We need mountains

For mountains winter is the rule, and summer the exception; a dragon’s luxuriant yawn and the resultant 60-day lapse of attention. Soon enough the snow comes back and mountains are once again a place we humans, and the larger mammals with whom we most easily identify, find hostile. Those rare creatures like wolverines who thrive amongst the teeth of mountains in all moods are all the more foreign because of this lack of vulnerability.


At the same time we humans need mountains. Our spiritual affinity is bound up with a prosaic fact that mountains enable human civilization. Their winter-long orographic feasting gives birth to what is, by the apex of spring, the most valuable resource on the planet. Rivers like the Tigris and the Nile shaped humanity in a watery forge, and the US would not be what is today without the Missouri and Colorado. Humans are because of big rivers, and rivers exist because of mountains. Therefore we humans exist because of harsh white walls to which even the best of modern technology remains subservient. Tool-building arrogance finds this an uneasy thing to lie down with, which might go a long ways towards explaining the ongoing reticence concerning climate change. It is properly frightening to see the inscrutable fountains of our continued existence change more rapidly than such massive things should. Here ambivalence masks terror.

That’s what Nate and I thought about this weekend, skiing into one of Glaciers more enormous vales to travel on frozen lakes, hide safe from the dark cold in a tiny log cabin, set hair traps for Fishers, and in the backs of our minds ruminate on our status as interlopers amongst the toes of the divine ranges. Upper Harrison Creek runs straight up a round glacial valley into one of the parks most rugged hearts. The willow and beaver clogged creek rises 5000 vertical feet to several of the most obscure summits. It is an especially good place to see oneself as a lesser traveler, on both individual and species levels. We should be kinder to mountains, not for their sake, but for our own.

8 responses to “We need mountains”

  1. I enjoy so many of your articles :-) and this is one. Thanks for sharing your words and photos!

  2. “- – to see oneself as a lesser traveler, on both individual and species levels. We should be kinder to mountains, not for their sake, but for our own.”

    Bravo, Dave, bravo!

  3. Dave, you might like this series: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/features/2011-massey-lectures/
    The link is Australian, the series of lectures Canadian. Well done on keeping a continually interesting blog running.

  4. You make points that are both encouraging, and depressing. Let me elaborate:

    Encouraging, because the sentiments of Stegner, Abbey, and going even further back to Muir (and many others), still persists in many people our age. That means that the attitude that mountains (deserts, forests, jungles) are important as mountains might still get passed on to the next generation, and thus survive.

    Depressing, because we still NEED to pass these attitudes along.

  5. […] said it before; winter in proper mountains is at once the root of human civilization and the ultimate […]

  6. […] hours from the road on my own feet.  Skiing and the snow which require it are well and good, they bring us life, after all.  But humans are meant to enjoy their fruits in kinder […]

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