How to Bring the Mountains Home with You

Alpinist magazine during the daily commute (Szalay 2014)

We often say that we should take only memories and pictures and leave only footprints in the wilderness. But it’s really not that simple. We’re human beings with passions and for some of us that means we want to immerse ourselves wholly in what we love, be that a national park or the ideal of a mountain man or woman.

While we don’t want to take anything physical or erect anything permanent or semi-permanent in the places we love, we want things that give a longer life to the euphoric sensations our adventures give us. For me, it even goes a bit deeper: My self-identity is wrapped in these places and adventures, so leaving my heart at the trailhead is impossible.

I try to bring the mountains home with me. I take pictures. I write down memories. Then I buy a twelve-pack of the locally brewed beer and buy gallons of maple syrup (at least for my journeys to Vermont) to enjoy for while longer. When I get home I look at gear in Patagonia catalogs with a bit of lust. I think about gearing-up for the next time my work schedule opens up for Natalie and I to go off with the kids someplace with wide open spaces. I consider buying that new backpack, I think, because I can load all my cool stuff and be as ready as Colin Haley for Mount Foraker.

Except, 85 percent of my daily routine involves driving city roads in our Subaru, riding subways and buses, walking on paved sidewalks, sitting in offices and cafes and climbing the three-story walk-up to our apartment. What do I need my Asolo TPS 520s and hard shell for when I usually need a pair of tasseled loafers and a sport coat?

I’m desperately trying to create an allusion of being in, or ready for, the mountains. I’m trying to satisfy a need for rock strewn trails, higher elevation, and the excitement of changing weather. This is despite the fact that I have responsibilities and commitments that conflict with that desire, and that I have I have willingly embraced those duties. (In fact, all of this is the true reason I started this blog.)

Desktop Mountain Art.

Shopping for new gear is a poor substitute for keeping the joy of the mountains; if I am just going to have it for that “one day” in distance, then it’s a waste. Gear wears out even from non-use. For example, my climbing harness just reached it’s expiration date after 10 years. Regardless of it’s visual appearance it’s done.

However, I recently realized that my library of mountaineering literature actually soothes my restless soul more than new duds from an outfitter. (Though, Sweetie, if you’re reading this, don’t let this discourage you from getting me another plaid shirt from Patagonia — I’ll wear those on the weekend anyway.) There is a wealth of climbing books, what Barry Blanchard called the “cannon of mountaineering” in his book The Calling is enormous — you should dive in. Plus publications, like the magazine Alpinist, are also wonderful outlets that connect with your mountain person ego.

Since Natalie and I moved back into our relatively small condo I have had to store the majority of my gear in a shed. What is left accessible is my library and some art. If you follow me on Instagram then you have seen my “Desktop Mountain Art,” which I put in different configurations and post periodically. Fascinatingly, these wooden models have struck gold inside me. I love them and they have raised ideas, thoughts and joy inside me. Of course, they also prompt conversations about art, mountains, and adventure. It makes me share memories and show pictures.

What we need is something that connects with us at a different level — maybe it’s our soul. The practicality of outdoor clothing and equipment are merely tools to shelter what houses that soul of ours. We need to reach deeper. In fact, we need to go directly to what those ads and descriptions in the Patagonia catalog are tugging at… the dormant feelings we usually only feel gallivanting in the outdoors. We need more art. It can be in written word or something for a shelf, or maybe something else I haven’t discovered yet.

So if all of this doesn’t get closer to telling you more about how to fix our problem (and describe how messed up I am), I don’t know what does. I’ll be back in touch with more later. For now, enjoy the rest of your week and have a good weekend.

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