Henningsen: Now I Am With You Always

Jun 2, 2017

On an open summit not far from me is an inscription painstakingly carved in stone: Now I Am With You Always.

Weathered, partially obscured by lichen, it sits within view of hikers who make the two-hour climb, though few notice it.

Many of our smaller mountains, ones that in the 19th century were cleared right up to their tops, contain such markings, though I know none as extensive. It takes time to work letters into stubborn rock and their profusion bears witness to the patience of an earlier generation. It’s not likely a name or date – let alone an entire sentence – could have been carved quickly. No, this was someone’s project. And it raises some timely questions.

Was the carver I and the mountaintop you – the transitory human indelibly marking primordial stone, hoping that years – even centuries - later people would see it and wonder? Was this a real-life version of the poet Shelley’s ancient ruler Ozymandias, demanding look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair?

Or might the carver have imagined speaking for the mountain itself, knowing that, once glimpsed, the tantalizing message is never quite forgotten?

It’s worth pondering these questions as the United States bids adieu to the Paris Climate Accords. For much of our history Americans sought to impose their will on nature; only relatively recently understanding that such imposition has consequences, mostly bad, for the environment and us. Environmental issues have become politicized, leading many to challenge the foundations of science itself. That’s not hard to understand in a nation where only one-third of the population believes that humans evolved solely due to natural processes. Most Americans believe either that God oversaw the evolutionary process or that God alone created humans in their present form. When President Trump argues that a worldwide climate accord is unfair to Americans and untrue to science, he’s speaking to a receptive audience.

So it’s worth another trip to that summit to contemplate the meaning of Now I Am With You Always in the light of recent events. The lettering is getting harder to see. Mountain weather has softened the edges of the carving and lichen obscures most of the end of the sentence.

Ironically, the word fastest disappearing is Always.