Browsing through library copies of old Sierra Club bulletins, I stop at a picture of a vast canyon. Its sides are massive rock from top to bottom. Something about those walls, even in a picture, seem to radiate energy and to draw me to them. They capture my imagination. According to the caption, the photo was taken during a Sierra Club High Trip at a place called Windy Ridge. I make a mental note to remember that name and that view.
Twenty years later, a friend and I stop where Windy Ridge, at eleven thousand feet in the Sierra, ends abruptly. We have set up camp high on the divide between the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River. From camp we have walked cross-country to where the short ridge juts northward from the divide. As we have walked, we have been treated to broad views across the deep canyon of the Middle Fork and up the wild canyon of Goddard Creek on the other side.
Steeply below, a tiny lakelet with windswept trees hangs on the brink of a precipice. The clear air itself seems to leap into the void. Five thousand feet below, aspens glow gold beside the Middle Fork. Directly across from us is that long-remembered scene: dark metamorphic rock plunges six thousand feet in a sweep of steep faces and sharp fins. Upstream, the canyon bends to the left and widens, now parallel to the Sierra crest. Massive granite replaces the metamorphics and gleams in the sun. Short, steep side canyons empty into the main trough from rocky basins dotted with lakes. Beyond, the steep walls of the Palisades stand tall and straight to over fourteen thousand feet above sea level.
The scene has two effects on me. First, the broad expanses of naked rock, the long, steep drops, and the vast scale of mountain and sky seem to vibrate with an overpowering latent energy. I speak softly and move carefully. Second, the scattered trees on the canyonsides and patches of forest on the canyon floor balance the starkness of the rock. In my mind’s eye I see the moist green of meadows among the rocks of hidden basins. A hardy pine tree casts its shade beside me. Its bark glows a warm reddish hue in the friendly sun. In this balance of awesome power and soft green life, of vast mountains and tiny delicate plants, I feel a sense of intimacy as well as of space. I feel a sense of peace as well as the presence of power.
It’s something to remember in the midst of my daily life. I belong to something much greater, much more powerful than anything life can throw at me. It envelops me with loving arms and supplies my strength. As an ancient psalm says: “…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”