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Being Human at 14,000 Ft

Collegiate Peaks Colorado, photo by G. Wuerthner,

I’ve hiked a 14-er (a 14,262 foot mountain to be exact).

Off the Trail

In the 25 years I’ve been married to a geologist, I learned that these scientists use a ‘topo’ (topographical map) and the lay of the land as their guide. When you hike with a geologist, the easy way is not an option. I remember seeing a wide, smooth trail just across a small raven.  “We can’t go there,” I was told in response to my request.  “The rock formation goes this way.”

Along the Trail

On this particular trip we hiked the Collegiate Range located in Central Colorado, and reached the summit in two days. The first day, we smelled a strong, rank urine-like scent which followed us for most of that morning. I was told the scent was a bear. One of our hiking partners had been chased up a tree by a bear several years before, and will always remember that smell with full clarity. And now, I’ll never forget it either.

At mid-morning of the second day, as we rested on a boulder, I accidentally startled a snow white mountain goat. As he moseyed around the bend, he stopped short. We studied each other for several moments. I never dreamed that a wild animal’s fur could glisten whiter than anything I’d ever imagined.

From the summit, I could see forever. A glimmering lake, snow capped peaks far in the distance, evergreens, and shimmering aspens.  Are there that many shades of green in the color palate? The sights took my breath away. No one spoke. We could only stare, until the screech of a bird broke the silence.

Trails End

As the wife of a geologist, I’ve sat in a room with scientists who’ve dedicated their life to the study of our great planet and listened as they debated the issues of the day.  Absolutely, humans are stewards of the earth. We have a responsibility to preserve these wonders for future generations. There are hypothesis and reasonable theories to every side of the controversies. To me, it is fascinating stuff, however I was changed forever after that  hike.

At 14,262 feet, I realized how very small and insignificant I was.  This was not where I belonged; this wild, uninhabitable place where the animal kingdom ruled. I was just a visitor on that day and the scenery a blessing for my enjoyment. In the grand scheme of the forces of nature, I felt so human and so tiny, like a little blip on an amazing scale.

The arrogance of man in thinking that he can alter the weather or tame the currents of the ocean or shift the components of the planet’s atmosphere is ludicrous.

At 14,000 feet, humans are just not that noteworthy.