Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Longing

Alpine climbing takes us, as climbers, to places that are high, wild and seldom visited by others. These unique environments, while beautiful, are frequently devoid of many of the smells that we associate with life as we know it.


In my experience as a climber and guide, after spending several days living in an alpine environment, the return to a place that has smell produces a purgative experience of sorts. This return to “smell” often brings me back to places or times I hold near and dear to my heart. It produces a longing for something previously unidentifiable. Sometimes this thing is a comfort food I've been craving. Other times it reminds me of experiences I've had with old friends. It frequently produces an urge to visit a place from my past.

This time around my longing was for a place along the New England coast I visited during many summers as a child. The flood of familiar smells, most likely due to the fragrant alpine vegetation, produced an overwhelming urge to visit this summer spot from long ago. It's funny, all summer long I'd been feeling strangely incomplete. I realized then that a visit to the coast, where I could relax and collect my thoughts, was long overdue.

It's strange, but it makes sense. After many alpine trips I want nothing more than to sit near the ocean and do nothing. So much time in the hills and mountains, and I just want to be near water, plain and simple. For me, growing up near the coast, it's usually the ocean I crave. It's the antithesis of the mountains and the place I'd spend much of the time in if I wasn't a climber and guide.

I paid a visit to this spot after my trip and that's where the real catharsis occurred. The funny thing about a longing like this one is that, frequently, it's for a place as you knew it in your past. That place, things and people that populated it, aren't there anymore. It only exists in your memory and that nostalgic feeling has been spurred on by a series of "smells".

I'd be willing to bet others have had these “alpine longings”. If you have and you'd care to share your experiences feel free to post a comment below.

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