BITING DOWN on an oversized mouthful of sunflower seeds I peeked back at my dad wondering how he spit out just one seed at a time. Giving up in this new skill, as it was as useless as trying to figure out exactly who assassinated President Kennedy. I dunked my fingertips into the cool clear water of the Buffalo River. Abandoning my paddle because we both knew I was only pretending, I joined my hands and clapped along as my dad became John Denver belting “Rocky Mountain High”.
SETTLED INTO a comfortable rhythm, my mom and I slowly wound our way up Schweitzer Mountain. Communicating through a silent telepathy we stopped as my mom pointed out a single flower sprouting from a field of mangey three leaf clovers, the red and yellow popped from the sea of green. Reaching up toward the sun like a yogi in warrior pose the red pedals cupped the yellow pollen as if it were the last drop of earthly water. Taking in the flower we continued up our path, drinking plenty of water of course.
1. Yoga on the trail up Dude Mountain. 2. On a boat in the Misty Fjords. 3. Family in Ketchikan, AK. 4. Ellen and I were feeling Sluggish. 5. Jenna and me looking toward San Francisco from Angel Island.
TURNING OVER in my warm cacoon of a sleeping bag, I looked outside to see Jenna and Luke brewing coffee. If the smell wasn’t enough to help me shed my cacoon, the company was. Joining my sister and brother-in-law on our claimed side of Angel Island we took in the view of the sun rising over the barges in the Pacific Ocean. Admiring the strength of the tug boats, we packed up our bags and headed out along the trail.
“KOBY! COME!” Sara hollered at her goofy black dog as he leapt across the field almost out of sight. In a flash he was back, back at her side. Sitting in the shadows of the mountains in Breckenridge, we took turns throwing Koby a chewed up tennis ball. Recovering from an ACL tear, my sister looked up at the snowy slopes the same way I look at a Chipotle burrito. Off her skis, only for the moment, she had Koby to romp around in the snow with.
STOPPING TO catch my breath I saw Ellen way above me, leaping along the trail with the giggle of a kid being chased during tag. After years of taking insufficient mental polaroids in order to divulge my passion for the mountains to my sister, I no longer had to try. Our feet were sharing the same high soil and our hair was being brushed by the same mountain air. Besides its unavoidable attachment to the Big Lebowski, this mountain–Dude Mountain–will always stick out in my roladex of mountains because it was my first shared with Ellen. And she finally understood.
What my family has taught me is to surround yourself with people who challenge you, people that make you better. People that teach you the importance of sunflower seeds on canoe trips, communication through silence on a hiking trail, the joy of drinking coffee with the sunrise, the happiness and friendship of a loyal dog, and to never forget that mountains are the playground for adults.
These memories with my family members are all outside because I think it is then that we are all out best self. While these are the people that have shaped me, its been the mountains that have taught me what to do with that.
So what is it that makes me thrive? I suppose it’s not solely the gigantic tectonic plates waging war on each other in order to make me smile. Or the security of knowing the mountains will always uphold the basic moral principles I aspire to. What makes me thrive is being that person to others that my family is to me. Perhaps my logic is dangerously reminiscent of the proud drivers who slap “Jesus Saves” onto their back bumper with rigid belief, but I’ve always felt a heavy sense of duty to open peoples eyes to the majesty of the mountains.