Places to Sigh In

An essay by Hannah Green about how landscapes move us emotionally and intellectually.

By on April 8, 2021 | 2 comments

Have you ever sat on top of a mountain at sunset and watched the sun’s rays cast a shadow of the peak across the valley below? Have you ever felt sad but had the euphoric yellow glow of aspens transform your sadness into happiness? Have you ever crested a ridgeline and said, “Wow!”

As the sun shifted low on the horizon, the sea of sage that fills Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin began to glow in the golden light. A group of wild horses whipped their tails in the sunset. Bucolic. Beautiful. Serene. Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. Tears rolled down my cheeks as both good and bad memories flooded me, along with the blissful reality that there was nowhere else I needed to be.

The next morning, I woke to low-hanging fog. I had felt the moisture forming on my sleeping bag overnight, but the Red Desert, as this area is also called, is notoriously hot and dry during the last week of July so fog was the last thing I expected. A couple days later as I continued through the sagebrush, I watched a distant, dark cloud—hoping the lightning would not make its way to me. Where would I hide when I was the tallest thing around? Suddenly I noticed a cloud of dust form on the horizon. Then, without warning, a hailstone the size of a ping-pong ball plopped out of the sky. “Shit,” I said to myself as I dropped my pack and pulled out my rain jacket. One hailstone hit me in the head. I yanked my foam sleeping pad out, crouched down into a ball, and pulled it over me. The ping pong balls hammered, sending the cows and pronghorns running at full speed across the hills. After a few minutes the clouds blew over, leaving the path lined with the frozen balls. “Whoa,” was all the response I could muster after the torrent of weather. The hail brought me back to the present moment when my mind had been adrift in memories far beyond the sagebrush.

After crossing the desert, I continued into Wyoming’s Wind River Range along the famous High Route. I was blown away by the dramatic change of scenery: sheer granite peaks, glaciers, giant alpine lakes, and some of the most stunning fields of wildflowers I have ever seen. Instead of the contemplative, open space of the previous week, I was completely enveloped and distracted by the more technical mountainous terrain. The basin’s easy walking and monotonous hills let my mind mull over every passing thought. The mountains, on the other hand, engaged me fully with nary a moment for pensive thinking beyond wondering what lay around the next corner or if I had enough food. Thunderstorms threatened to push me down to a lower route and at one point snowflakes even flew. The juxtaposition of the Winds to the Great Divide Basin was jaw dropping, yet each complemented the other as if what one landscape could not provide, the other did.

I use these couple of weeks from thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail as just one small example of how a landscape has moved me. Really though, there are countless instances. Whether it’s watching the sunrise from the summit of a mountain or napping on the banks of a river, I think it’s safe to say that we will find what our minds and bodies need when we go outside. Places to sigh in, cry in, and feel the awe of it all.

Call for Comments

Can you share a place or moment where a landscape or an experience within it moved you emotionally or intellectually?

Horses in the Red Desert of Wyoming

All photos: Hannah Green

Large hail that fell in Wyoming

Wind River Range scenery

Wind River Range wildflowers

Hannah Green
wanders long distances by foot and takes photos along the way. When not outside, you can likely find her at the nearby coffee shop. Find more on Instagram and at Hannah Green Art.