Naturalist, author, and preservationist John Muir said of Washington state’s 14,410-foot Mount Rainier:”The view we enjoyed from the summit could hardly be surpassed in sublimity and grandeur; but one feels far from home so high in the sky, so much that one is inclined to guess that, apart from the acquisition of knowledge and the exhilaration of climbing, more pleasure is to be found at the foot of the mountains than at their tops. Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach, for the lights that shine there illuminate all that lies below.”How do you interpret Muir’s thoughts on the “foot of the mountains” and “mountain tops?” How do these concepts relate to your life – past, present, and/or future?
Life presents many mountains for us to face. From the very beginning, we are encouraged to persevere, to keep walking, to conquer each mountainous challenge we are faced with and put each behind us as just another life experience. However, as Muir states, “…apart from the acquisition of knowledge…more pleasure is to be found at the foot of the mountains than at their tops.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, another 19th century nature writer, said “life is a journey, not a destination”. In essence, this is what John Muir is saying, too. If, throughout life, we are blind to everything around us, focused solely on a single goal or motivation, a single “mountain” we must conquer, life becomes meaningless. To live is to observe, to understand that every step taken is as important as the next, and to learn and grow from each and every one. I am a very goal oriented person, always looking ahead and formatting current goals and plans in accordance with what I want to happen in the future. Because of this mindset, I often find it hard to follow the advice of Muir and Emerson. The destination, the need to reach the mountaintop and conquer my challenges, consumes me and leaves me unwilling to look at the people, places, and experiences that surround me on my journeys. It is only when I force myself to pay attention to the medial experiences, the trek from the foot of the mountains to their tops, that I am able to appreciate and learn from life. I might not agree with Muir’s assertion that more pleasure can be found at the base of the mountains than at their peaks, but I certainly believe the most pleasure of all is found in the climb itself, if one is willing to pay attention.