A Mountaintop in Sight…

I learned something about myself when I made a recent visit to central Florida. The purpose of the visit was to gain the acquaintance of a handsome swain (see photo), and to renew some friendships from horseback riding years past. I stayed with my friends while Handsome Swain resided with his, in a barn perhaps 15 miles from the house.

Dante, Handsome Swain at Large

Dante, Handsome Swain at Large

I got lost on the way to the barn.

I don’t usually get lost. I have a good sense of direction, disdain ownership of a GPS (when has disdain NOT been a set up for humility?), and manage fairly well by dead reckoning and map study. I will ask for directions occasionally, but expect I myself to be absolutely befuddled first.

I didn’t get absolutely befuddled in Florida, but I felt befuddled because of two features of the local surrounds. First, this part of Creation is flat, and second, it’s also covered with thick vegetation. The road can stretch out for a mile ahead, two lanes between mirroring walls of green forty feet high.

Florida forestThus I learned that a certain aspect of my self-assurance comes from having mountains around me for reference. When I’m home, I know where I am in part because the same old mountain looms over my small acreage, assuring me which way is which. The office is away from the mountain; the city is over the mountain. From as much as fifty miles away, I can see that mountain (from certain vantage points), and I like that.

The way I feel in Florida, a bit disoriented, second-guessing myself when I’m driving around, restless and without an anchor, is not comfortable. I love the greenery and the sunshine, but need mountains to be at peace with my surroundings, at least for now.

south mountainThat metaphor holds true across my personality. I need fixtures the size of mountains in my moral landscape (be kind, tell the truth), in my financial landscape (if you must buy something, buy memories, not things), my social landscape (a few good friends), and in other regards.

In this sense, I’m a valley girl. I spent the first twenty-one years of my life in a valley, I’ve dwelled in a valley for the past 24 years, and been happy there. I’m also a big trees girl, and probably a seasons girl too.

Are there geographical features or other parts of the natural world that help you feel anchored and oriented? The moral or social world? What mountains do you like to keep in sight?

To three commenters, I’ll send a $10 Amazon gift card.

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52 comments on “A Mountaintop in Sight…

  1. I live in Rhode Island and for me it has to be the ocean. I honestly do not think it is possible for me to live beyond an hours drive from ocean. Like the mountains for you, I need it feel peace. I love to visit other places as well, but the beach is home.

    • My parents live with a 270-degree view of the ocean. For 40 years, they’ve fallen asleep to the sound of the surf, watched the sun set over the water every night. I didn’t get that gene, but heaven only knows why.

  2. I love in south Mississippi right on the water. I grew up on boats fishing, so I would find it hard to be away from here. I really don’t think I could live anywhere else. I don’t mind traveling to other places, but I am always glad to come home.

    • Something about rivers lends itself to metaphors–time, society, love, Twain’s stories. I have a small rural stream cutting through my property, and I love to listen to it on summer nights. Can only imagine how much more powerfully a true river would soak into the psyche.

  3. I’ve lived in Kansas most of my life, which is mostly flat, but without the vegetation of Florida. Grain elevators and water towers served as geographical “mountains” when I was growing up. In the last few years, we’ve has some additional mountains added to our landscape – a tremendous wind farm has been constructed on the (slight) ridge to the south. It’s especially disorienting at night; we used to have clear skies with red flashing lights from one or two radio towers. Now, its a continuous skyline of red flashing lights. I have very mixed feelings about the wind farms.
    I mostly wanted to write to say thank you for the previous gift card you sent me. I wanted to let you know that I’m going to use it to buy “magic sand” to use in my science classroom. I have one small container of magic sand (also called mystic sand when you buy it from Flinn Scientific) that I ordered through requisitions, but the gift card will let me buy more colors! (Not something I can really justify with our current/continuous budget crunch.) The kids love it and hopefully I can use it as a hook to get them thinking about observations and physical properties of materials.

