My great-grandma lived in an 800-square-foot house high on a bank above the Nooksack River. Her large picture windows looked out to where the river came around a curve and, on those rare clear Washington days, you had a perfect view of its source upstream, Mount Baker.
My parents got married in her yard—this postcard view beat any other venue, no matter the price. Later, my family lived with my great-grandma while we built a house of our own—five kids under ten years old crowded into one bedroom. I’m sure my parents have stressful memories of those months, but for me they were the glory days. We’d roam the cedar-tree filled property, descend the neighbor’s steep staircase to play in the rocks lining the river, and arrive back with grass stains on our clothes. I loved listening to Grandma’s stories of her early life in Germany, her move to the United States at nine, and the life she made here, running a country store and raising her children and grandchildren. At night, all five of us kids would pile into bunk beds and tell our own stories or try to recite our favorite movies from memory.
When I needed some space, I would head for the two huge rocks that formed a perfect seat above the river. The stone seat raised too tall in the sky for anyone to spot me, but it still sat close enough to the house for me to hear Mom calling. I hid my diary in a crack between the rocks, and on that great stone seat, I began to speak to God for myself. As a poetic ten-year-old literati, those early journal entries merge mix documentation of my days with verbose flights of fancy. But as I read them I find something else too, the occasional glimpse of a growing relationship with God.
That summer I read The Diary of Anne Frank and my journal memorialized my first wrestling with horrific evil. I followed that with The Hiding Place and prayed that God would give me the courage and faith Corrie Ten Boom possessed. But as I look at the journal what I remember most is sitting, listening to the thunder of the river pouring down from the mountain, and knowing beyond words how beautiful and wild the one who created them must be.
Growing up in Whatcom County, Mount Baker is an inescapable fact of life. Our next move brought us near the farmlands around Lynden, where the mountain sits expansively above fields of cows and berries. Glimpses of the mountain were as common to my day as my clothes and food. Even when hidden behind cloud cover, he was always there, patiently looking over all the activities of those who lived under his shadow. I always saw the face of an old man in the valleys and glaciers and considered anyone a poor artist who missed one of the facial features in their painting of his majesty.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and moved to the desert mountains of Santa Clarita and then the rolling green hills of Tulsa that I realized not everyone has a relationship with a mountain. Here in Oklahoma they call an 804 ft hill “Turkey Mountain,” and recognize a hill near Poteau as the highest hill in the world, as it is one foot short of technically being a mountain. Even if the highest hill grew a foot, I wouldn’t count it as a mountain. I struggle to believe the reaches of its peak makes a mountain worthy of its name. I only believe something is a mountain if it is tall enough to have snow year-round—if you can look at it and think about the challenge of summiting.
I struggle with trying to define the fear of the Lord too. I don’t have words to define it, but I think of it as a mountain worthy of the name. A mountain, high above me yet always near, watching over me even when the clouds obscure his face. I have often lifted my eyes to a mountain and remembered where my help comes from—one more grand, more watchful, more dangerous, and more beautiful than this. On my visits home, I am always hungry to see the tall evergreens, to sit near the grey Puget Sound, and, most of all, to lift my eyes to the mountain.
Cover image by Fabrizio Conti