Monday, September 22, 2014

Everybody's got a mountain to climb.

The weekend before Emma died, my friend Christin and I did an amazing hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, taking the Longs Peak trail to Chasm Lake.  The trail was long and steep, plus we definitely felt the altitude - Chasm Lake is almost 12,000 feet up, more than double the altitude we're used to.
Chasm Lake, at about 11,800 feet.  Atop that sheer diamond-shaped face is the summit of Longs Peak, at about 14,200 feet.
But it was spectacularly beautiful.  Warm, but not too hot, sunny, clear, with astoundingly gorgeous views in every direction.  The walk was hard - it's a legit hike - but it felt good to feel our hearts pound and our muscles burn and our lungs work for every bit of oxygen.  We had a lovely lunch sitting on a boulder by the lake, and talked for the entire 7 hours we were on the mountain, about books and life and children and men and travel and everything else that came to our minds.
The trail up to Chasm Lake.

By the end of the hike, I was sore and tired and my knees and feet ached and my legs were like heavy stumps.  But I still felt amazing.  It was a perfect Colorado day, when you really appreciate the gift of living here and of being alive and healthy.

A week later, when I was in New Hampshire, all I wanted to do was hike in the mountains again. Instead of standing around in a funeral home, I wanted to feel my heart pound and my muscles burn and my lungs work for every bit of oxygen.  That level of exertion is the only thing that has ever provided a physical antidote to that "cold metal ball in my chest" feeling that comes with depression or anxiety.  Or intense grief.  I just wanted to walk and climb for miles, so that the heat of feeling alive could push that cold metal ball out of the way, where it could bounce down the trail behind me before falling over a cliff and shattering into a million pieces.

So in that spirit, I took the kids up to the mountains this weekend to hike a trail off the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The aspens are changing color, so it's a great time to get outside and see some beautiful scenery.

At first, the day was a little frustrating for me, because I still had the craving to do a hard hike, but we were on a gentle, easy path that didn't gain much elevation, plus the kids were far more interested in dragging around enormous sticks/logs, climbing on rocks, and playing in a mountain stream.  Meaning I spent a lot of time watching them rather than hiking.  I didn't exercise, or exorcise, the way I wanted to.

But it was an exquisite day.  Sunny and warm, and the aspens were such bright yellow and gold that they looked lit up from within, particularly against the evergreens.  We splashed in the water and threw rocks and sticks and climbed around near a waterfall.  It was lovely being with my children as they enjoyed outdoors and got wet and dirty and dusty and tired.

While we were out there, I kept looking up at the cerulean sky and thinking of Emma.

Can you see us or feel us missing you? Are you up there? 

But deep down, I knew she wasn't.  I don't believe in God or heaven or angels or ghosts or any of that stuff.  I can see where it would be comforting to believe in all of that, but I can't make myself believe in something just because it might make me feel better.

Still, it's kind of nice to engage in magical thinking once in a while.

That kind of magical thinking is what makes me want to summit Longs Peak next summer, and scatter some of Emma's ashes from the heights of the Rocky Mountains when I get there.  So that when I make another pilgrimage to the mountains and look up at the sky, maybe a tiny piece of her will be up there after all.

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