Mountain Muse

I remember the first time I saw a snow-capped mountain. It was four years ago, and I was driving West with my then-boyfriend in my still-shiny red Acura. I had about $800 in my bank account and a job offer at a newspaper in Washington, a state I'd visited a quick 24 hours before saying yes to the job.

I had packed up my entire life, which conveniently fit in two suitcases, and shoved them into the backseat of my coup. My leather seats moaned as I maneuvered belongings around like giant tetris pieces. I popped my trunk and filled it with a couple pillows, four picture frames and a basket full of creased shoes. I stuffed any remaining pockets of space with snacks—chewy jerky, a jumbo bag of trail mix and a large container of beige hummus. Then I drove off.

I passed the time listening to music, popping salty M&Ms into my mouth and taking photos out my window of a snow-draped landscape, all the while securing the leather steering wheel between my knees. I slept in cheap motels I found along the route to Washington. I ate greasy burgers at local pit stops and washed them down with hoppy beers. As excited as I was to move to Washington, I was in no hurry. The journey there—stuffed in my tiny 2002 Acura—was pretty great. It was simple, and it was fun. It was a trip of many firsts, like my first peek at a snow-capped mountain.

The first time I saw a snowy peak was in Colorado. I had driven through flat, cold Kansas for miles before entering even colder Colorado in the early hours of the morning. I could only see black outlines of jagged mountains in the blue, early-morning sky. I actually wasn't even sure whether they were mountains. I thought maybe my strained eyes were just making things up. But there they were the next morning—long, white, jagged ranges that could be spotted and adored from all over Denver—breakfast joints, homes, the highway. They seemed so accessible yet not. So near yet so far.

Wyoming offered similarly striking views of mountainous landscapes, complete with 50 mph winds so severe it made me wonder how people live there. But my final destination, Washington, offered its own take on snowy peaks. Mountains in the northwest, from a distance, are blue and purple with white tips. But unlike the seemingly unending ranges found in Colorado and Wyoming, they often stand independently, jutting up randomly in the distance. Close up, their bases are draped in greenery. Firs dot the hillsides. Moss clings to rocks. A wiry moss, which I later learned is called wizard's beard, hangs in tangles from tree limbs.

Since moving out West four years ago, this landscape has become my playground, my escape and my muse. The thick firs have become the posts to hang my hammock bed. The mountains have become my gym and my therapy. I think I may just climb them all.