Paradise Lost

 

I have eaten humble pie, and it was the sweetest meal that I've ever tasted.

 

My culinary expedition began a mere two weeks ago when I arrived at the Calgary airport to meet my sister. The trip was her gift, a kind of mountain retreat and refueling for both of us. We were to spend a magnificent day at the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel spa, followed by a few days of touring and hiking in the Rockies.

 

By the time I arrived in Calgary, night had already fallen. As we drove to our first destination under the velvety blackness of the Alberta sky, I could only imagine the majestic mountains rising around us. As we entered the gates of Banff National Park, I felt a rush of excitement - eager not to waste a minute of the precious few days we would spend together in the Rocky Mountains, but impatient for the sun to rise and reveal their splendor.

 

When I awoke at 5:00 am the next morning, clearly still on Ontario time, I rushed outside for my first real glimpse of the mountains. Unfortunately, the sun didn't rise until nearly 7:00 am, so I spent the next few hours impatiently waiting for the show to begin.

 

When the sun finally did illuminate the alpine splendor that surrounded me, I was not disappointed. While some people long for the smell and spray of the ocean to rejuvenate their souls, I am a self-professed mountain junkie. Although it had been fourteen years since I had visited the Canadian Rockies, that first glimpse of Mount Rundell in the early morning sun filled me up like a magical elixir. I was home.

 

From my earliest memory, the mountains have always been a kind of personal environmental tonic - just simply being in their presence is enough to re-charge my spirit, fire my imagination, and comfort my soul. They can simultaneously make me feel absolutely immortal while at the same time humbling me with their vastness and beauty. At no other place on this planet can I feel so completely alive and at peace with the universe. 

 

Recollections of the next few days are a blur. Each peak, each valley, every mountain stream and lake we saw brought with it a sense of complete awe. It wasn't just the view, either. The bite of mountain air as it filled my lungs with its fragrant freshness was like a tonic for the body and soul. The sight of a bull elk, complete with a full set of antlers, hiking his way down the main street of Jasper while holding up human traffic, was a comical reminder that we share this planet with other life forms. The burn of my muscles as we hiked up a seemingly endless path to witness the birthplace of a mountain spring made me feel more alive than I had in years. And to stand on a mountain top and to see the peak of Mount Robson, 100 kilometres away was to truly, "... slip the surly bounds of earth and touch the face of God."

 

That we humans are privileged enough to share in this beauty, even given what we've done to the rest of the planet, is a clear sign of the benevolence of a great Creator. We see the signs of nature around us every day, but to witness the sheer scope - the overwhelming size and age of the Rockies - is to experience the breathtaking power of Creation.

 

It was 70 million years ago that the Earth began the process of creating the Rocky Mountains. Almost 20 million years later, the landscape, as we see it today, was complete. But in less than a century, even these magnificent giants are showing the heavy hand print of man. The parks are still as pristine and uncrowded as I remembered them, but the telltale signs of climate change have left visible scars. Usually by mid-September, the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain chain are dusted with a sprinkling of autumn snow but there was no fresh snow to be seen. The Athabasca glacier, the most visible glacier of the Columbia icefields, had retreated dramatically in fourteen years. Scientists now estimate that if current warming trends continue, the glacier that has survived millennia, will be gone in a few hundred years. And the deep mountain smell that penetrates your soul had somehow diminished because of the hotter, drier air.

 

After inspiring and serving me with their beauty for all these years, it is now my turn to serve the splendid giants known as the Canadian Rockies. I must - we all must - remember that we are stewards of this planet. We must learn to care for this wondrous creation that we share, and we must always remember to say, "Thank you."