On a trail through an aspen grove, a stranger and I stand shoulder to shoulder. We are witness to miracle. We are witness to exquisite mundanity. Hiking separately, we stop together to watch a doe and her fawn lap water from a mossy pool.
I have never had a church. As a child I had the old orchard at High Meadow. I met God there once and never again. God was the wind and the wind was so strong—I got scared. From that point on, I looked in at religious communities from the outside. I was always outside.
I am from a part of the country where we don’t smile and we don’t say hello. We don’t make eye contact and we don’t strike up conversation—unless we’re on a hiking trail. The trail is the only place I’ve ever known people to come together and genuinely extol the beauty of life. The goodness of humanity overwhelms.
A Jewish mystic once told me we are walking through the consciousness of God. On the streets of Jerusalem, it was easy to believe. Here too, eyes locked with the curious doe.
A few years ago I was working and living in Rocky Mountain National Park. On a Sunday morning, I made a little pilgrimage to the alpine tundra. Above treeline, the wind whips relentlessly and wildflowers grow very close to the rocky ground. I noticed a woman on the side of the trail with a hand lens and knelt beside her to ask if I could see what she was looking at. Dwarf clover and alpine forget-me-nots. “Isn’t it incredible,” she asked me, “the tenacity of life?”
In my memory now she is nameless, faceless, but her words have stuck to me like sap to skin. I think of her when I see bristlecone pines, fireweed, or scar tissue. Millipedes, pale and minuscule, crawling across a cave floor. Pronghorns in the snow. A mother surviving her own grief. These words echo in every moment of awe.