Herald Outdoors Columnist
I’m in the mountains again. Year in and year out, the high country beckons and I invariably respond.
Looking back, it occurs to me that I write quite a bit about mountains. Even when the highlands are not my main thrust, I often mention them in passing. An automatic thing, I suppose. We all tend to speak often of things we love best.
Just what is it about the mountains that stirs the native flatlander’s soul? Could it be a lack of familiarity? Are the highlands places about which I’d feel more complacent, even jaded, if I lived there or visited more often? I mean, I love my South Georgia/South Alabama/North Florida homeland, but I don’t as a rule run on and on about them.
No, I don’t think that’s the case. Consider mountain folks, even those who have never once trod level ground. They harbor no complacency bred by familiarity. They are apt, even the most inarticulate, to sing the praises of their beloved high country to a fault.
Well, then, is it distance? Sometimes, after all, we do yearn for places far removed from what we know, often the farther the better.
Nope, that’s not it. Not for me anyhow. I’m but a handful of hours from the wondrous Southern Appalachians. It’s a pleasant journey, but certainly no great adventure getting there.
So, what is it about the mountains? Well, I’ll tell you, at least from one old outdoor scribe’s point of view.
Mountains, you see, draw outdoors-oriented people like some gigantic human-attracting lodestone. Our inner compasses, it seems, no matter our beginnings, eventually and inevitably point upward.
There are those who love the Rockies and others who are inexorably drawn to Appalachia. Still more gravitate to these same mountain ranges in places where local lore has bestowed upon them different names; such titles as Smokies, Catskills, Cascades, Sierras. Yep, that’s the secret. It took me awhile, but I figured it out some years ago.
Outdoors folk love mountains because in many ways one is simply more “outdoors” in the mountains than he is in any other place on earth.
If you’ve never touched a mountain or had it touch you, you can’t understand that. If you have, then you know precisely what I mean. It’s like I heard a wise lady once say, “You can worship God anywhere, boy, but you can only feel like you’re in church when you’re in church.”
Likewise, one can fish, hunt, camp and hike practically anywhere, but there’s an added sort of “special” about doing such things in the mountains.
The mountains, compared to the flatlands, are extreme on both ends of the scale and at all points between. When the mountains are calm, they are very calm, even eerie in their pristine, quiet solitude.
When the mountains are angry, they can be very angry. Just ask anyone caught halfway up a slope in the Chattahoochee National Forest in the middle of a sudden, unexpected summertime mountain thunderstorm. The hailstones whistle as they fall. The lightning flashes sear the eyeballs and the senses. The scent of ozone is pungent after a nearby strike.
One’s senses may be heightened in the mountains. They’ll “get your fur up,” an old man once told me. Then, in the next instant, the mountains can dull the senses with opiate bliss.
Carry a gun or a bow in the mountains and they’re simply part of the hunter’s uniform. If you use them, fine. If you don’t, that’s okay, too. You’re in the mountains. That’s what counts.
Hike the Appalachian Trail. Drive Wolf Creek Pass in winter. Face a mountain’s anger with raw, unbridled courage. When it spits in your face, spit back.
Or don’t. If you prefer, walk a mere mile along the tiny Coleman River. Brave Wolf Creek Pass only in benign summer sunlight. Either way you’re fulfilled. You’re in the mountains.
Limber up your fishing rod beside a cool mountain creek. Look upstream toward the falls spilling whitewater toward the pool. Gaze downstream at the shoals where the ghostly mist rises early in the morning.
Cast your fly? Only if you feel like it. Or just take a seat on a rock overhang and dangle your feet. Who cares? Somehow, you’re where you should be, regardless.
But why belabor the point? There’s just something about the mountains.
You should go.