I can’t write about what the mountains mean to me without writing about what they mean to my dad, who grew up living in a small apartment above the sausage factory in Chicago where his parents worked. My dad’s family took just one true vacation during his childhood – a road trip in 1962 from their southside Polish neighbourhood to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. From the moment the family car started making its way up to the 14,110 feet (4,302 metres) summit of the Pike’s Peak Highway, my dad dreamed of coming back to stay.
It took almost 20 years, but he and my mom did just that, opening up a business 15 kilometres up the road from the turnoff to the same highway my dad travelled as a teen. That’s where I grew up, and every day as my dad drove my brother, me and our cool neighbour, Debbie, into school, he would stop before turning onto the highway, look up at majestic purple mountains that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write America the Beautiful, and say with great conviction: “Good morning, Pike’s Peak!” I would always roll my eyes and whisper: “Come on, Dad. Cool Debbie is in the car!” And he would always reply: “I just never want to take this mountain for granted.”
I totally took that mountain – and so many others – for granted when I was growing up. They were nothing more than my playground, the place where my brother and I with our friends would explore, race, climb, discover and dream. As I got older, I would tag along with my brother and his Boy Scout troop on their adventures, hiking the highest of Colorado’s mountains, the ones called Fourteeners – reflecting their 14,000-foot-plus elevation.
It wasn’t until I left those mountains that I truly understood how magical they were, how lucky I was to grow up in their shadow, and why my dad said good morning to them every day. Wherever else I’ve lived and travelled, I’ve made a point to appreciate whatever beauty the land offers. But in my heart, it’s mountains that feel most like home to me. Once the pandemic started, my own family turned to the mountains more than ever for adventure and recreation, picking and planning new hikes each month, coming to love and appreciate Alberta in general – and Blackfoot territory in particular – in new and memorable ways.
This special issue of Wider Horizons is dedicated to celebrating every aspect of the southern Alberta landscape, from the hoodoos, coulees and prairies to the rivers, lakes and peaks. My colleague Dave McMurray has generously served as a guest editor of this issue, and I hope you savour his story about the meaning of mountains as much as I did (see p. 16). Dave and I and the entire team are grateful for the time and teachings of Ninna Piiksii (Mike Bruised Head/Chief Bird), a Blackfoot knowledge keeper and PhD candidate who shared the Blackfoot stories of these sacred spaces with us, so we could share them with you.
We hope the stories and photos in this issue remind you of the abundance and awe of some of the places that you might have taken for granted over the years. It would mean so much if they inspired you to do what my dad made sure to do each day – slow down, savour the view, and wish the mountains a very good morning. Thanks for reading!
Lisa Kozleski, Editor