  4. For many years, my son was my focus-mountain. His needs, hopes, dreams and the air he breathed were my direction. When I felt myself losing my financial footing (constantly), his needs helped my stay focused. He was the point from which all things were measured and determined. Now that he is a wonderful young man at 22, my mountains have had to change a bit. It’s very disorienting when your mountains change!! I am blessed that I have a mountain of family surrounding me. And of course, God is my directional reference…The Great Mover of Mountains.
    As far as the town I live in, well. I live in an boring interstate/highway town. Flat and blah. I lived in Salt Lake City for five years, and I loved it. I miss the mountains.
    My peaceful place, and the place that centers me, is my kitchen. Or any kitchen. Creating something out of not much makes me a very happy girl. Baking bread soothes something in my spirit. I don’t know if it’s the rythmic kneading, the feel of the dough, the smell of the yeast, the smell of bread baking, or being able to give some away…it just makes me peaceful.

    • As my daughter says, sometimes, you just need a dose of carby-goodness. I baked all our bread for years, and if I were going to eat bread, I’d want the homemade variety.

      One of my bros lives in SLC, and has a view of the Wasatch towering right above his living room window. Must be lovely to come home to that view, wake up to it, entertain friends beneath it…

  5. The thing I miss by living in Florida is the 4 seasons you get in northern states. For some reason I love the change of the seasons. It is a calming feeling for me. My favorite is the fall. It gives me peace when I see the fall colors. I don’t know why, it just does.

    • I love the seasons too. Just when you think another 100-degree day will be the undoing of you, you notice the undergrowth turning yellow, the days getting shorter, the crickets singing later into the day, and the heat becomes something to savor, not resent. Same for all the other transitions.

      But then, my friends say there are seasons in Florida, it’s just that their markers are different and more subtle–except for Winter. They know it’s winter when all their friends from up north are clamoring to visit.

  6. My compass , my anchors, I think are family and seasons….at my wedding and throughout my personal spiritual life I have kept that one reading in my mind. For every season….turn turn turn, a time to laugh a time to cry etc etc…..I guess it’s the yin and yang in me. The song by the Byrds that used this scripture was at the time something I latched on to and never let go…. There is a time for everything and it helps me to believe in life…..

    Personal note, I adore all the posts above….love the science “sand” and being a mom to a budding physicists, I applaud you Amy , my son was lucky to have teachers such as yourself that made him all the moor curious ….

    • Hope’s reference is to Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1-8, per the King James Bible:

      To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

      2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

      3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

      4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

      5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

      6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

      7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

      8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

      And the Byrd’s refrain, “I swear it’s not too late.”

      Pretty philosophical stuff, and yet we all still understand each activity mentioned.

  7. I originally moved to South Florida with my family in 1966, but I was engaged to be married so back to Philly I went. I spent the next 2 years convincing my hubby (now X) that Florida was the place to live. I have always liked to look out the window at the palm trees to reassure myself that I am, in fact, living in this beautiful state! It always brings a smile to my face even after all these years!

  8. The one constant in my life besides my family has been my Faith in God. It has pretty much always been there for as long as I can remember, from my mom reading Bible stories to me and my brother and then attending church school for seven years. My Faith was there with me through the teen years and college. I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine while I was pregnant with the twins where I said that so far in my 25 years of life I hadn’t gone through a trial where my Faith had to be tested and that I knew one day it would inevitably have to happen because it seemed like it had all been too easy for me. I Often think back to that conversation and wonder if my boys were/are my test or if there is still something coming.
    On a funny note, because of my Faith and Hope and everything that goes with it, I have always been a “good” girl and it’s quite the joke amongst my friends with not so good pasts. I have always been told that I would eventually rebel for a while because it’s what all “good” girls do. I think they figured me a lost cause for rebellion, but now they all have hope that this coming week away from family and friends might be my time for a little rebellion.

    • Oh, right. We might get you to drink a glass of wine, possibly eat some nachos, maybe stay up past 9 pm, and–oh, decadence, thy name is Sarah!–sleep past 6 am. Or scratch that glass of wine (I’m not much of drinker myself), you might run around the book signing squealing at the very sight of Laura Kinsale and Mary Balogh (both of whom are rumored to be attending).

      When good girls go wild at RT…

      • What happens at RT, stays at RT, right? If you can get me to run around squealing for reasons other than spiders and jumping bugs then you will have managed to do what no one else has ever done. I have jumped about clapping my hands giddily over happy news, but have never squealed with delight.

