The Athabasca Glacier Forefield, in Jasper National Park, overlooks the Sunwapta Lake—which, on this day, was reflecting sunlight through a smoky haze, filling the rocky expanse with an ominous glow. The late-afternoon sun beamed through clouds, illuminating the hills of limestone as a light glacier mist rolled against us.
We jumped over rocks, ran up slopes, and explored the land that was covered in glacier ice until the 1950s. “I never knew scenery could make me so happy,” Maite said. A new member of the FML family, she was walking along the edge of a rocky hill, her plaid shirt rippling in the breeze.
As true as Maite’s sentiment may have been, such scenery was equally capable of evoking sadness.
My friend Pam sat on a rock before a stream of water, her back to Sunwapta Lake. As a waterfall pounded in the distance, tears streamed down her face.
We gave her some space to breathe—to surrender to whatever she was feeling and thinking. When you’re moving with a group of people for so many days, sometimes these moments of solitude are what you really need. She looked out at the rushing water and let her grief wash over her. Then, after enough time had passed, we approached with open arms, wrapping her in a large group hug. She smiled with teary eyes. “I’m not normally a crier,” she said.
I didn’t know Pam’s aunt had died until she told me minutes after. “She was like another mother to me,” she explained, as the two of us gradually ambled towards Brent a few paces behind everyone else.
“It’s crazy how places like this make you miss them. Something about scenery this incredible brings you closer to the pain.”
“Life could be so shitty,” she said. “But it also has places like this...” She spread her arms, gesturing to the world around us.
We spoke about how when you lose someone you often feel like you need to pick up all the shattered pieces of everyone else, rarely stopping to attend your own heartbreak.
Both Pam and I had escaped to the mountains to breathe a little deeper, to look beyond the haze of grief and find some light that, we hoped, would glow on the other side. For us, this trip was about more than connecting with the world around us and the people next to us—it was about re-sparking the joy and light that had been dimmed deep inside our broken hearts.
“I’ve been calling this my grief-recovery road trip,” I told her, as we walked along a wooden plank bridge, water rushing beneath us. “I’m not sure it’s working.”
“Well I didn’t mean to bring on any grief,” Sam said.
“You didn’t. You reminded me that it’s okay to check in with myself sometimes. It’s easy to forget that on the road.”
When everything outside is so spectacular, it’s easy to avoid turning your attention inward. It’s easy to focus on scenic overload—not the emotions boiling deep inside you.
The truth, I realized then, is that no geography can offer a cure to grief. No Gatorade-blue lakes can soothe my heartache. No great forest can provide the remedy I need. Because it’s not the place that offers salvation: it’s the mindset. It’s the willingness to find stillness inside. The permission to look beyond the escape and accept whatever it is you’re escaping from. I missed my dad. I thought about him with every mountain I saw. I was afraid that I’d never be loved by anyone as much as I was by him. The truth of all this wouldn’t be overpowered by new experiences or jaw-dropping views.
Lean into the pain, I told myself, as the group hopped back aboard Brent, and I grabbed some drinks out of the cooler.
After Lisa hit the gas, the group clinked those drinks and looked out the window at the hazy mountains and rolling hills. Pam's tears had turned to a big smile. As we drove on, I told myself it was okay to cry.
From the Forests, Mountains, and Lakes,