“I grow into these mountains like a moss. I am bewitched. The blinding snow peaks and the clarion air, the sound of earth and heaven in the silence...
I love the common miracles -- the murmur of my friends at evening, the clay fires of smudgy juniper, the coarse dull food, the hardship and simplicity, the contentment of doing one thing at a time: when I take my blue tin cup into my hand, that is all I do. We have had no news of modern times since late September, and will have none until December, and gradually my mind has cleared itself, and wind and sun pour through my head, as through a bell. Though we talk little here, I am never lonely; I am returning into myself.
Having got here at last, I do not wish to leave the Crystal Mountain. I am in pain about it, truly, so much so that I have to smile, or I might weep. I think of D. and how she would smile, too. In another life –t his isn’t what I know, but how I feel -- these mountains were my home; there is a rising of forgotten knowledge, like a spring, from hidden aquifers under the earth. To glimpse one’s own true nature is a kind of homecoming, to a place East of the sun, West of the moon -- the homecoming that needs no home, like that waterfall on the upper Suli Gad that turns to mist before touching the earth and rises once again into the sky.”
— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard (Viking Press, 1978)
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The list of everyday things we tend to take for granted is long. Fresh air is another of them (although anyone with breathing problems is probably more aware of it).
At the beginning of a hike it’s common to hear comments about how wonderful the mountain air is, often right after we step out of our vehicles – since it usually tastes downright delicious, and a natural response is to want to inhale it deeply.
The oxygen content of local mountain air is higher than at home, due to the fact that the landscape there features millions of oxygen-emitting trees and other plants.
Plus there’s usually much less air pollution. Polluted air includes toxins that are inimical to our health and can sometimes make us feel somewhat out-of-kilter.
The exercise of hiking quickly pulls that air into our lungs, offering a temporary therapeutic replacement for the diet of often stagnant indoor air many of us endure.
Our brains are especially are in need of that oxygen, which almost certainly makes for clearer thinking. Our entire body benefits, since it fuels everything we do.
Increased oxygen intake is not only likely to increase our energy levels (meaning we can get up that mountain more easily), but to help boost our immune system.
And abundant oxygen is part of the formula for a “hiker’s high,” the feeling of exhilaration or heightened well-being that many of us experience on the trails.
People sometimes joke about wanting to bottle some of the mountain air and take it home. And sure enough, there have been recent news stories reporting that bottled air is actually now available for sale in China, Canada, the US, and other countries.
But we can all thankfully get an unlimited one-day supply of fresh mountain air for free every time we hike, a bonus benefit for the price of a trip to the natural world.
-- Charlie Cook