    • Sarah R. I too had a good girl reputation, in fact I was referred to as a “goody two shoes” my last year of high school. What very few people knew was I didn’t have time to get into trouble as I lived on my own and had to work to support myself as well as attend school. I’ve also been fairly shy and since I wasn’t a brilliant student I seldom spoke up in class unless called on as I didn’t want to look dumb if I didn’t know the correct answer to the teacher’s question.

  9. I currently live in northern Florida, but will be moving to the wilds of New York soon. A forest/mountain setting has always made me feel at peace, which unfortunately my city does not have many. Hidden groves found in the forests, hearing the cicadas chirp during the summers all make me feel as if I possess a secret no one else has. For years, whenever I sought to run away from my troubles, I would try to escape among the trees and hide for a few hours to calm myself. If anything, I’d like to live somewhere with wide plains and forests and mountains, to embody the freedom I need in my life and a place of refuge when things get tough. That seems to be my calling these days, finding a good mental and physical hiding place. 🙂

    • I love big trees. My daughter and I would drive cross country for hundreds of miles, pull to a scenic overview worthy of any post card, and Beloved Offspring would pipe up, “I know what you’re going to say, Mom.”
      “What? It’s very pretty.”
      “No big trees.”
      She’d be right.

      I’d suggest Montana, except my brother says they have two seasons there. Winter, which is about ten months long, and Relatives, which lasts about two months (others call Relatives, Road Construction).

  10. I’ve lived in the city and in the country (very small town) I do prefer the country but not the people (busy bodies) who also dwell there (may have just been this town, but it seemed prevelant through the area) Now back in the city I don’t know street names but know how to get there just because (why I don’t know) – no GPS either (don’t wanna be driving into any lakes – LOL) We have a lot next door (almost like a small forest gets very dense and you cannot walk through it in the summer – we get deer, wild turkeys and other sorts of critters

    • The best of both worlds?

      One of the reasons I don’t use a GPS is that they put them in the middle of the dash board, as if the passenger needs to see them too. The road lies AHEAD, not off to the right of the driver. I watch the road, not the goofy little screen.

  11. Growing up in South Dakota we always used locations instead of road names. I still have problems learning street names.

    • I’ve lived in the same place for a quarter century, Tammy, and unless it’s an unusual street name (Frog Eye Road, Keep Tryst Road), I still give directions, “You turn left at the tree that’s been struck by lightning, go about a mile, take a right just past the house with a mailbox on a hogshead barrel, then go about another mile…”

      Hopeless, I is.

  12. A part of me is chuckling because one of my anchors is the exact winding road you have said you’re never going to travel on again in your life. All my own life I’ve seen the white, blood-drained faces of people who had just met that road for the first time and had been terrified… and yet this truly treacherous road is my birthing canal for life. I suppose growing up with its twists and turns and the dangerous rock slides and the surprise road fall-outs is what has always helped me transition through very difficult changes in my life. Just don’t look down, go slow enough you don’t drive off the cliff, and enjoy that fabulous view of cliffs plunging down into the surf from a distance. Take note that the Pacific Ocean leads out into endless shifting clouds of possibility. Open the window, breath in deeply that fresh air… And, wow, look at all the great wild flowers on the “safe” side of the road! Cool!

    P.S. Redwood trees, too.

    • Never said it wasn’t pretty–though that view of three big old RVs belching fumes ahead of me left something to be desired. Interesting analogy, of the road as birth canal, but apt. Where I live, anybody who has to “work down the road,” has chosen the higher wages closer to the DC over the peace, quiet and relative safety of the dingweeds.

  13. I know just how you feel Grace. I moved to Central Florida from Southern California, where there were always mountains in sight and I always had the ocean on one side. Here it’s just flat, and I have had to learn to navigate by knowing what’s east, north and south of me – since I live on the west side of Orlando. I never go anywhere new without thoroughly studying a map. 😀

    • Barbara, I really do worry about Florida. Somewhere I saw a map of what would be underwater if the ocean rose a couple feet. Some of Baltimore, New York, Boston… but more than third of the entire STATE of Florida. Unbelievable.

