Under A Big Sky

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”― John Steinbeck

Late yesterday evening I arrived home in downtown Denver. Fifteen hours earlier, I sat on the shore of a teal lake in northwestern Montana and watched the sun rise from behind mountains 1.6 billion years in the making.

This remarkable place is as if Utopia once erupted from inside of Earth only to stretch, unspoiled and exquisite. Craggy mountains jut high and slope far and wide, framing an endless sky. The air, crisp like a well-executed finger snap, smacks of cedar and pine. Bears forage for huckleberries. Wild horses gallop and cavort. Wolves howl in bone-chilling harmony.

This place exists far removed from civilization as we know it. It may just be the last best place.

I spent five days in Glacier National Park and I never shook the feeling that the land holds an essential lesson beyond its breathtaking magnificence. As I write, my eyes scorch with the kind of fatigue that can only come after nights in a sleeping bag and thirty hours in a car. I showered twice and my skin still holds the texture of grime. My soul yearns to return to seclusion and quietude.

Outside of my window I hear the noises of a city. Horns honk, sirens blare and voices carry. I returned to work today with 134 e-mails and 7 voicemails. Amid this harsh reality, my heart is filled with the serene isolation of the wild.

It was there in the wild that, as a diffident target of natural forces, I eroded the immense enigma held by this enchanted place just as glaciers have done to its mammoth mountains. Within the wild exists a delicate and elusive balance of holding on and letting go, of stoning beauty and foul cruelty.

It was there in the wild that I deferred all things that did not serve my survival, that did not feel simple, that did not matter in the moment. It was in the wild, inundated with my sour scent and drugged by the power of my senses, that I found acceptance and depth. I have never felt as calm as I did in the wild, as connected to the sensations of appreciation and gratitude. It was there in the wild that stillness created contentment, and contentment perpetuated stillness.

It was in the wild that I understood that we are insignificant, that we are but one tree in one forest in a universe that is too expansive to comprehend. Life, like the forest, knows something we do not. It knows that it is hopeless to run and hopeless to hide. It knows of a continuous cycle, driven by the mountains and the lakes and the trees and the stars. It knows that with brilliance and majesty comes dullness and distress. It knows that sometimes we will be buried under the weight of a trillion snowflakes, our hopes charred like foliage in fire. And it knows that at other times we will swim in flawless turquoise waters as our souls soak up sunrays and gladness like sponges.

Life knows that solitude cultivates creativity, that it releases the mind from the restraints and commotion of our modern world. Life knows that it is extraordinary and that we are able to experience it as such, if only we spend some time under a big sky.

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