The scene dances inside my eyelids: shimmering tawny peaks grazed by a dusting of snow and a mirror lake undisturbed by the murmur of a single ripple. I open my eyes and the vision opens like a pop-up book. Glacial cirques and canyons trace oblique forms upon the land. The lofty monadnock peak of Mount Evans rises from the peneplain. After days of street matrices and farm blocks I enter this bounteous territory in Colorado.
“The empty space here is replete with a history of planetary violence, of uncontrollable forces, of cohabiting extremes.”
It is a layered tale that makes me rethink my views on nature.
I have held separate from the wilderness. I have always drawn a line betwixt it and me, kept at a respectful distance. The wilds are a place I go to seek solitude, sustenance, and peace. Afterwards, I leave it to return to the domain of man and machine. The juxtaposition of divergent personalities gives this mountain a soul beyond my Aristotelian perspective. In the geography of this drainage divide I encounter fluidity. Groves of blue spruce and quaking aspen greet us as we trudge up the slope. At Echo Lake the topography undulates, decorated by bristlecone pine. Everything soughs in chill whispers here. We struggle on our route to the tree line, panting, our breaths shrouding the panorama. Higher up the wicked wind batters us from all sides and the full sturdy alpines give way to crooked bare branches and banner trees determined to survive. Their warped remains motivate us to plod upwards as they grab our hands and give us leg boosts among the slippery rock. Eventually even the scrappy shrubs fade and our only companions on the lichen covered tundra are the ivory mountain goats. We have traversed five distinct environments on Mount Evans and the batholith appears to draw strength from each of them, developing a nuanced plasticity, an ever-changing personality.
In Dinaw Mengetsu’s novel, “All Our Names,” the narrator begins by renouncing the list of names he is given by his family. “I had thirteen names,” he states, “each name was from a different generation.” To lose this burdensome past, he leaves his village and surrenders his childhood self. “On the bus ride to the capitol,” he recounts, “I gave up all the names my parents had given me….I shed those names just as our bus crossed the border into Uganda.” Nameless, he acquires various sobriquets wherever he goes, monikers which allow those around him to label him, to pin him down as one thing or other. In his quest to belong, the narrator discards and puts on identities, his true self ever a shadow…. Though I have never disposed of my name, I as a wanderer have taken on new selves. I find myself growing from one person to another with each place I seek. With the passing years, the past me is no longer the present of who I am. I shall change again in the future. I have been resistant to these alterations while resentful of the world’s attempts to define me. A restless being, I search for stillness in nature to counteract my agitation. Mount Evans’ inconstancy, its capricious disposition is teaching me to embrace my own complexity.
Clouds overtake the sky transforming an evergreen spectacle into a numinous vision seen through a silver veil. In every curve and mood, Mount Evans dispenses with one character and clothes itself in another. It’s a reflection of nature which never operates on simple geometry. The earth is layered, its surface contoured, wrinkled, and dimpled into a thousand shapes, its rivers wend to the ocean. Modernity, however, seems drawn to straight lines. We plan grids on the globe to chart our course. We divide acreage into square miles to delineate property. We plow the soil in linear furrows. Exploring Mount Evans’ topography with its convolutions, experiencing its mercurial weather patterns I am shocked that I ever considered nature serene. It is as tumultuous as me, as impossible to interpret as my incalculable selves.
Perhaps we humans are more nature than machine, despite our predictable schemes and our penchant for sketching boundaries. We never really get to know each other in all our dimensionality.
“Though I pretend to comprehend myself, I have yet to meet the person I will be tomorrow.”
The storm passes through, the snow flakes dissipate to sunlight. The sleek mountain goats prance about the summit urging me to champion the fluctuating contours they maneuver, to accept my protean personality. Why should I cast myself into one mold that fits me irregularly? Why should I demarcate others into a singular solution? Nature will never devolve into gridlines and neither should we.
Trekking on foot to the summit of Mount Evans is a challenging adventure. For a more leisurely approach one can drive up using the Mount Evans Scenic Highway. From Echo Lake to the summit this is the highest paved road in North America, gaining over seven thousand feet (2,100 meters) in elevation over its twenty-eight mile length. The route was set by famed American architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in hopes that the surrounding wilderness region would be made into a National Park.
If you have been to Mount Evans let us know what you thought of it in the comments below. Are there other scenic mountain highways which you have driven that have captured your imagination?