After attending The Colorado College, Peter Anderson spent a winter alone in the old Colorado mining town of St. Elmo, and wrote this essay. His head was stuffed with Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Han Shan; his experience was his own.
Compared to the Mary Murphy Mine and bunkhouse, downtown St. Elmo seemed downright suburban, even though I was the only full-time resident there that winter. Still, on a Sunday night in January, the silence at road's end could chill a heart as fast as it could fill one. It was often easier to stay for another draft at the Lariat Saloon down valley, than it was to follow the dark road home. At times the sky behind the stars seemed so dark and so vast as I pulled up to the cabin, that it was just plain overpowering. I'd slam the truck door just to break the silence, hustle into the cabin, throw the light on, and stoke the fire.
Reflecting on a summit experience in the Swiss Alps, an early 20th century mountaineer named Emile Javelle described the sensation of an "emptiness, terrifying in its vastness," that opened out around him. One "is struck," he said, "as in no other place, by this thought that the universe is terrible in its mystery, that no religion, no philosophy, can give us a true idea of what it is; that the further the vision of our eye extends, the greater does that mystery become.”