  14. I have absolutely no sense of direction. Maybe because I didn’t learn to drive until almost 30 and then only locally. I always thought I’d have done better somewhere flat where you can see where you are going. I live in PA and am amongst the mountains. You don’t really see them and everywhere there are twists and turns and hills. Now that I think about it, it pretty well describes my life. I’m afraid to venture forth in many ways and easily get lost.

    • Jeanne, I had a good sense of direction before I learned to drive. I’d go for a walk in the woods, and always know in which direction home lay, but it probably didn’t hurt that I lived in the same place for the first 21 years of my life.

      When I raised this business of I NEED HILLS to be oriented with my friends in Florida, they laughed. Half the family is like me–must have landmarks at all times or we get twitchy–and the other half manages well enough navigating from point A to point B without having a sense of where the rest of the state is in relation to every point of the journey.

      I mean, if I’m just trying to get to the Publix, what does it matter if I’m east or west of the interstate?

  15. I grew up on the Front Range of the Rockies and have spent most of my life living and traveling in, around and through them. Combined with the particular light of the West they are simultaneously ever-changing and a constant in my life. Love traveling all over, but the Rockies, bathed in sunshine or silhouetted by the setting sun, mean Home. Storms boiling always make me wonder if Tolkien used it for his description for the clouds of Mordor.

    • My mom was born in Denver, and she’d get exactly what you’re referring to. My younger brother also makes the distinction between being IN the mountains (“Oh, look, it’s a sheep or a goat or something!”) and being FROM the mountains, in which case you say little and breathe much.

      He’s in Montana, but for a while I had a brother in Niederland. Except for the bear who kept wanting to hide in their garage, I thought it was a wonderful location.

  16. I live in Maryland also and appreciate experiencing four seasons. There is beauty in each season but I do like Spring the best. I think I also like the dependability of knowing each season is coming. Dependability is peaceful not boring for me. This is true for me in the friends I have also. I appreciate that they can be counted on to be there.
    This was a nice moment for me to think about on a Sunday evening. Thanks.

    • I share your appreciation for the Seasons, Kathy. Just when the stinkin’ heat or stinkin’ cold seems like it will never end, it breaks, and the next season comes moseying along. I like that, like watching for the small signs of the next season waxing, while the present one wanes.

  17. I grew up in a valley, part of the Allegheny Mountain Chain, in Upstate New York. I still think it is the best place to view the stars. Diamonds on black velvet. I lived in New Jersey, a beautiful state, where you could climb the Appalachin Trail (SunFish Pond anyone?), or go to the beach. I have worked in Northern California, and Central Florida and both those states appealed on many levels. Being an avid snow skier, I also have spent many years skiing Copper Mountain (outside Denver, CO).

    I live in Austin, Texas now. I love the rolling hills (reminds me of Pennsylvania), the wine country (Fredericksbeug), and the ambiance of this culturally hip city. So I have lived (and seen) many places, but you know what, Grace? Being old enough to think about these things, I know that when I die, I want to be buried in that little valley in Upstate New York. Where the stars are like a million diamonds, on a black velvet sky. Guess you always know where your home is.

    • Haven’t thought about where I want my ashes cast upon the breeze, but a certain valley in central PA comes to mind. I was happy there, and shaped by the mountains and these of shelter any valley affords.

  18. Grace I lived in central Florida back in ’61 & ’62 when I was in elementary school. I now live in the San Antonio, Texas metro area, I’m actually in the county but close enough to the actual city to have it as my address.
    I think my “mountain” through life has been God. I may not always attend church but I do try to live my life in a way in which I think Jesus would approve.
    I use public transportation here and actually prefer it as I’ve never liked driving, in fact I no longer have a driver’s license. I can almost always find my way around via the bus service and many times I can direct people when they need assistance.

    • My Mom would like your answer, Molly! She’s a cradle Catholic who at age 89, has seen many of life’s curve balls and speed bumps. Not much throws her, as long as she can get to Mass occasionally.

