Meditation in the Mountains: Look Up, Listen.

I went 32 years of my life thinking that the best possible sound was that of the waves crashing against the shore. But I have been corrected: The most incredible, soul-filling sound in the world is the wind in the mountains. In my defense I spent those 32 years without having been in real mountains and hearing the awesome force of air collide with the rugged features of elevated landscape.

In dense forest the wind whistles charmingly through the trees but once you leave tree cover and are exposed – on a ridge, in a high meadow, or on a summit – you become aware of a whole different sound, a whole different understanding of how the air finds its way through, and eventually over, the highest obstructions. On particularly windy days it’s easy to be impressed with the assault of air, the raw power and insistence of its movement, but on calmer days the ever-present sound of gaseous currents is nothing short of hypnotizing. Subtle changes in tone, reverberating echoes from the canyons below, and the occasional high pitched – though not necessarily loud – whistle from overtop the peaks will keep me mesmerized.

When I am in the mountains alone I find it easy to empty my mind of thoughts and just listen as I walk. The sounds of the air become my soundtrack, one interrupted only by the sounds of animals scurrying, birds calling, and Abby trotting this way and that. I listen and I move. When I am snowshoeing however I make too much noise crunching across the snow to lose myself in the same way to the sounds of the wind and so I have found that on numerous occasions I will just stop to listen.

On this particular day I drove up the mountain fairly early in an effort to beat the forecasted afternoon snow. Within minutes of starting my trek across a clearing I noticed that the wind had begun broadcasting the forceful chorus of the impending storm, but I became aware too that the cacaphony alternated with the calmer, subtler notes of a regular day – as opposed to how strong wind will often be interspersed only with a dead absence of sound. As I approached the base of the mountain and began formulating a route I found myself spellbound as I listened to the turns of melody and harmony but in a desire to get a 6 or 7 mile walk in before the weather changed I didn’t stop moving until I had charged up the mountain. Once at the top I realized it was a plateau and not a ridge so I kept moving, trucking south towards where I knew a rim must be – except that I found myself no longer able to disregard the deepening blue of the sky and the powdery white clouds above the tall firs and spruce. And so I made a full stop and looked up, really looked up. And that’s when I noticed that the picture-perfect wisps of clouds were moving – a visual accompaniment to the sounds of the moving air. All my intentions regarding time and distance instantly evaporated; I was enthralled.

I spent my remaining time that day largely standing and looking at the tall conifers set against the animated sky, listening to the brutish wind on the forward edge of storm take turns with the tranquil, resonant sounds of the Cedar Mountains that I have become so familiar with. I snowshoed a couple miles back and forth near the edge of the rim, delighting in the spectacular views down the grand staircase, but mostly I looked across the sparkling white of the plateau, following the lines of the tree trunks upwards as they needled the cerulean sky.

During the couple hours I was there the sky changed rapidly and the clouds turned streaky, aligning with the path of the air currents, demonstrating even more forcefully the direction of the storm. Amazingly however, though the cloud cover began to increase and I could clearly see heavy, gray snow clouds to the north and the east, the sky remained a deep blue right up until 15 minutes before I returned to my car. It was another one of those days when I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing – and for that I am so, so grateful.