What a difference five days makes away from my family.
I missed them, of course. But also? It was good to get away. It was good to be high in the mountains, eating too much food, staying up too late, and hiking trails that reminded me to exercise more often.
As I sat in the Denver airport, waiting for my return flight home, I looked out the window to pass the time. The view was not of the Rockies, but of the eastern plains that stretched for miles. I was fascinated by visions of telephone polls at least a mile away, maybe more. I was amazed that no tree or mountain interrupted the landscape.
There are no views like that around here. For one thing, there are the mountains which rise up on both sides: the Oregon Coast Range to the west, the Cascade Range to the east. For another, even if you're looking north or south, the view is always obstructed by a hill or trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Most of the time it's good to live with the mountains in sight. Gives you a sense of bearing. When my sister lived in Florida she complained that she had a hard time with direction because every direction looks the same. Not so, here in the Willamette Valley. You always have the mountains to point you in the right direction.
I looked out that airport window, and remembered advice that I gave to my students a few weeks ago: Use natural formations as metaphors in your speeches. The mountaintop experiences. The valleys of despair. They nodded in understanding. Familiar metaphors for these students who have Psalm 23 memorized.
But sitting there in the airport I remembered the other metaphor we use for mountains. A mountain of work. A mountain of laundry. Mountains aren't always majestic. Sometimes they keep us from having perspective. All we see is the mountain, never the vista. All we feel is trapped in, never sure of what's out there on the horizon. That huge pile of rocks and dirt becomes the very antithesis of inspiration.
Last night in the airport, I looked long and far. I wanted to permanently burn that image into my memory because I don't know when I'll have that kind of view again. Eventually I boarded the plane, and began my journey home--towards the mountains--but I was grateful for the reminder that the horizon is out there, even if I can't see it.
You can have your mountaintop experience.
As for me, I'll never forget the perspective of the plains reaching farther into the distance than my eyes could see.