The plan was made. No more than four miles and we would be that much closer to the views from the top of Great House Peak. Today was the day. I was well-rested, ate a good breakfast, and was more motivated than any other day on this backpack so far. One hard day, and then a layover–a break. I was ready to kick ass as we ascended into the bowl above Swimming Woman Creek in the Big Snowies.
But my motivation didn’t last more than maybe an hour. There were no switchbacks and few flat spots. Up and up and up. Where was the end? I may have been ready to kick ass, but instead my ass was kicked by this mountain.
Cold, wet, and miserable, I could barely manage to stand and simply stare at my pack that was harboring warmer clothes inside.
“Karlyn, you look cold. Why don’t you put on another layer?”
“Yeah I could do that.”
Yet five minutes later, I was still just standing and staring at my pack, shaking in my boots.
“Hey Karlyn, how about another layer!”
This was the turning point. I didn’t come this far to be miserable and resentful. I came here for the beauty of the place and the intrinsic value of a challenge. I thanked the mountain for such a humbling experience as I peeled off my wet layers and snuggled into a couple of dry, warm, puffy coats.
I began to look at the rain as regenerative rather than damaging. I saw the mountain as a flourishing ecosystem that I was merely visiting rather than a hunk of limestone that existed solely for my experiential benefit. I embraced the cold as a necessary component of life on the mountain instead of nature’s personal vendetta against me.
And that changed everything. The sloppy rain transformed into beautiful snowflakes, my toes reclaimed a healthy color, and my shifted perspective allowed my appreciation for the picturesque winter wonderland I was engulfed in to emerge. The mountain was no longer my enemy, but rather a friend who I will be forever grateful for that it chose to share such an experience with me.
A change of clothes and mindset was all it took to see such beauty through the snowflakes and down into the valley.
I sit here now and reflect on the powerful experience I shared with the Big Snowy Mountains. I recalled how miserable I was and how I was able to capitalize off of such an extreme situation. But wait. That can’t be right.
Nothing in my physical surroundings or situation changed. The sky continued to angrily dump precipitation onto my head, the temperature was rapidly dropping as the sun said its goodbye for the day, and I was still stranded on a mountainside at 7,000 feet in elevation. How could I possibly feel better??
I gave more thought to the choices I had to make on that mountain.
I chose to see the snowflakes as beautiful rather than as a sign of the temperature dropping. I chose to stay outside and dance in the falling crystals rather than hibernating in my tent. I chose to be happy rather than miserable. Ultimately, I chose to embrace winter in September.
What a powerful thing, this change of perspective. It made me think, what would the world be like if everyone could master such a skill?
Kathleen Dean Moore explains a concept she coined as the “Great Turning.” In her book, Great Tide Rising, she writes:
“I am used to thinking of a tipping point as a bad thing, a point where the board teeters on the fulcrum and then crashes to the ground. But it’s the nature of a tipping point that every descent to a hard landing sends the board flying upward too. A small change creates more changes, and that creates more, and then there is no going back. That must be what the Great Turning looks like.”
I didn’t really know what to make of Moore’s ‘Great Turning’ concept until I had my encounter with the mountain. I realized that my personal experience was a small piece of a larger movement.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone had the capacity to shift their thought about the natural realm in the same way I embraced the mountain. What if everyone could see a bad situation as a tipping point and learn to make the most of it? Every natural disaster could be seen as an opportunity for regrowth, people would be more aware of the critical state of our planet, and most importantly society might start to accept a more eco-centric philosophy. This could allow for the start of a new era where humans are a part of Earth rather than the rulers of it.
Perhaps the mountain knew more than me. Perhaps it wanted to teach me about how the world ought to be. Perhaps we all should be learning from every mountain we meet, adopting the capability to capitalize on every hard situation and making the Great Turning a reality. If not for our own good, but for that of the Earth’s.