for purple mountains’ majesty

I woke up at 4:45 this morning. Not because we needed to, not because we have somewhere to be – no, this was supposed to be our sleep-in morning. Instead, I woke up to our neighbor’s cell phone alarm ringing through the paper-thin walls of our kitschy-as-kitschy-can-be mountain lodge. I got to hear his morning routine, including the lovely “RISE AND SHINE!!!” he yelled to his wife three times in succession. I also got to hear him reading the news to said wife, detailing how a couple very sadly died in the Mojave Desert yesterday after running out of water in 113 degree heat. His only comment on the matter was that Darwin should’ve gotten them years ago. What a great attitude to wake up with, dude.

But even with the events of the morning, I find that I can’t even be upset about it. I’m finding rest in the kitschy mountain lodges, in our kind-of-charming-but-also-kind-of-creepy bathroom. In long car rides, in warm dinners, in the most open, breathtaking spaces I may have ever been in.

I had a philosophical pseudo-crisis a couple days ago. It was the first real day of our vacation, and after a plane ride and about nine hours in our rental car listening to some pretty great podcasts, we arrived in Billings, Montana. I learned there of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, the escalating violence, the girl that had been killed, the 19 others that wounded. I was so angry, and so sad, and so over this nonsense. And I knew, wholeheartedly, that if I did not stop checking Facebook, if I didn’t stop checking the news, that I would spend our vacation angry, with my nose buried in my cell phone, probably fighting with people on the Internet. And at the same time, I knew how unfair this is to people who face actual oppression and discrimination, because they don’t have that option. They can’t turn off a phone, they can’t delete Facebook and ignore it, because it is their everyday experience.

This is something I grapple with so much. On one hand, I am exhausted after a semester of working my ass off, and have two short weeks before I’m at it again. I haven’t spent good time with Mark since May. I *need* this vacation. But on the other hand, who am I to duck so easily out of hard things? Is that just basking in my own privilege? Is it selfish to disappear, go off-grid for a few weeks for my own rejuvenation? Where should my desires end and my concern for the common good begin, and how do those sometimes-opposing ideas amalgamate gracefully?

Ultimately, I decided that above all else, my husband, who has supported me and literally held me up some days through a long and trying first semester, deserved my full attention (after all, this is supposed to be our big tenth anniversary trip), and my soul did too. So I made a post speaking out against the violence, because I could not ethically stay silent on the matter, and made Facebook disappear. The tension was still hanging around the back of my mind when we arrived in Glacier National Park the next afternoon. All the grappling I’d been doing seemed to fade away into the mist as we drove between mountains whose peaks met cloud and ascended into the heavens. After being in four states in two days with vastly varying weather and terrain and everything, really, I felt very small and very proud and grateful to call this amazing, enormous country home.

This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York island, from the Redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me…

This land and its beautiful, diverse, frustrating, wonderful, maddening, and generous people, are why we fight and what we fight for. I’ve been encouraged by the kindness of strangers in my two days here, all enjoying the beauty of these gigantic, ancient mountains. I’ve been encouraged by park rangers, who refuse to back down about educating about the reality of climate change, in spite of the opinions of our current administration. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers once sagely advised. Here, in one of our national treasures, helpers seem to abound.

I’ve stopped feeling guilty about feeding my own soul this week. Introspection has its place, rest has its place, and I’m getting a good share of both of them. Yesterday we completed an exhausting and exhilarating hike to Grinnell Glaicer. I am so thankful that we have strong legs and able bodies that could carry us up a mountain four miles in distance and 1600 feet in elevation (and back down again) because that hike held some of the most amazing sights I’ve ever personally beheld. I remember one particular point, where we could look out and see three turquoise, glacier-fed lakes behind us, huge, towering mountains surrounding us, and the glaicer before us, and thinking how small we are, and how short our lifespans are in the grand scheme, and what a miracle it is that even in our minuteness our lives have significance. I was once again baffled by the thought of God and science being mutually exclusive, and was once again reminded of my favorite iteration of God as the Great Scientist. And I was overwhelmingly grateful that God likes beautiful things, and has made us to like them too. Our wildflowers in Alabama, while lovely, have got NOTHING on the beauties that grow on the side of the mountains we’re dwelling among right now. (I wondered before our trip why a bunch of glacial mountains were called the Garden Wall – yesterday I got my answer.)

We’re going on another adventure today (less athletic this time, thank goodness, cause after that 8-mile hike I’m in a world of hurt), to Two Medicine on a boat tour, and then a drive to explore Whitefish, MT. I’m soaking up this time, these eleven days, time with Mark and time with myself, time for reading for pleasure, for steeping myself in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. I’ll hit the ground running when I get home, and will be happy to do it, but for right now, I’m allowing myself joy and peace and rest in the incredible place we call home.

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