You can tell you’re on the east side of the mountains. It’s drier, more grey-orange, scrubby. The ground smolders around us as we drive up to the trailhead, remnants of the summer’s fires. It’s getting angrier. The earth, I mean. And I understand.

The mountains are a great place to highlight precariousness. It’s not just that I nearly froze up walking along in a spot where the trail narrowed and the rocky land to my left slid down, down, down. It’s that even these enormous mountains are fragile, in a way. If you pay attention, you can tell. Mountains are edges: things hold on until they can’t anymore. And then something’s falling.

Hike to Lake Ingalls Hike to Lake Ingalls

Don’t walk off the path. And I mean because of the vegetation. It’s holding on. Until the snowpack is altered and the warmth creeps along the edges to where it is, anyway. Or until you step on it.

Well, we’re tramping around up here to see some of the vegetation: the larches. You can see precariousness in where they stand on the mountain, at a certain elevation, on a certain side. Altitude is necessary, but up to a point. And there’s the need for a certain light, a certain soil. They’re all over where you’re in the middle of them, but zoom out on a map and they inhabit mere slivers of the land.

Hike to Lake Ingalls 3 Lake Ingalls Mountain Goats

Mountain goats half observe and half ignore our scrambling, utterly clumsy to them, I’m sure. We’re clumsy creatures with a lot of power. The mountainside can kill us, but you know, we’re killing the mountainside in that we’re killing much of what is living on it, just in a drawn out way that’s too slow to easily discern. Or is it? When we bother to mind, we know we’re causing a catastrophe, and we can name some of what we’ve already killed. Most times we don’t, even when we’re reveling in the wonder of what we’re destroying.

Hike to Lake Ingalls 4 Hike to Lake Ingalls 5 Lake Ingalls

I didn’t have all of these gloomy thoughts on the mountain, only some of them. But mostly, honestly, I felt great, happy to be outdoors, happy to see this beauty, happy in the higher, fresher air, happy in the clean-looking snow, happy.

Look, and then don’t look away.

If you care about humans, animals, plants, fungi, and/or the earth, consider: