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In the Heights

The Guideposts senior editor yearns for God in the mountains.

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I’m yearning for mountains. It’s inarticulate, a wash of images. I think of past trips to the high country, almost all in the Sierra Nevada in California.

Cerulean blue sky. Dusty green Jeffrey pines. Rust red bark smelling of vanilla. Blond trails the color of beach sand. A gentle summer wind blowing off sculpted granite peaks. In harsh sun granite glows like a beacon. At day’s end it blushes, solidifies, then disappears. Stars burn.

Why do I suddenly yearn for this? Part of it is a book Kate got me for Christmas, Sky’s Witness by C. L. Rawlins, about a year in the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. Rawlins spent the year in remote backcountry collecting snow and water samples for the U. S. Forest Service. The samples were to test for acid rain formed by coal-burning power plants upwind from the mountains. The power plants supply electricity to, among other places, Los Angeles, where I was born.

Rawlins is a poet and his descriptions of the Wind Rivers in winter, spring and high summer are heartbreaking. It’s more than a book, though. I live with a permanent mild case of nostalgia even at the best of times, like a low grade fever. Sometimes it attaches to the Pacific Ocean, which I could see out my childhood bedroom window (a sliver of it anyway). Sometimes it’s light, the suffused, living light of the L.A. basin. Sometimes it’s food, the world of food in immigrant-rich California.

This season it’s mountains. Kate and I got this way last year. We did something about it by spending a week backpacking in Death Valley in February. We looked at pictures from that trip the other night. We nearly froze camping at elevation above the valley in snow, watching the sun set behind the Sierras’ eastern escarpment.

Kate finds God in the wilderness and so do I, and I suppose that’s what it is. I find God in the city, too, but in the wilderness you meet God on God’s terms, not your own. New York is saturated with humanity. And these days we are particularly housebound with three-month-old Benjamin and his 5:00 a.m. wakeup calls. We tread our familiar paths here. We suit up to take three-year-old Frances to the playground, horse around in the freeze and come home and that’s our outdoors for the day.

Every evening when I leave the office I look out my 21st-floor window. The window looks west, toward where I want to be. The sun is low or disappeared when I’m ready to go. The lights are on in the corridors of power. To my right, north, the skyscrapers gradually rise to the thick heights of midtown. For an instant I imagine them an escarpment, a swelling peak lit by the sun’s last rays. I yearn for God in the mountains. Then I turn away and head down, down to the subway and the city’s endless life.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at jhinch@guideposts.org.
 

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