Walking in the Clouds, Feeling Small, And Stumbling


Trekking through the Alps on a two-week inn-to-inn hiking trip doesn’t sound restorative to many people. Who goes on vacation to wear themselves out? 

Apparently, we do.

When Jeff and I thought about a vacation trip earlier in the year, we thought we would go somewhere we’ve never been. The more we talked about it, the less enthusiastic we got about encountering the learning curve that comes with traveling to a new destination and learning to navigate the unknown. As we reminisced about the trip we took to Switzerland two years ago, we decided to give it another go. The weather had prevented us from attempting either of the high passes scheduled on that trip. The weather would be beyond our control, but we could buy bus and train tickets to the next destination if necessary. Rain or shine, the beauty of the spectacular mountains would be there in all their glory. We contacted Alpinehikers and scheduled our trip.

We got our feet under us the first day of hiking on a short four-hour hike that ended at a ski center at the top a mountain. The clouds we had walked under earlier in the morning lowered as we ate salad, bread, and cheese while being entertained by Japanese tourists catching their reflections in the windows and fussing with their hair before snapping selfies. After lunch, a gondola whisked us down to our next destination as soaking rain fell and the mountain peaks disappeared from sight. 

The clouds have a beauty of their own when you can get over not seeing the peaks in all their splendor.

A short train ride to the trailhead the next morning took us to a path lined with wildflowers. Cows wearing bells and the clicking of our sticks on stones played the soundtrack along the foggy way. The sounds weren’t enough to cover our heavy breathing. Our hearts were still at sea level. The cloudy day found us alone with our imaginations. Glaciers hanging on the side of peaks appeared through thinning clouds and then disappeared. The mighty peaks of the Bernese Oberland where there, but couldn’t see them.

How do you reconcile the disappointment that comes when you know you’re missing out because circumstances of life out of your control make seeing beauty impossible?

It’s difficult on hiking trips and harder in life. When disappointment comes, when we can’t see well because clouds have descended, our preparation for the journey matters. We walk by faith.

Jeff and I worked harder at preparing for this second trip, spurring each other on when the heat index stayed near one hundred on evening workouts leading up to the trip. We packed with intention having taken too much the first time. Train travel is more enjoyable with lighter luggage. Lighter packs for overnights to remote inns would be a necessity for our fitness level in the thin air.

Though the old metaphor that life is a journey has worn thin, I’ll admit that walking the trails of the Alps left me with a poignant sense of my place in the world. The landscape is so vast. Whether I was leaving my boot prints on a narrow trail in a meadow, climbing switchbacks among boulders as big as houses, or steadying myself with my poles on high gravel trails only mountain goats should traverse, I felt small in the world. Very, very small.


Our picnic lunch scattered around us, I thought about why this sense of smallness had dogged me all morning. The reason I felt small in the world is obvious. I am small in the world. Most of the time, I insulate myself from that reality by staying in my little world---the world where I feel more of the weight of who I am. That cloudy day in the Alps, I sensed the vulnerability and fragile nature of life. Sitting, on a stone ground flat by a glacier, I squirted some spicy mustard on a smoked sausage and bowed my head to pray.

I prayed for those I knew who were on hard paths---those on trails that are demanding and dark, clouded by grief and burdened with heavy loads. I thanked God for the glimpses of glory I was seeing coming in and out of sight, the cold-blue of the glaciers, the shadows of the peaks. I thanked Him for the wildflowers and for the smell of home (cow manure). I thanked Him for bringing me out of darkness and into the Light, for giving me eyes to see.

This wasn’t my first day of walking in the clouds, physically or spiritually. As the path stretched behind, I was reminded that we have the opportunity to look back and remember what has brought us to the present. Hindsight strengthens our souls even when the way before is shrouded and uncertain. Where we've been has prepared us for what's ahead. God has never left us.

After lunch, we took out on a path across a rocky moraine before descending into cool damp woods. Logs lay along the steep trail to reinforce the path. I stepped onto one of them. As I pushed off my back foot, I felt it slip. My walking poles were lifted in mid-stride. It happened so fast. My body fell forward as I reached for a solid place for my pole. The next thing I knew I was laying on my pack in the middle of a bush. In no way, was I prepared for that!

This is a moraine. Though the trail is well-defined the rocky path is rough on the feet.
23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. (Psalm 37:23-25)
These words, particularly v. 23-24, have been tucked in my heart for a long time. I have quoted the verses often---especially to myself. I’ve stumbled many times in my life, but I have not been “cast headlong.” Now, with time I can say I am living verse 25. The older I get I see how God wastes nothing if we'll offer Him our steps---and especially our missteps. When we delight in his way, He is committed to walking with us on cloudy days and bright sunny ones (which, by the way, have their own challenges.)

Feeling small in the world is an opportunity to remember we have a really big God who is intensely interested in our very small lives. He goes with us---and catches us in bushes when we stumble on the path. 

The Lauterbrunnen Valley. Well-know for its incredible beauty.

I wasn't hurt when I fell, but I was sobered. We had miles and miles of trails stretching out before us. I needed to mind my steps, place them intentionally and with care. 

That afternoon as we reached a trail along the rim of a high ridge, our labored breathing eased. The clouds parted to give us our first glimpses of a bright blue sky above and the deep green Lauterbrunnen Valley below. We stopped to take it in. 

“Above the clouds, the sun is always shining.”*

*I wasn't able to pin down this quote though I read it or a similar thought in Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.

Comments

  1. Beautiful trip that we will never take. I have fallen, badly, five times in the past four years, since foot surgery left me non-weight-bearing for 8 weeks. My balance and my gait are just enough off that when I get in a hurry and forget to look down, that left foot catches and down I go. Most recently, I landed hard on my front teeth, requiring an extraction and implant in the space where one of my top incisors used to be. Now the other one is loose and next week, I get a stabilizing bar across the back for the next three months while the implant settles itself into the bone. Between now and then, I cannot bite into anything. I cannot use my electric toothbrush, dental floss or wear my night guard. And so my TMJ is flaring. All from a slight trip on the steps to my daughter's front porch.

    Bushes do not always catch us, I am sorry to say. But God is ever-present, even when the falling down is traumatic.

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    1. I know those falls have been traumatic for you, Diana. I'm so sorry. I fell from my bike when I was a teen and broke several of my front teeth. Of course, I've dealt with the aftermath of that all my life. My heart goes out to you. And TMJ pain is no joke. I have experience with that one as well. My fall on the trail was a reminder of how quickly things can happen that take our feet from under us. I hope there are no more falls in either of futures, my friend. Loved your travel pics from your adventure this summer! It looked like an incredible trip!

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    2. It was a wonderful trip. And very, VERY comfortable. Yes, I am addicted to creature comforts. Sigh.

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