It was 28 below in Chicago, but I was in Roanoke, and grateful for it. Closer to 40 above, but the wind swooped down the mountainsides, throwing trashcans across the street and whining around the eaves of my parents’ attic where I hide out when I’m in Virginia. I hadn’t been home since May and my immediate instinct when I landed in the valley was to hike as much and as high as I could.
The church ladies balked at my plan – “Oh, Dana BETH,” they chided, “you’ll FREEZE!” Bobby was worried, too, and insisted, predictably, that I be sure to wear my stocking cap. And it was windy, they were right, and it was chilly, it’s true. But knew it couldn’t be Chicago cold and so I drove up Catawba mountain, parked on the side of the road, and started walking up the fire trail.
There was no one else around. The wind had kept most people inside, I suppose, those thin-skinned southerners not graced with the hardening benefits of a stay in what my Carolinian housemate Meghan has taken to calling the “godforsaken wasteland.” I swear I haven’t influenced her at all.
So I hiked the mountain. Once I got a little way up the trail, I found myself sheltered by the rise and the wind disappeared. I didn’t feel it but I could hear it, whipping around the peaks and streaking through the valley. I hiked, walking myself up the mountain and out of a year-long exhaustion.
I can’t begin to pull apart the strands of mountain imagery and meaning that tangle themselves in my subconscious. The mountains are home – to me, to God. Prophets go up to meet God, to be commissioned, to find direction, to be strengthened. God comes down to meet us, to give hope, to teach peace, to judge, to offer grace. I miss those mountains with a particular longing that only grows more layered the longer I live far from them.
So I went up to the mountain of the Lord that day in exhaustion and anticipation, hoping I would find him there. I was commissioned a week later, licensed to preach the gospel. I found direction when I returned to Illinois, finishing one job and starting a new one. And I have been strengthened these weeks by family and friends, by traveling and decompressing, by breathing in breath after breath of sweet Virginia air. I climbed more mountains last week, but those days were sunny and still, full of hiking companions.
Those few moments sitting alone at the top of Catawba mountain, looking out over the valley and listening to the wind scream and rage around the peaks, were a long time coming. I hope I soaked them up enough, breathed in deeply enough, to sustain me through these new days back here in the flatlands. Lord knows I’ll need them.