Light and Shadow

IMG_9816Another day. Another mountain. This time it’s Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. I’m not sure what draws me to climb mountains exactly. I guess it’s the challenge…or maybe the view from the top. To me, it compares to childbirth. I think hiking a mountain is a good idea, until I get there and start the climb. Then I wonder what in the world I was thinking as I am huffing and puffing my way up. However, once at the top, I forget the pain of the whole thing and just take it all in.

It was a chilly morning, and we started at the break of day. Bundled up, carrying packs filled with layers of clothing, we began the ascent. I had forgotten how brutal the approach trail is on the knees, not to mention the heart. But on fresh legs we made good time, and soon we were on the main trial headed up, up, up. Several places required crawling over rocks, but at least today there was no one around to watch. The trail was muddy from the previous night’s rain, making obvious the path of least resistance and where to avoid stepping.

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The sun was in and out, playing hide and seek…mostly hide. The backside of the mountain was windy…the front side not so much. The exertion of the climb kept the warmth manageable, until the near the top when the temperature dropped considerably and the wind picked up. Experience has taught us well to be prepared for such events. Pulling out jackets, hats, and gloves is a part of the process of mountain climbing, and climb we did. Over what I call the Boulder Garden, and around switchbacks and rock staircases we went…always up, toward the view.

IMG_0253The altitude was high enough that the trees were still mostly bare. This allowed for the view to be unhindered by leaves. At first glance you see the blue of the mountains and stand in awe. Then you go up further and are stunned again. By the time you reach the summit, and are standing on the granite floor you can take in just about a 360-degree view that is spectacular. Standing there you feel as if you are on the top of the world. In the distance we see Mt. Yonah. Just a few days prior we were on top of it, looking at Blood Mountain towering over the range in the distance. Now, we gaze at our old friend who appears small on the horizon.

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The clouds are low; the sun filtering through creates light and shadow. It is my favorite way to see the mountains. Clouds roll past and the light changes accordingly, making cloud-shadows on the mountains below…the sea of mountains in every direction. Because the greens of spring have not yet made it up this high, the ridges in the foreground are gray and brown. The ones in the distance are blue and look like waves on the sea. The thing that catches my attention today is the way the light and shadows form a three-dimensional panoramic view. Each mountain has a ridge of light, where one side is in the sun, and the other in the gray of the shadow. The clouds are gray which is a stark contrast with the light, but a monotone similarity to the shadow. I wonder.

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I wonder if the people living under the cloud-shadows know how close the light is. I wonder if they look out and think this is going to be a dreary day, a day to stay in, because from their window it appears gray. I wonder if the people on the light side are getting dressed to go play. I wonder if they know that shadow is coming just over the next ridge, closing in on them and their plans. It makes me think of how limited our perspective is, and just how much our little windows dictate our days. What we see outside of our figurative windows is such a small, small viewpoint in light of the whole picture. We do not know the vicinity of the light or the shadow that is coming our way…we only know what we see in this moment, and it determines everything. Yet, if we could just realize that the ebb and flow of life is rolling along despite what we see. That light and shadow are BOTH a part of the scene. If all were sunny there would be no depth or dimension. Shadows are required of we are to see the value of the light.

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I climbed down the mountain, thoughts swirling in my head like the clouds above me. Recognizing that when shadows are looming, the light is close by. It has to be…or there would be no shadows. Looking, beyond the mountains, I see that figurative shadows hover over the landscape, trying to make themselves bigger and heavy. They try to throw a blanket on hope for the future. They try to bring fear and cause our views to be limited to our small windows. They try to diminish the light…as if they could! Yet, by their very nature they point to hope, because the light is behind them shining brightly…just over the next ridge.

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