“All of these rocks are granite,” Alex says.
He’s identified them by their large, knobby crystals, and he tells me that crystals are what happens when atoms start lining up.
“Why do atoms line up?” I ask him, like a child in science class.
“That’s just what they do,” he says.
We were on our way to Gem Lake today, but we decided to veer off the designated trail and up into the rocks not far from the trailhead. As we were leaving the parking lot, two charter buses of school children pulled in. Now, they are far below us on the trail, prancing and chattering along. Their cotton clothing, in all its shades of primary colors, sticks out boldly among the pine needles and gray rocks. In front of us the heart of my new national park has come out of the clouds. Mountains, 12, 13, and 14 thousand feet tall are stoic and somewhat foreboding. I want to learn the names of all of them, to rattle them off to someone like a seasoned mountaineer: Long’s, Meeker, Mt. Lady Washington, Flattop, Hallett…from there it’s pretty fuzzy. But I think I’m off to a good start. To get to where we’re sitting, we scrambled over fallen trees and rocks with tops like sandpaper. The palms of my hands are red and pock-marked from climbing, but I like it.
“This is what I always used to do at Girl Scout Camp up here too,” I tell Alex.
The last challenge we undertake to reach our revered perch is a tight squeeze through a crack to a place where we can step up onto the rock. We wriggle and squeeze. Alex takes off his pack and camera and sucks in his stomach. He comes up out of the crack, with a blue sky framing his head.
As we sit atop the lumpy granite, the sky plays with us: raining a bit, snowing a bit, and shining a bit. I can see us climbing those mountains up ahead, taking slow steps up a never-ending incline. Thinking of climbing mountains scares me just a bit, just enough to want to climb them and prove to myself that it’s not so bad, so scary. I’m not sure if it’s the power of the giants or the thought of being such a tiny human on the side of a giant or the thought of being a little bit alone up there.
I’ve wondered since moving here if I’ll ever get tired of looking at that string of mountains. And now, as the clouds roll over their tops, over our heads, and on down the valley, the white heads of the giants meet the cold blue sky. I just don’t see how I could ever get sick of these mountains, my mountains.