I am mystified by water. The volume of a river and the speed of its currents astound me. The amount of water carried between a river’s banks, its power to shape rocks ancient and new, and the life that it sustains remain incomprehensible mysteries. I know that I could explain each drop rationally in terms of rainfall, snowmelt, and drainage. But I also know that such metrics are not enough.
In 2008, a friend and I walked the ridge to Mt. Henry in Glacier National Park. There, standing on the summit at 8,847 feet (2,697 meters), the broken rock below me undulated in waves. In the hazy sky of late summer, I was standing on the petrified floor of an ancient ocean. Below me, Two Medicine spread itself in a glory of red and green and blue, lake and forest and rock. Yet, fish once swam above the solid rock on which I stood.
Ancient ocean floor
Standing on the arid summit of Mt. Henry, with the ancient ocean floor beneath me, I was reminded of a world older than I know. Of the enduring power of water to shape and sustain rock and life. In the effort to climb the heights, I discovered the mountain’s depths.
As a child, I was taught the story of Noah. God, enraged by the wickedness of the world, chose to baptize the people of the world with a great flood. Only Noah and his wife, his sons and their wives, survived. Instructed by God, they built a boat and preserved each animal of each species two-by-two on the ark. But Noah and his family survived the flood only to descend into the same wickedness. The waters receded, and so did their piety.
The summit of Henry—made of rock formed under a shallow sea
Wordsworth once spoke of such travail:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A Rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
—William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”
Even now, nearly four years later, I am haunted by the impression of water upon rock a one and half billion years before my time. I have no doubts that I would have once been baptized beneath Noah’s flood. But the world is ancient and mysterious, and one must climb its heights to plumb its depths.
Mountains flow like waves
Water is that which remains unchanged as it changes. It falls, freezes, flows, and rises. Slowly, all that it touches is shaped and changed. If I am a rock, if I am an island, let the waters flow over me. Let me be baptized so that I might rise again like the mountain—ever shaped, ever changed, ever broken by the water which sustains me.