  19. I’ve never lived in what I thought of as a mountainous place. I grew up in North Florida (where I never got lost), Illinois, and West Texas. So I like to have some water close by (Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean when I lived in California, Lake Michigan) even if I don’t swim in it often!

    Moral compass, however, was based on one true tenet: Would my mother be hurt or embarrassed if she know of my actions?
    (Funny, never worried about how my dad would feel…)

    (There are a couple of cities wherein I always get lost, though. Greensboro, Rochester, Baltimore…these places always throw me. I just recently figured out how to find my way around New Haven…)

    But enough about horses and my home state — where’s our next book?


    • Bill, next book is Nicholas, who hits the shelves on Tuesday. I get lost in Athens, GA, though this time through, I got a few things straight on my internal map. Not like it’s a big city, fer cryin’ inna bucket…
      And sometimes when I face a moral dilemma, I do bounce it off my 25-year-old daughter. Her counsel is usually compassionate and wise, given that few people, if any, on this earth know me as well as she does.

  20. I’ve always lived in Michigan and would just not feel right if I didn’t have the four seasons or be surrounded by trees.

  21. I’ve had an unusually good sense of direction since I was ten, having navigated my mother and aunt from Washington, D.C. to Grand Rapids and for years after that all over the country but some place befuddle me – Monroe, LA., Houston, Tx. and i can’t figure out what it is, maybe the streets curve around. The thing is I can never ever tell what is east, north, south or west. So if I run into an exit that directs me merely by that type of denotation, I’m lost.

    Water, for now. I must have that rejuvenating, flowing body nearby to achieve serenity. But I suspect a mountain would do if it had an itty bitty stream. Love the new man in your life.

    • I saw him first, Livia! Or second, or third. His previous owner loved him to pieces, and is handing him over only reluctantly, because my trainer vouches for my character and purity of heart.

  22. Directions and maps have been my mainstay since my mom had me navigate by maps from Nj to Ky yearly to visit the grandparents. I grew up on the NJ shore, where hurricane Sandy hit the hardest. My internal compass always knows EAST, MY OCEAN. I have been away from there for many years and live in the foothills of the Georgia mountains, 4 seasons, mild winters and beautiful country. We do have about 14 Peachtree Streets, hwy I285 changes direction about 4 times, and roads like Beaver Ruin Rd & Jay Bird Alley are the norm. My heartpin will always be North & EAST – The ocean I grew up with.

  23. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve lived my whole life in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I have mountains on either side of me and lots of evergreen fir trees — Douglas Fir to be exact. If I am without these and the ever present GREEN I feel discombobulated. I once visited Yakima WA and I was uncomfortable. I discovered it was brown, rolling hill (not hills) and no trees — ICK. Then we visited Playa del Carmen Mexico. The sun rises and sets wrong for me. I play on the Pacific Ocean not Atlantic. I couldn’t get my bearings AT ALL!

    • Makes me wonder how we get these geo-physical orientations fixed in ourselves… is it magnetic meridians, heavenly bodies, prevailing winds… what? Because until I figured out what was wrong in Florida, I was vaguely and persistently anxious, and even figuring out the situation didn’t completely abate the physical sense of anxiety.

      • Part of it is ingrained sense of comfort in childhood I think. I’ve lived in the Willamette Valley my whole life. The sun always rises over the hills to the east and set over the low mountains to the west. I know instinctively which direction is which by the sun. When I was in Mexico along the Atlantic it was just all “wrong” and it took me a while to figure it out. In my world the sun DOES NOT rise over the ocean IT SETS, lol. Therefore my “sense” of where North was was backwards and I was all turned around. The same goes for when we haven’t had enough rain, I just know it by instinct of living here from birth. We are 5-10 inches behind this year…

  24. For me, it’s the ocean…living near it is a lodestone and reminds me that my worries of the moment are just that, in the greater scheme of things.

    Although when I lived on the East Coast, the fact that the ocean was on the other side (East rather than West) really screwed me up, directionally. I do miss the seasons, though, especially fall.

    • My dad is an ocean-guy–loves to fall asleep hearing the surf. My mom doesn’t hear so well, but she can smell the ocean and feel the ocean breeze that picks up in the evenings.