realized.
The “environmental movement” misses much of what it most desperately needs when it focuses exclusively on the singular benefit humans receive from the natural world. Indigenous cultures across the world, for example, have long held that the world they live within benefits from, enjoys and appreciates their humanness, just as they’ve benefitted from and enjoyed and appreciated the specialness of the creatures and features they live amongst. The words of Thoreau and Muir, the imagery of Jackson and Adams, the melodies of Bach and Mozart, etc, are a gift not to ourselves, but to (and from) existence itself. They DO mean something. So too does the beautiful photograph Mark posted, and the thoughts, words and most of all the care and respect that the folks in that discussion offer. That part of our humanness is our greatest gift to the world, and it’s as important as the mountain itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment about our relative insignificance and the scale of a universe that is so beyond us. But it’s a paradox – we are simultaneously every bit as critical, as important and valuable as the trees, the salmon the canyons and the mountains. I’m reasonably sure the mountain would not “be rid of us altogether” though; I’ll wager it seeks our reconnection. The beauty of the relationship lies in the patience with which the mountain awaits our return – that, friends, is unconditional – which is why Muir wrote that “nature’s sources never fail”.
RIP, Mr Muir.