We drove through the mountains from France to Switzerland. It wasn’t the fastest route, and perhaps it would have been equally scenic driving around Geneva and Lausanne and catching glimpses of another beautiful lake through the trees and the city, but when you’re 700 and something miles from home because you’ve come to see the Alps, it has to be the mountains.
We’d thought our hills around Lake Annecy were pretty high; great swathes of white rock reaching up up up into the sky and only occasionally visible when the clouds parted, but they’re mere foothills compared to the real thing. From Annecy we headed to Chamonix and the hills got bigger and steeper and taller and I craned my neck to see them, flipping between peering out the window and looking straight up out of the roof. Was that ice at the top? Or just white rock, or another cloud?
The answer was usually rock, at least until we got to Chamonix and Mont Blanc. I’d love to say we turned a corner and there it was, all white and sparkling in the sunlight, but even though it was technically sunny, the cloud clung to the mountains and for all the signs saying “Mont Blanc Panouramique” we weren’t exactly sure what direction we should be looking in.
Until Chamonix itself and then, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been there, there’s absolutely no doubt as to which mountain it is.
The cloud hadn’t lifted, there weren’t any massive signs saying “Mont Blanc this way” or even a steady stream of walkers or climbers, there was just the lower slopes, a glacier that tumbled seemingly out of nothing, and the sense of the presence of something massive behind the white swirls of mist.
It’s a feeling we’ve had before in these mountains, the sense that a mountain is there, even when you can’t see it. I done know whether my eyes are picking up shadows or darkness that can’t be attributed to the light, or quite what it is, but I promise you know they are there.
And when you see them all the religious imagery involving mountains makes perfect sense. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans believed their gods lived on top of Mount Olympus, and mountains feature heavily at key moments in the Old and New Testament, at least the beginning of which is common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
What better than a mountain shrouded in cloud to explain the concept of something that you know is there, yet can’t grasp its might, or even really see.
I once heard being human looking to God as like looking through a fish bowl. You can see bits clearly, but not all of it or all at the same time and it feels that way here, and down in Annecy too. We might get to see the evening sunshine glowing pink on the white rock at the top of one hill, but the next one over will have an increasingly dark cloud perched on the top and the promise of more rain.
And as the sun set in the Rhone valley last night it was as if the mountains popped out one by one to say goodnight.
Being here is beautiful and awe inspiring; I’ve never felt so aware of my smallness, and in a good way, it puts a lot of things in perspective.
And when you sit and look up up and up again, a voice like thunder calling down from the mountain tops doesn’t seem in the least far fetched.