Exploring the Natural World
My mountain explorations have been an important way for me to experience the natural world. When younger, I focused on the challenges that faced me as I pursued mountain summits, enjoyed the comraderie of my companions, and savored the victories that came. As I have matured I often travel alone, at my own pace, and pause more often to more fully observe and experience the natural world around me. This has made my outdoor experiences richer for me.
Plants and Animals
The approaches to the summits and the long return hikes can be tedious. The brush can be frustrating. The climbing routes require attention to the details in front of me and the changing environment around me. Yet, as I slow my pace, I become aware of the varied plants and animals around me.
I admire the blossoms of flowering plants and the textured bark of trees and brush. I smell the aroma of forest snowbrush leaves after a rain shower. I respectfully avoid the thorns and cactus spines of the Sonoran Desert.
I watch startled javelinas cross a ridge ahead of me. Mountain goats decorate the passes and summits. I hear sounds of wildlife, especially raucous jays in treetops but sometimes swarms of bees to avoid. I listen for rattlesnakes in open country and rock outcroppings. I note the paw prints of a cougar on a snow-covered trail. I pass by a grizzly sow and cub feeding on berries or a black bear busily digging below a downed tree. I ponder how to defend myself if things get too wild.
I am a casual observer of nature and make no effort to record all observable specimens at a location and time. I let my attention shift as the spirit leads me. My observations are therefore less scientific but nevertheless satisfying learning experiences for me.
The nights can be very long during climbing bivouacs. Many times during those nights I opened my eyes and noted the bright objects in the dark sky and how they slowly shift across the sky. I watched the twilight slowly fade to the west, the moon move across the sky, and the dawn light hopefully grow to the east. I identified the visible planets, navigational landmarks, and a few asterisms and constellations. But there is so much more for me to observe and learn.
In recent summers I have volunteered as a small telescope operator at public viewings held at Pine Mountain Observatory. This observatory is located along the summit crest of Pine Mountain, southeast of Bend, Oregon. I have there met several experienced amateur astronomers and have learned from them how to find and view planets, binary stars, nebula, star clusters, and galaxies.
I expect to observe more of the night sky in the coming years, especially from my winter home in Tucson.
My mountain explorations has brought me into direct contact with geology and minerology. I recognize the basics of mountain building, the varied texture and strength of rocks, and the stability of talus and scree slopes. I ponder how the terrain was formed and changed over deep time.