When we moved to Seattle in 2011, all of my longings for mountains were fulfilled. I’d grown up hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and after more than a decade living in the flat Midwest, I was hungry for elevation.
Even when our family wasn’t up in the mountains, I enjoyed their steady presence. As I sat homeschooling with my kids in the upstairs bedroom, I’d position my chair by the window so I could look out on the Cascade range. Every time we drove down the hill out of our neighborhood, I’d scan the horizon for the Olympic mountains. “The mountain is out!” I’d holler to the kids in the backseat when Mount Rainier peeked through the clouds. It never got old. What a joy to be surrounded by mountains! I used to recite, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people.” The mountains reminded me daily of God’s presence with me.
The encircling presence of mountains in the Pacific Northwest creates a unique, nurturing ecosystem unlike any other in the United States. Caught between two ranges, Seattle gets lots of rain, yes. But what some call gloom others recognize as a marvelous greenhouse environment. Skagit Valley blossoms each spring with hundreds of acres of tulips, a harvest made possible by the sheltering mountains that create a mild environment and long growing season. The Puyallup Valley erupts with blackberries, marionberries, and raspberries, delicate fruits that thrive in the volcanic soil laid eons ago by Mount Rainier and her fiery sisters. Out on the Olympic peninsula, the mountains shelter one of the largest temperate rainforests in North America, overflowing with ferns and moss and a fascinating array of animals. Encircling mountains create a good home.
The day Rob died, I took my children to Mount Rainier National Park to do some hiking of our own. It was our last vacation day before heading back east, and I wanted my last fix of Washington mountain beauty. Though we didn’t know it at the time, my son took this picture in the park within moments of Rob’s death.
As we drove out of the park, we passed Rob’s trailhead and considered stopping to leave a congratulatory note on his windshield. We kept going when we saw an ambulance in the parking lot that, unbeknownst to us, had been called for him. We stopped at the bathroom at the ranger station (where a ranger had just been dispatched to his accident), took a picture by the entrance sign, and headed on our way. We had no idea the mountains had just taken his life.
You might think that my love for mountains has become complicated now. They’re not all beauty and nurture. They also can be deadly. The mountains possess a mighty power. The same peaks that shadow fertile fields can also deliver death. They have taken from me what I loved most in this life.
Nevertheless, the Psalmist tells me that the hills are where my help comes from. In them, God’s goodness, power, provision, and deliverance are made manifest. As I lift my eyes to the strong and steady mountains, God reminds me that His love for me endures forever. Like those sheltering ranges, He nourishes me in His embrace. These truths remain unchanged even in the face of deep pain.
Today, on the eve of the six month mark of Rob’s death, I choose to plant my feet firmly on the mountain soil of God’s goodness. The mountains will always remind me of Rob, of his well-lived life and his tragic death. They will also bear this testimony: God is good to me.