Back to the high country

Decades ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who said, “There are two kinds of people. Some people are mountain people. Others are ocean people.” In his theory, mountain people were those who found the spectacular beauty of high places to be a source of spiritual strength. They go to the mountains for renewal. They find the contact with the Creator present there to be meaningful. The Bible reports that Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God. Ocean people, on the other hand, are drawn to the wide expanses of water. They are attracted to boats and they find the rhythm of the surf to be a reflection of the rhythm of life. They go down to the sea to discover their spiritual center.

At the time we were having that conversation, it kind of made sense to me. I commented that I was a mountain person. At the time I had only lived in Montana and Chicago and even though I did enjoy going to the lakeshore and walking along the water, and found it to be a kind of respite from the city, I knew that Montana was my home and I longed for each opportunity to get back to the high country. I longed for the backpack trips that took us into the land of bear and elk and the hikes up to the edge of the glaciers. I found God’s presence easy to discern in the mountains.

In those days i had been to the seashore to visit and I had enjoyed playing in the surf and looking out on the ocean. I could understand that there would be people who were drawn to live near the water. But I knew that if I had to choose, I would choose to live in the mountains. The theory of my friend seemed to make some sense to me. Roughly 80% of the world’s population live near major bodies of water. Big cities grew up in places with access to ocean transportation. Most of the world’s goods are delivered by boat.

Of course, from the perspective of many years later, it is easy to see that the dichotomy doesn’t hold up. There are not just two types of people. In addition to ocean people and mountain people, I soon learned that there are prairie people, who are drawn to and inspired by the beauty of rolling hills and grasslands and the creatures of the land. Generations of indigenous Americans followed the buffalo and found spiritual nurture in the spaces between the mountains and the ocean. And, if you look at the world, you know that there are rainforest people, who find their spiritual center in the tall trees and lush undergrowth. When we lived in Boise, I learned that there are desert people, who seek the seclusion of the harsh desert environment and find God’s presence among the cactus and native plants. There are jungle people and swamp people and tundra people. Trying to explain human behavior by dividing people into only two categories misses the complexity and a great deal of the beauty of human diversity.

Somehow I got to thinking about my friend and that long ago conversation yesterday as we drove up to Red Lodge Montana. We have so loved living in the Black Hills, with our deer and turkeys and the sound of the wind in the pine trees. We love the song birds and the sunrises and sunsets of the place that has been our home. Still, my heart stirs in a different way when I return to the mountains. As wonderful as the hills are, they are not the high mountains of the Rocky Mountain divide. The place where we are staying with family overnight is over a mile above sea level and it is down in the bottom, with mountains rising another mile above where we are. This is the land of moose and mountain goat. The bears are all in hibernation at this time of the year, with an especially early winter this year, but we know it is there home. We are in the town where my father’s parents lived when I was growing up. It is familiar to me right down to the paths in the snow, dug wide in the early winter because they will grow narrower as the snow piles up. I feel at home in this place. I sleep well.

I am drawn to the high places.

But we are on our way to a new home that is just 25 miles from the Puget Sound. The sound is protected from the open Pacific Ocean by other land masses to the west, but it is an entirely new ecosystem from anyplace else that we have lived. Fortunately, where we are goin is one of the places in the world where the mountains are very close to the ocean. 25 miles in the other direction from our new home brings you into the cascade mountains. North Cascades National Park is a true alpine environment with peaks rising above 10,000 feet. The main state highway stretching east from our new home closes in the winter as the snows pile up beyond the capacity of the plows to keep the roads clear. We will have access to both places, and, both types of people, one would presume. We have already encountered a bit of the bias of the area. Once, a few years ago, when visiting an island church, we heard a bit of bias about the people who live in the mountains from an island dweller. I’m pretty sure that the mountain people have some pre-formed opinions of the island dwellers as well.

Despite what the pundits and news junkies would tell us, our nation is far more complex than simply blue states and red states. We are not just two groups of people deeply divided. There are thoughtful and intelligent people who change their minds and who can see important insights in the arguments of those on the other side. There are peace-loving people who think that our differences are strength, not weakness.

Returning to the mountains as we head towards the ocean, we know that we can find God in many different places and that the search for God is always rewarding. Our new home is only 180 feet above sea level. It is the lowest place we’ve ever lived. I have no doubt that we will find God in that place as easily as we find God in the mountains.

Just because God is on our side doesn’t mean that God is not on the side of the others.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!