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“I told the students [….] that places were more reliable than human beings, and often much longer-lasting, and I asked them where they felt at home.”
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
The flat open valley floor meets the mountains on the horizon both west and east and greets me with waving grasses, shows me rock formations that call out for climbing and standing on the look-out. The valley hides wet indentations where horses, grazing cattle, rabbits and deer quench their thirst. Light streaking from either side colors the grass, green in spring, yellow in summer and brown with snow tufts in winter. This place screams openness, emptiness, possibility. I love this place. Towering over this valley to the South sits Mt Shasta.
This summer I walked 14 days on the Pacific Crest Trail in a wide arc around this mountain, the tallest one (14,610 ft) of the Cascade range in Northern California, 50 miles south of the Oregon border. I walked with the spirit of the mountain as you might say, as she - I think of her as feminine, maybe because she is so accessible in a landscape of tree-covered ridges and grassy valleys - showed her white self on every ridge I climbed, and through openings in the woods where I hiked. The local Karuk Indians call Mt Shasta, Úytaahkoo, which translates to “White Mountain”.
On my two-week hike I encountered steep snowfields. Shasta mountain gave me back memories of climbing her steep sides and I remembered the techniques I needed to traverse what was in front of me. When the trail became confusing, the mountain helped me orient myself. When the sun was blazing on the ridge, Shasta looked at me from beyond the ridge with a cool white eye, reminding me that “this too will pass”. When I dunked my sweaty body in the glacier-melt McCloud river, I thanked the mountain’s year round snow cap, providing coolness. Mt Shasta is the epicenter, the umbilical cord of what I call “my place”. A place I chose after wandering around the planet for the first trimester of my life. A place where I raised a family. A place where I found community.
Why this place? Does the mountain have “a spirit” as the Karuk say? Does she call the ones to get to know her spirit? When it was time to choose a place for my family, I chose this place with a statistical approach, listing and rating the things I thought we wanted and needed. I thought myself smart and conscious in doing so. I didn’t know whatever place you choose doesn’t become “your” place until you spend time, shed sweat and tears, accept its good and bad, and slowly form a relationship that enters your bones. It took time to discover that Mt Shasta is the epicenter of the place I call home. I have walked this place when I felt overwhelmed, when I was distraught; I have walked when I was curious, in love, happy and hopeless.
I have walked and by walking I always find myself again, find the heart of what moves me forward in life. As I walk, breathe and carry, my life is reduced to the basics of living at two miles an hour at the base of a mountain that has spewed out the terrain I walk on. A mountain that supports plant and animal life with rivers that flow from her snowy peaks, a mountain that calls the rain and snow to her. I meet Mt. Shasta when I move about this place. I’m a visually oriented person; the mountains, vistas and light of this place bind me. Walking brings me to myself and walking around this mountain gives me a sense of place, my place.
For you, it maybe different. You may find your place because of the sounds, the smells, the food, or its people. Walk and meet the spirit of the place you can call yours!