Lessons from the Mountains - My Family Travels

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine…
—from Our Valley, by Philip Levine

I resisted the idea of the moutains for a long time. I was terrified of being thrown in the wilderness for 10 days with no escape, surrounded by people that I didn’t know in an outdoor singing camp called Ooolation! I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get out fast enough. Those fears stuck with me until that 5 AM Wednesday morning when I got on the plane in Indianapolis, Indiana, and there was no turning back.


As I saw the mountains rise above the little town of Lee Vining, California, I realized I’d never witnessed such a beautiful sight. The High Sierras landscape was all like the proverbial postcard, the drive up the mountain to camp was impossibly steep, the sound of rushing waterfalls right out of a fantasy. At that moment, I fell in love with the mountains. To attempt to describe the scenery and the landscape is to do it injustice, but the stars at night were brighter and more vivid than any cityscape I have ever experienced. And the night sky was so close– it was as if I needed only to extend my arm, and I could touch them.

It wasn’t until I got into the rhythm of camp that I allowed myself to stop for a moment and take it all in. This place, and the people who were drawn to it, were like nothing I’d ever known before.

Over the 10 days of camping high in the Sierras, we sang, performed, hiked, ate, swam in the crazy saline water of Mono Lake, and I learned more things on that mountain than I could ever have imagined. Two of the most important lessons are these: One, don’t underestimate yourself. I found that I was capable of so much more than I realized, including singing a solo in front of a crowd of strangers in Yosemite National Park. Second, keep yourself open to new experience. I learned to stretch myself beyond what was comfortable and familiar, and that lesson is changing my life.

Ending the last night on our mountain, eight of us made our way out to “Flat Rock,” overlooking miles of mountain ridges and lakeshores. Under a mass of blankets, huddled together beneath a sky full of stars, we waited out the hours until sunrise. After a long night of no sleep and so much laughter that our stomachs hurt, as tired as we were, we kept our eyes open until we all managed to see the same shooting star blaze its path across the sky.

I don’t recall exactly what woke us up, maybe it was the first light over the mountain peaks, but as the sky turned to a fire of vibrant pinks and purples and reds, we shed our blankets and braved the 40-degree weather to sing a song and let the mountains echo it back, one last time. 

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1 Reply to “Lessons from the Mountains”

  • kindercore

    Thank you for sharing this! That sounds like a truly beautiful experience. I love the bit about never underestimating yourself the most, very true. 

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