Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mountain Man

The Salt Lake Valley is ringed by mountains. If you want to know what direction east is you look at the “big mountains”  — the Wasatch — and if you want to find west you look for the “little mountains,” the Oquirrhs. Big, little…they're all mountains, and they are impressive. Millions of years ago there was a big cataclysm in our area. Big mountains erupted from the ground as the earth shook, rattled and rolled. Even so, our mountains, the Rocky Mountains, are younger than mountains in the Eastern U.S. Their mountains are kind of the middle-aged or geezerish, worn down mountains. We're the upstarts; our mountains are the craggy and pimply teenage mountains.

As a kid growing up in Salt Lake I had one particular mountain which fascinated me then as it does now. Mount Olympus stands higher than the other mountains. It overlooks the valley. I could see it from my back yard.

One day in 2007 I stopped to take a picture because I could see the moon in the daytime, visible over my mountain.

I stopped in a school parking lot and took a picture across the school grounds of the mountain with clouds streaming in to obscure its top. From this vantage point, a few blocks south of the location of the top two pictures, the mountain takes on a configuration called the Twin Peaks.Click on pictures for full-size images.

Mount Olympus is more than just standing there looking down at me. When I was in school if I drew mountains I drew Mount Olympus. It is endlessly fascinating to me. It changes with every season, and it throws shadows in different directions during the day so its features are always changing. Mount Olympus is a moving tableau. When I get close and look up so that it is looming over me, the mountain's perspective changes, and it appears to flatten out. On days when the air is really cold after a storm and the sky is a blue like only an artist could create, it looks almost like a movie backdrop.

On one of those days where it looks like a movie backdrop and I was still working my school district job I was walking into a school down the hill from the mountain. I got there at the same time as the U.S. postal carrier. I noticed as we walked into the school both of us were looking backwards at the mountain. I gave her the short course of what I've just told you; I've spent over 50 years looking at that mountain. She said, succinctly, “It's why I moved back here from a life in the Midwest.” I haven’t seen her again, but that sounded about right. When I was in the Army in Germany at the time my father died, I came back for his funeral. From his gravesite where we gathered I had only to look over my right shoulder and there was Mount Olympus.

Until I sat down to write this I had never thought about the origin of the name Mount Olympus. Any of you classicists know that in Greek mythology Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. I wondered if the Mormon pioneers named the mountain, or if it had been named by fur trappers before the pioneers arrived. I'm sure the local native Americans who lived here at the time (specifically, the Utes), didn't call it Mount Olympus.

It would seem uncharacteristic for early Mormons to name a mountain after the home of mythological gods, but maybe not. Maybe when they looked at that mountain they saw something I see, something that transcends religion, but is in itself something monumentally spiritual. A mountain which, by looming over and watching us, seems as alive as any living thing I know.

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