“The mountains are calling and I must go,” naturalist John Muir wrote, reportedly in a letter to his sister.
I know how he felt.
Of course, “mountains” means different things to different people. I took Granddaughter II to a place near home called Pole Steeple, a mile of just steep enough terrain to tucker someone not accustomed to climbing more than two or three flights of stairs. About halfway up, she commented that it was “a pretty steep mountain.”
“This isn’t a mountain,” came the somewhat sarcastic retort from her Rocky Mountain-raised friend.
Several years ago, I drove a Jeep to 13,800 feet, just shy of the summit of a place called Engineer Pass, in the Colorado Rockies. Or maybe 13,800 was the altitude I was just short of. At one point on the way up, I looked at a pinnacle a lot higher than I was. An hour of switchbacks later, I stopped to look down, about the same distance, at the same peak.
The mountains on which I drove Wednesday, in Loyalsock State Forest, are only about 2,000 feet high, but there are many of them – like a large green piece of egg carton foam, only not as orderly as the egg carton peaks.
There is something mystical about being on a mountain top, even ones only 2,000 feet or so high, thinking how the peaks had been, a few million years ago, pushed like a rug until long folds appeared, from what eventually would be Georgia to Maine.
I’m nearly 65 years old. I don’t know how much time I have left on this planet, but I know it’s not nearly long enough to see those mountains worn completely down. (Unfortunately, there are forces intent on speeding up the process begun by glaciers, wind and rain all those years ago. As long as it took to build it, there are signs we may be able to destroy it in an amazingly brief span.)
One of my favorite pastimes of a previous life was to go swimming in the lake next to my home. The lake was manmade, with a dam placed in a strategic place on a stream to provide power for a sawmill. The result was a 500-acre pond on which a young stargazer could, when blessed with the occasional midnight glassine surface, float quietly, contemplating the idea that light from some of the largest, brightest celestial spots had been on its path, intersecting with the spot I occupied on that lake, since long before the mountains among which the lake lay had been folded.
There I was, a member of the most universally feared species on my home planet, but to the rest of the cosmos I was a tiny, curiously intelligent, sometimes inexplicably violent and destructive creature on an insignificant whirling glob of mud in one of a multitude of solar systems among thousands, if not millions, of galaxies.
A Common Loon called from the middle of the lake. At first, I didn’t know the purpose of his yodel, but it soon became clear.
“Nest Number One,” it called.
From a small cove , another loon responded.
“Nest Number One secure.”
“Nest Number Two,” the Sergeant of the Guard called again.
“Nest Number Two secure,” came the response from somewhere down the two mile long shore.
“Nest Number Three.”
“Nest Number Three.”
Still no response.
The guard’s voice changed.
“Nest Number Two.”
“Number Two here.”
“See if you can get Number Three to answer.”
Loons are interesting creatures. Their ancestors go back nearly to the origin of the mountains among which we swam. The current generation thinks that offers ownership rights. The owners of the local wood turning mill regularly fly their Cessna float planes from the lake, and the local game warden keeps another plane tied up across the cove where I lived.
Dozens of aircraft pass over the lake every day, but when one of those three comes within earshot — long before they can be seen over the encircling peaks – the loons fire up, asserting their would-be dominance.
They are very community oriented, as well. The sergeant’s tone this night made it clear that he, or she — after 4-5 billion years of non-evolution, only another loon knows for sure — was less than pleased, and possibly a bit worried.
Number Two called out as ordered.
Number Three finally answered from its chosen clump of rushes in the swamp at the north end of the lake. The sergeant said something obviously unprintable. (Sergeants of the Guard sometimes talk like that.)
All became silent and right with the world – at least that part of it. And that part of it was all that mattered, to the loons.
A friends sent me a list of complaints state park rangers often receive from vacationing visitors.
“The loons make too much noise” was right at the top.
I think they don’t make enough.
Photo by Tom Owad
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