Spotting people as you approach a mountaintop is easy, just look for their brightly colored gear. Yeah, so parading by Baden Powell I scanned as usual and saw no one, until we turned away and something down there moved. Glancing close before it slid behind the wing, negative. Yet afterward a phantom image lingered, oddly colorless. We swung back to fly by again slower, and concealed by the shade of the tallest pine stood seven nuns in full habit, waving like regular tourists.
When I think of them schlepping all the way up there in black robe and coif one question persists. Do nuns hike in boots, or sneakers? St. Andrew would know.
Another time, arriving at Baldy some hundreds of feet below the peak we could see heads silhouetted against the sky. “You watch,” I said. “They’ll all be waving as we climb by.”
A minute later we rose past them and not a single one waved – because none had arms. They were eight bighorn sheep, stalwart namesake of our local wilderness (and the St. Louis Rams), grazing on whatever grows between the wind scoured rocks of that 10-K summit. Bighorn are bold creatures for sure, but ours here are reclusive. In fifteen seasons soaring out of Crystal this was the only time I’ve seen them from the air, and they would never have been so exposed if they knew there were humans within a mile of the place. Us? They hardly seemed to notice we were there.
So what did we learn? Always look and then look closer, whether you’re a soaring pilot or a bighorn (nuns get a pass). And never assume that what you think you see is really what you’re looking at. It could be some other thing you might never have imagined…