Clear Blue Skies
I remember the clear blue sky. I was hiking along the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park. Mountain goats and sheep dotted the rugged landscape. The day before I had hiked on the other side of the mountain, the other side of the Continental Divide, climbing almost straight up, it seemed to me, along waterfalls past several glacial lakes to the lower edge of Grinnell Glacier. Looking up I could see an arête, a narrow sharp ridge, far above, with wisps of clouds seeming to surround it.
But this day I was on the other side of the mountain. To the left were sheer cliffs at times, but this was a much gentler climb. This trail slowly rose from the valley floor to the heights. On the right the mountains bent slowly, and in the curves mount goats grazed peacefully on the sparse grass. After an hour or so I came to a marker pointing to the right. “To Continental Divide – 0.6 mi.” was all it said. The short but steep trail led to a sharp edge of rock standing straight up out of the fairly gentle surroundings – a sheer wall separating one side of the mountain from the other. I had to get up there and look over the other side. The trail was all rock and made the vertical rise the day before seem child’s play. The bright sun highlighted the tan, almost copper, stone against a brilliant blue sky.
I am a hiker not a climber so all I could do was scramble quickly, loose rock, echoing down as I approached the top, perhaps I would get there before I thought about it and got scared. And then I reached the arête. I swung one leg over the top and straddled the slender ridge. I looked over and realized that I was looking down at the hike I had done the day before. Starting at a much greater elevation for this hike, I hadn’t realized how high I was. There far below me were the seven milky-green glacial lakes I had passed the day before, and the waterfalls. And Grinnell Glacier. Down below me were wisps of clouds.
But here the skies were clear. As I looked back the way I had come, I saw only a clear blue sky. A brilliant, blinding blue. It seemed as though I could see forever. There was a brisk wind blowing. My perch was precarious, I was literally sitting on the Continental Divide.
I had never felt more alive, more free. I wanted to stay there. There was a tremendous sense of exhilaration. I felt as though I could do anything.
I heard a voice calling. Get down from there. You will kill yourself. But I didn’t want to let go of that amazing sense of immortality and power. Unable to move except with great caution, still I felt totally liberated. Completely invulnerable.
With a certain sadness, I carefully lifted my leg back over the ledge and set it back down on the safer side of the mountain. It was impossible to walk slowly. The loose rock slid under my feet as I practically slid back to the Highline Trail. Gravity taking me back with greater force than I could have imagined.
Clear blue skies bring back other memories. Mornings when it seemed the world was safe, peaceful lunches in a garden café. Moments which could be shattered in an instant.
And so on this date I remember another day with clear blue skies. A day when the peace was shattered and our national sense of invulnerability was destroyed, and as a nation we chose forever it seems to live in fear – to yield to darker, more timid voices, that would entangle us in war and homeland insecurity.
But I prefer when I hear of clear blue skies to think of that moment of exhilaration, that feeling of possibility – a time when all choices are still before us.
Leonard Grossman- September 11, 2012