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Mountain High



By the time this issue layers the bottom of your birdcage, the Earth’s northern pole will have begun its slow tilt away from the sun, and our days will begin getting shorter. And while June 21’s summer solstice by no means indicates that Missoula’s highly coveted summer is wrapping up, it does suggest that those 5:30 a.m. sunrises and 10 p.m. picnics will soon be sliding back to a more reasonable hour.

We mammals register these seasonal patterns with the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ tucked neatly into our brains. This lil’ bugger responds to changes in sunlight and keeps our internal clocks tick-tocking in accordance with daily, monthly and seasonal guides.

As the days get shorter, this sensitive organ serves to diminish energy levels and urges us to slack off our action-packed summer schedules. Non-human critters acknowledge these changes, too, following sunlight-regulated patterns in their mating, hibernating and migration calendars.

Recognizing how cosmic patterns affect us can be a revelatory experience that encourages us to feel small and find our place within the expanding cosmos. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors relied heavily upon these cosmic cycles, and even modern humans living without electric lights naturally synchronize their biorhythms with the sun—sleeping at night and rising with the dawn.

Prehistoric humans marked these seasonal changes with art, architecture and mathematics, with monuments and seasonal “clocks” constructed around the world to affirm their hemisphere’s longest day and pay tribute to the all-providing sun. These early humans commonly celebrated the longest day, gathering to honor the natural cycles that regulate crops, humans and animals.

But the summer solstice is a yin event, a celebration of the feminine, the fertile, the earthy energy that grows tomatoes and keeps us up late into the night celebrating family, friends and our bountiful Montana home. Of course there’s a winter solstice, too, a yang-type occasion that marks the masculine, and the planet’s next trip around the sun. For recreation-minded folks, the summer solstice marks a premiere time to climb mountains, paddle rivers and rejoice in the life-giving sun.

Most Americans are raised understanding structured religions that come complete with seasonal rituals like Easter or Hanukkah. But as we grow, explore and refine our individual spiritualities, it can be difficult to articulate the revelatory nature of experiences enjoyed in the majesty of high mountain meadows and narrow summit ridges. We don’t use words like “spiritual” to define our trips to the mountains, despite an undeniable, internal appreciation of these massive forces of creation. But one vital motivator pulling us to the high peaks is a recognition of an awesome, dazzling and interconnected universe—a sense of celestial mystery that is fundamental to many of the world’s religions. For those of us having our most meaningful and moving experiences in the out-of-doors, it can be empowering to articulate them for what they are: cosmic, beautiful and—I’ll say it—religiously affecting moments.

In this context, I celebrate the “Sabbath” more than once every seven days, and in a place free of square corners or artificial constructs like neckties, saintly camels etched in stained glass and abusive priests. The exquisite handiwork of the celestial forces that created this spaceship called Earth and the void through which it spins is thoroughly obvious right here on the ground in Montana. There couldn’t be a better time than the summer solstice to celebrate our earthly existence for what it is—fortunate, interconnected and as heavenly as the big sky.

Got your cycling legs on? Then RATPOD 2003—a one-day, 157-mile cycle around the Pintler Mountains—is a great way to ride a full day and contribute to Montana’s premiere oncology center, Camp Mak-a-Dream. Riding past three wilderness mountain ranges and following pristine rivers that link Dillon to the Big Hole and back, team and solo riders will raise money for children and adolescents who have, or who have survived, cancer. Saddle up your posse and call Jennifer Benton at 549-5987 to sign up for this primo, all-day event.

The Summit Solstice Triathlon/Duathlon in Kalispell will beckon run/swim/cycle junkies from across the region for an early June 21 start; call Jenny Slater (751-4100) to get in the race.

The Big Mountain Bike Academy rides into its seventh season of nine-week bike programs on June 25 for aspiring cyclists age 8-14, and they’ll be emphasizing dynamic riding techniques, maintenance and safety (helmets required). There’s also a Race Team for 12-18-year-olds, and an eight-race evening series, so visit for more info.

Flathead Valley Community College is offering a Sea Kayaking Adventure Camp from June 20-22 that includes workshops, Eskimo roll clinics, gourmet vittles and slide shows. Call FVCC at 756-3832 to get in the boat.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are scaling the seldom-climbed Sweeney Peak (9,161’) on June 21, and Gerald Olbu (549-4769) will be at the helm. Plan on loads of vert, moderate exposure and non-technical snowfields—skis or snowshoes might be helpful.

You, too, can comment on McCormick Park’s new site plan, so affect the future of this recreational hub by calling 721-PARK for a comment form—they’re due no later than June 30.

The Adventure Cycling Association is sponsoring a host of bicycle tours this summer, from three-day leadership training courses and seven-day van-supported trips to 77-day self-supported, guided tours on the new Lewis and Clark Bicycle Trail. Call Renata Turk (728-4180) for the inside scoop.

Rivers and creeks may have dwindled since their highpoint a couple weeks ago, but they’re still RAGIN’. Paddle and ford the still-swollen bodies with care, and keep in mind that Painted Rocks Reservoir has blown out a safety boom and remains closed to recreation.

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