I spent the last week camping alone in the Rocky Mountains. My home was three miles into the wilderness on a jarring moonscape of a Forest Service road. I pitched my tent above a stream, beneath a canopy of spruce and aspen, just me and trees and water and mountains folded into one another for as far as I could see. Such places are a bane to writers because there are really no words that do them justice.
It was 31 degrees when I crawled from my sleeping bag the first morning, but it warmed quickly when the sun inched over the eastern ridge. I hiked to the end of the forest road, then on a trail through the forest that opened into a vast valley surrounded by jagged peaks. Again, I had this world to myself.
The next day I climbed four hours to a ridge below the summit of a 14,000-foot mountain called La Plata. The first half of the hike was through the forest. Above the tree line on the climb to the ridge, nature revealed itself ever more beautifully and fiercely with each step.
But this was a different experience, a communal one. Scores of others joined me on that trail, most of them not stopping at the ridge but aiming for the top of the mountain. I met them every few minutes, passing me on the way up or as they made their way down. They ranged in age from 10 to 70, men and women, boys and girls.
But there was something they shared, a certain inner luminosity, a quiet joy. It was acknowledged with a nod or a smile or a few kind words of encouragement for a plodding old guy like me. There was a wonderful, unspoken truth up there, something about the grandeur of nature and the expansiveness of the human soul.
After my magnificent hike, I drove into a nearby town where there was cell service and checked in with my wife, letting her know that I was OK. I also couldn’t resist checking the news, the latest developments of our public life. It was somewhat surreal that the incivility and cruelty I read about was taking place on the same beautiful planet.
It is my belief, my prayer, that someday soon the spirit of the mountains and my fellow hikers will more generally imbue the places where we are governed.