Just before I reach the trailhead the clouds part and I drive into the brightness. The light brume is like a whisper entangled in the trees. The mist looks like a soft blanket caressing the dry brown meadow, coaxing it slowly back to life. I shoulder my pack and begin to climb up through the shadows. The trail unfolds before me. Every bend, every rise and fall brings a new experience. It is early in the morning and my ears are numb. The wind smells cold. I love the mountains in fall just before the leaves begin to give up their life and fall to the earth. You can sense the change in the spirit of the mountains.

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Sunrise ©Isaac Tait

I am uneasy. I am not sure why so I press on, picking up the pace. The shadows are shrinking in rhythm with the receding clouds. The broad-leafed maples standing watch over the trickling spring rustle in the wind, barely disturbing their residents of puffy birds that are trying to stay warm. They watch me pass, irritated that I have awoken them from their slumber. The mountains are nearly silent  not a sound except the crunching of rock and soil beneath my feet and the occasional puff of wind that causes the bone dry buckwheat to crackle.

I am conducting a reconnaissance of the southeast face of an unnamed peak. Several intriguing granite blocks have captured my imagination for many months and I want to get a closer look. As I climb higher I emerge into the embrace of the sun and my ears begin to thaw. At the saddle my objective comes into view, dappled in ponderosa and big cone spruce. Cliffs dot its broad southeast face which is interlaced with gaping canyons, sharp ridge-lines, scree fields, and impenetrable chaparral fields. The fear rises in the back of my throat. The reality of the size of this mountain begins to sink in and I realize that I will need several days to properly explore it. My short day-hike will not even allow me enough time to reach the foot of this mountain.

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San Gabriels ©Isaac Tait

There is a smaller mountain, Smith Mountain, just to the south. I need something to distract me from this foreboding feeling brimming over within me. I am nervous at the prospect of ascending this peak directly before me. I was hoping that upon inspection it would appear impossible, but rather find that it just may be possible after all. Under the hot sun I push these thoughts from my mind and begin plucking my way through manzanita, anxious to distract myself, as I work up the exposed north face of Smith Mountain. I begin to sweat. Midway up the face I discover a large granite outcropping shrouded in big cone spruce trees. I sit, perched two thousand feet above the valley. The mountains are waking and I drink it all in, wishing I had a bigger straw. At first it is barely noticeable; my ears, used to the cacophony of the city, do not register nature’s melody. As I quiet my mind the symphony grows. A hawk cries. The wind blows. A flock of swallows flutter through the air. Crickets chirp their mating song. Bugs buzz from flower to flower. Birds of many kind whistle, chirp, tweet and warble. A crow and then a blue jay screech an alarm at an unseen threat. Fresh tender pine needles flux in the gentle caress of the wind.  A falcon dives past me, dodging through the sky at breakneck speed. I watch her disappear. I am just a visitor upon my rocky outlook trying to soak in everything. I feel alive, at peace, joyful, waiting anxiously for the fleeting solitude of nature’s silence. I lose track of time, content to savor these moments to make them last as long as possible. To be so immersed in the beauty that it consumes me and makes me shed my worries like a coat. This is why I love the mountains. This is why I seek the freedom of the hills. This is why I cherish the silence of nature.

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Brume ©Isaac Tait

 

 

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