In Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane writes: “Ultimately and most importantly, mountains quicken our sense of wonder. The true blessing of mountains is not that they provide a challenge or a contest, something to be overcome and dominated (although this is how many people have approached them). It is that they offer something gentler and infinitely more powerful: they make us ready to credit marvels…” In my life in the mountains, these marvels abound. There are the simple ones, the obvious: impossible walls clawing at the heavens; cornices big as buildings overhanging miles-high faces; colors so sublime and ethereal they make one weep; glaciers and rivers and geologic powers pounding forever onward, sculpting our world in timeless toil. These are the immediate and obvious reasons why #MountainsMatter to me.
But, look beyond the surface, past the obvious grandeur and power of mountains, and another world of wonder, of marvels, becomes apparent. Mountains provide. In them, one billion of us humans make our homes. Mountains are home to some 25% of all biodiversity on our planet. The mountains feed us, providing 6 (potatoes, maize, tomatoes, sorghum, apples, barley) of the 20 most critical food crops globally. They shade us and help us breathe, hosting 28% of our world’s forests. And, they quench our thirst, providing between 60-80% of the world’s fresh water. Marvelous.
And yet, the mountains are also fragile. Beyond their tough-guy exterior lies a deep sensitivity to the balance built over eons – a balance we humans have disrupted. From development and deforestation to climate change and mineral extraction, the mountains bear the brunt of our abuse and, ultimately, it is us who will pay the price through diminished – or deceased – marvels from the mountains.
Today, December 11, is International Mountain Day. Please join me in spreading the word about the marvels of mountains, of the bounty they provide, and the very real threats they – and we – face.