We walked along a well-beaten path that skirted the tops of twin mountains, crossing a joining ridge that connected two points of heaven to the sky. Eagles circled atop thermals that capped out below us. They looked downward for dinner while we looked downward upon them.
Lower still and across a valley lay the town. Its people were local but welcoming to strangers, and they lived in the stone cathedral where the strangers came to worship and did not take it for granted.
Amid the miles between the town and the place we rested our feet, the stone cathedral stood open to the world. It stood open there and beyond and all around, stretching in sight with empty crags and hollow reaches that defeated imagination, stretching past eye’s limit in all directions to the place where forever began.
This world was vast in a way that defies adjectives and open in a way that defines forever. Boulders lay like gravel in a giant’s playground. Trees a hundred feet tall and older than their nation shaded earth that welcomed some of the land’s first people, heading south from their journey past an icy sea.
At the height of summer, snow held on in shining patches, in lazy swaths atop crumbling scree, in deposits high enough to forget humidity, white gleaming postcards refusing delivery of the sun.
At our feet, deep, melting boot tracks swore others had only just gone, but their figures were lost in an empty world full of stone and soil and sky.
Riding a breeze from the plateaus somewhere beyond all reckoning, the scent of sage drifted by, a dab of the West’s own perfume.
In low, gnarled, twisting bonsais thrashed short and wizened by the cruel whip of winter, sage grows in dusty hues of green. Its bark speaks of weathered suffering and its aromatic leaves smell of wild mustangs and old leather, of elk bugles and snow on the wind, of pronghorn at top speed and unrelenting sun, of death and life and adventure.
We walked along a well-beaten path that skirted the tops of twin mountains, hauled to at a cable car’s landing and descended into civilization again. We left only footprints, took only pictures, and hid in our hearts that part of heaven we’d borrowed for our own.