A love letter to the Sierra Nevada

My dearest and darling Sierras,

You will have to be patient with me, I fear. Oh, of course I do hear the call of your Clark’s nutcrackers calling me from the dry white-bark pined heights to hike up and have a picnic or stay a starry night or two. But for the moment I cannot be witness to your majesty. I am sorry. Let me explain. I do think of you and your high lunar plateaus very often. So, so, often. Do know, that I miss you terribly, I really do. I knew I would, but I still left. I suppose your quite puzzled, may be even hurt by that?

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Mt Tyndall, Sierra Nevada

But who am I kidding? I’m the sensitive human swooning after your slopes, and you, you and your granite slabs don’t give even a quartz about how much I love you. You’ll never care, no matter how much I pine after you and how much I wish you did at times.

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On the slopes of Mt. Williamson, Sierra Nevada

Of course, you don’t judge me or anyone either, and that is all the more a reason to love you.

So here I find myself scoffing you and affording myself the luxury of getting to know some others. So that I can come back to know you even better. Yes, absolutely, I promise, that’s one of the reasons. Oh, but of course, I’m not just doing it for you, it’s for my own selfish yearnings to be quenched of course. Human is what I am, remember?

But you are afraid I’ll fall in love are you not? My own vanity would wish it so…

I can desiccate from Alp back to Sierra, of that I am sure, but after that I must certainly be quenched.

After all, mountains are lovers of the rarest sort, affording one luxuries that most cannot – chief among them patience and reassurance of a geological timescale. But at the same time they can be quite fickle – the freedom they permit is at the mercy of many caprices-   like the ruthlessness of their ripping winds or the indifference of their dry creek beds. What I will never understand is how mountains can have so much character and yet care so little…

near Mt. Langley, Sierra Nevada
near Mt. Langley, Sierra Nevada

I’ve left you know, only to know that I will come back. After all if I never left, how would I know that my happiness, or rather my person within you is complete? That I truly would not rather be anywhere else?

I do not yet know much about these Alps. I do know that they are beautiful and strikingly iconic, but are they warm (in the figurative sense)? How merciless are their glaciers? And how enchanting? Can these Alps do what I fear they might? Can they become the place I want to be? No, no that would not be possible. But it is dangerous for me to tempt, no? What do you think? That sparkling crisp scenery, those abundant snows, those hauntingly well chiseled ice formations, those daintily flowered meadows, and those eccentrically sculpted peaks… and let me not forget their charming creatures- the gliding chocards, the graceful chamois, the affable marmots and the nimble bouquetin… they are captivating indeed…

chocard gliding in Swiss bliss
chocard gliding in Swiss bliss
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view from Riederalp on three Swiss giants: Monte Rosa, Matterhorn, Weisshorn
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hiking above Zermatt!
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young bouquetin at home in his Alps

I’ve already known the pristine greens of Swiss summer heights, which admittedly I thoroughly enjoy and though you perhaps cannot match them in freshness and serenity I can’t say that they will ever be as wild and sun-seared as you.

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alpine flowers above Villars, Switzerland

And it is true the Alps have too many traces of those other arrogant bipeds who also happen to be my beloved kin. Towns, huts, and villages in every vale, unavoidable. But, again, I can’t say I know them well yet, and they certainly intrigue me. I am, after all, determined to find their wilderness, wherever it may be…

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view from Fenêtre d’Arpette along the Tour du Mont Blanc

Surely I can learn things from them and come back and devote myself wholly to you. With the wisdom I bring back to you we can gallivant all day, I promise. And yes, of course I’ll enjoy myself, but don’t be too jealous, okay? Oh, you couldn’t care less, I know…

The thing is, I don’t know these Alps like I know you. Would you be okay if I got to know them?

With mountains, I suppose, one can permit oneself this ambivalence…

Leaving you and yet knowing I want to stay with you forever is the most beautiful of the selfish melancholies. I do feel your pull, my dears. I suppose that is why I needed to leave, to feel the strength of your magnet. And oh what a magnet you are! My heart still surges with your river cascades! My veins flow livid with your spring melts! With your fields of lupine and shooting stars! With your swallow-tail butterflies in low meadows and your chirping pikas in high talus fields. And your clumsy bumbling bears or you sky pilots still vibrant in the highest of granite’s cracks. Even the imprint of your relentless dust on my achilles is a source of heart-ache. Oh to plunge into your glistening glacial lakes again…

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lupines in Desolation Wilderness, Sierra Nevada
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June ice near Bishop Pass, Sierra Nevada
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shooting stars in Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada
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swallow-tail butterfly, Sierra Nevada

May be I was fragmented when I left you, unsure of my geology. And may be I’ll never be whole, always be a split soul, but that’s okay too isn’t it? In a place where it’s okay to be split and torn and tormented because it’s just part of the landscape, it is in fact the essence of the landscape. That’s what makes you seem so feeling and so beautiful and so sympathetic. You’re a place where one can stand firm in one’s loneliness and tears and in personal gashes, no matter the slant. And in loneliness of the grandest dimensions. Where we are allowed to be maximally ourselves, stretched to bear everything of the vastness inside of us, where fragility and harshness coexist. This is where the light always comes through, where it finds new brilliance every day in firewood and shooting stars and leopard lilies.

When I come back, because I will, I will gaze admiringly into your placid surfaces. I will break into your shimmers and your gleams for a shock so profound, for having waited so long to relish in a reinvigorating depth.

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Finger Lake above Big Pine, Sierra Nevada
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view above Shepard pass, Sierra Nevada

I will shiver warm in your presence and let the ecstasy of your rock encased mirrors submerge me eternal. All hurt will blend and ease in your variable lights. Spring sorrows and ice cracking spectacles of joy will quiver side by side. I will wander idly and roam home without a home because in you I’m always homeward freed. I will forget everything, save the next pine tree. In your desolate meadows I will contain all my sorrows and my love, and I will find the places where I can shout naked emotions without a sound. Lost places to feel utterly found. And for all this, the blisters of life will melt away under your constellated skies. In the intimacy of your silence, you will be the refuge for all the unrequited love in the world.

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along the John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevada
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along the John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevada

My human arrogance hopes this letter will mean something to you. Could you not just show me a fleck, a minute speck of granitic love? How long does it take for mountains to love you back? I love you openly and unabashed. And yet, and yet… I cannot say that you do not as you have always shown me the entirety your heart…

Ever thine,

Chamois Jane

Published by Johanne Boulat

Johanne Boulat was born in French-speaking Switzerland, where she lives again now, but she grew up under the resplendent California sun. For 21 years she basked in the spirit of the Wilderness, which she discovered on hiking as well as literary paths. She received her Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then has worked as a scientific field aid, a translator, a sales specialist, and a running coach. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She now teaches English and Science at a local elementary school and dedicates her free time to the three “R”s: Running, Reading, and Writing.

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