I step off the LRT and into Lion's Park station just after 11pm, having finished my last shift of work. It's after I hoist on my backpack and make my way out onto the sidewalk that I notice the rain. All the way to my uncle and aunt's house it pours, increasing in intensity by the minute. It comes at me in sheets, blowing sideways off the pavement in waves of water. Streams pour off the brim of my hat. It soaks through my jacket and my shirt, my boots and my socks. It runs in rivulets down the sidewalk and surges into the drainpipes. I laugh, then let out a whoop of joy over the sheer craziness of the circumstances. What a perfect start to my week long West Coast vacation!
Five minutes later, I kick off my soggy boots in my family's living room. Five more minutes, and the freak storm has ended.
The next day dawns far too early. My clothes are air-dried and my leather satchel is packed with food, books, and headphones. My uncle drops me off at Calgary's Greyhound bus station. The wooden sign in the boarding area announces my bus's destinations:
YOHO NATIONAL PARK
I have several reasons to make a 15 hour bus journey to the Coast instead of catching a 90 minute flight. Chief among these is cost. The appeal of gaining such a long head start on the 6 books I chose for the trip was also a factor. And I wanted to travel the land. I wanted to feel the breadth of our country. I wanted to read the landscape like a book, crawling up and over the immense backbone of our western continent we call the Rocky Mountains.
I have a friend who recently moved from Edmonton to Calgary. She can't get enough of our mountains. Every other week she arranges a hike for us Calgary natives. Day hikes. Night hikes. It doesn't matter. She says the sight of the mountains from her window never ceases to thrill her. Hearing her respond to the mountains with such joy has reawakened this jaded local to their beauty. To her, the immense solidity of the massive rocks reminds her that she is both "insignificant and beloved at the same time."
But what if those mountains are clocked in clouds, as they were my entire trip West?
The coach heaves its way up and over the winding highway. The engine roars its disapproval as it forces itself up a punishing curve, then sighs in a sort of passive complaint as it clings to the roadway down another steep section. In the valley below me, I see clouds floating above a rich green forest. These greens and greys are interrupted by intense white cataracts of falling water. The peaks are slow to reveal themselves. It is easy to lure yourself into believing that they didn't even exist, and that this world of trees and rock and clouds is all there is.
But then the bus turns another corner, or the wind shifts, revealing an opening through clouds, and the towering walls of rock reassert themselves. "I'm here" they seemed to say. "Though you do not see me, though you doubt your map and your knowledge of the land, I am still here. Powerful and strong. Sure and lasting"
Life occasionally gives us clear vistas, moments were the world and the road ahead are visible with clarity and joy. But those are the exception. The rest of the time, we are rumbling our way through valleys and hills of repetitive mists. I start to wonder if what I see out my window is, in fact, the truth. My head knows what it is supposed to believe, but everything else is yelling the opposite. I get depressed and I want to give up. Or, worse, I get complacent and don't care.
And then the wind shifts and I see some hazy glimpse of Reality. A service at church clarifies and encourages. A conversation with a friend reveals I'm not alone and that I am making a small difference for someone else. A song, or a book, or time spent in prayer awakens what was previously lost or forgotten. These moments don't linger, but if I peer closely, I see them with enough regularity to keep me hopeful and content. I need such moments. I seek these moments out.