Absence can grow appreciation.
It does not always. Sometimes, absence grows grudges. Occasionally, it lessens the stings of emotional trauma. But my main experience with absence is a growth in appreciation of that which is no longer, or never has been, there.
In this case, I’m speaking of mountains.
For most of my life, mountains only existed as an idea. I would see them in photos and on vacations, but I didn’t live with them. They would arise in my dreams as far off places to conquer and beauties to behold. And I while I loved the idea of them, I lived my life pleasantly enough without their figures in the sky.
But then, I left my home for a while. I lacked any feeling of homesickness, but did not necessarily revel at all times in the unfamiliar. I gravitated toward the only things that had a suitable familiarity: my dreams. But this time, my dreams were in front of me. All around me. My dreams were in the sand dunes and the salt flats and the mountains holding waterfalls. My dreams were in the laughter and the decadence of shared food after a long days run. And at some point, I realized that my dreams were my reality.
I returned home and it didn’t feel the same. There was something missing in the place that had stayed the same. My home now felt empty. I lived there again, but it was no longer my home. It was a waiting room. A city reduced to a snapshot of who I used to be. An interesting reflection, but a museum nonetheless.
I moved. For good this time. To a new home where dreams were filled with the permanence of reality. Mountain shadows spread across the valley floor and made their presence known. I spent days exploring the nuances of the land outside my front door. In fact, I’m still spending days exploring and discovering my new reality. As I come across an Abert's squirrel—one of the black, furry ones that are relatively rare—I wonder if I would have the same longing to explore if I had not dreamed about this place for years. I wonder if I would have the appreciation that comes with being away from something beloved for an extended period. I can’t know the real answer, but I think the answer is a delicate yes.
There must be two different ways to love the mountains. The first occurs when you were born in the mountains. Your parents took you out every weekend and taught you about the rocks and the trees and the bears who come to steal food from your trash at night. You come to love the environment because it is home. It reminds you of the people you love and the thrills of growing up.
The other, is like me: you learn the mountains because they are so foreign. My eyes are amazed by the smallest of hills, no matter how many mountains I have seen. It is the nature of growing up and being able to see for miles in any direction. I come to the mountains with a worshipful attitude. I look at these high altitude beings and think mystically. How can I not when to me they used to be ephemeral images in dreams and on screens. I don’t know the names of many things, I have to learn them. I become a kid again.
And being a kid gets difficult as age creeps up. Opinions are hardened and possibilities float away. If I didn't have this new playground, I'm quite sure I would become an adult. And I'm not quite prepared for that yet.