When you love the mountains, you love everything that is the mountains. That means pine forests, thunderstorms, rocky crags, the sharp, cold air of autumn, and the sound of chain saws. It also means icy roads, expensive gasoline, and skunks.
To truly live in a place means being immersed in its character and identified with it's peculiarities. We learn to value and even admire the quirks in things we truly love, whether persons, poems, or places. Until the foul smell of a skunk's scent gland can serve as a symbol for all that we love about life in the mountains, we're not loving life in the mountains at all; we're merely loving the nice parts of life in the mountains, and anyone can do that.
(I owe these thoughts, in the main, to Wendell Berry, who in his book A Continuous Harmony does a masterful job of unpacking the idea of "place." Developing a sense of place is vital, because a place ought to be somewhere we Live with a capital L.)
As I drove on, I realized I've developed a respect and appreciation for the unpredictable unpleasantness of nature. I've been pommeled by High Sierra hailstorms, scorched by the merciless Texas sun, and caught in freezing temperatures in New Hampshire. I've encountered bears, rattlesnakes, and countless thousands of mosquitoes. (Don't underestimate mosquitoes. They are entirely capable of turning an otherwise idyllic wilderness excursion into a perfect nightmare.)
The point is this: as much as we might like to, we cannot separate the undesirable aspects of nature from her beauty. It's all a part of who she is - rugged, grand, and mysterious. She is herself: rewarder of all, respecter of none. So for my part, I will give thanks. For sunsets, for steep trails, and for skunks.
Though I still rolled up the windows.
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