“In thin places, time is not something we feel compelled to parse or hoard. There’s plenty of it to go around.”
– Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer”
Every day, rushing home from work, I stole a quick minute of my commute to stare at the seven peaks that streaked up into the sky behind my house. They looked at me silently, calling out to me, daring me to adventure and explore on their slopes.
There is some universal understanding that climbing up to mountain peaks is good. It’s not just that it makes us feel good to achieve the summit or see the nice view.
Something deep in our being demands that we explore the high places.
I haven’t climbed many peaks. But I saw those seven peaks every day and I felt their gentle tug. I had heard there was a trail that touched all seven of them, but I assumed that I would never have time to do a hike like that.
However, a close friend, David, was getting ready for a military move overseas and mentioned that one of the things on his list before he left Alaska was hiking the Meadow Creek Ridge. The very same trail I had dreamt of traversing. When he asked if I would do it with him, I jumped at the opportunity.
We met early, on a Friday morning, scarfed down breakfast burritos, and stuffed our packs with food, water, band-aids, and bear spray before heading out the door. It was a cool breezy morning filled with the thick, endless, Alaskan, summer sun.
We trudged silently up the steep, zig-zagging, dirt trail. I was breathing hard before we made it 500 feet. David, long-legged and chipper, led the way. He was excited to get to the first peak.
I wondered as we reached the saddle a half-hour later if we should be talking more. It was one of our last times together before he left and we spent most of the morning in silence. Were there things I needed to say to him, or things I was supposed to say? We muttered little phrases to each other, half-thoughts about the hike. “Do we take this one or go around?” “Is that the peak?” “Do you need a break?” Anything more than that felt like it did not belong.
As we summited the first peak, we paused, taking in the wonderful curve of the glacial valleys below us. David popped open a bottle of bourbon and we each took a generous swig. Something we would do at least six more times before the day ended.
Once we were on the peak, the going became easier. We followed the ridge-like mountain goats, climbing through the rocks, trampling the mossy tundra as pipits and marmots chirped at us from a safe distance.
The wind whipped across the ridge with ferocity. The mountain spires jutted up into the sky all around us, like ancient beings frozen in time. The way they towered over us, under the vast expanse of sky, I slowly realized David and I didn’t need to say anything to each other. The trudging, climbing, sweating, and shivering were enough.
Sharing sweat on the trail spoke louder and deeper than words ever could.
There is an old Celtic saying: “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart but in thin places, the distance is even shorter.” As we crawled across the vast Alaskan landscape, we felt that transcendent energy vibrating off the jagged rocks. We felt the thinness. It was too vast to transmute into words and so we just sat in it, munching sandwiches and sipping our water, letting time expand before us.
I expected at some point to collapse in exhaustion.
I was pushing my body further and harder than it had ever gone.
Working my way slowly up the slopes and then jolting my way down again, though, I found energy in the landscape and my silent communion with David. Like we were stuck in some otherworld where our amaranthine energy would have carried us across endless peaks and valleys. A tiny glimpse of infinity through the thinning veil.
We clambered down the last slope 11 hours and 17 miles later. Sliding down into real life again, wondering what pieces of ourselves we had left back among the mountaintops and what new things we had brought with us.
Looking back on that day, I realize that I came back with a deep sense of gratitude. Returning to the world from the peaks was a reminder of how precious and fragile moments can be as they slip past. Even in the thin places: a hospital room where a child blossoms into being, the endless sapphire ocean vibrating with whale song, or a simple table where friends share a meal. Each one a speck of divinity, here for a breath and then gone.
Maybe thin places do that.
They fill us with gratitude. As time dilates towards infinity, those places make space enough for us to breathe and be grateful.