The Inspiration Found on High

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NO photograph or painting can quite re-create the experience of a mountaintop vista. The sight is an exhilaration - often invoking feelings completely removed from the everyday. Anyone who has taken a night flight out of Denver over the Rocky Mountains in winter during a full moon, with the white ranges glowing below, can understand.

A recent flight I took out of Athens - up along the Adriatic Sea, the panorama of the Dalmatian Coast, and the striking mountain ranges of Montenegro and Bosnia beyond - left one feeling somehow that there is a greater reality than the furious insanity taking place in the valleys just below.

The mountains featured here by Monitor photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman are in California. The peaks emerging out of mist, the layered lines leading to a horizon, and the solid serenity bring to mind the definition of great architecture as ''frozen music.'' In this case, the architect is the Creator.

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One imagines the climb needed to take this shot. Yet as mountain climbers know, the arduous ascent is, at least for the moment, completely erased in the view from the peak.

Here is some kind of clean and definable grandeur. One feels, on the mountain, that certain things are allowed that might be contested below. Here, a sense of reverence need not be apologized for, rationalized, deconstructed, or trivialized. Gazing over these peaks, one may think in new ways about the past or the future. One may even sense - in the presence of these symbols of power, in the solitude, with only the wind - that it is possible to find, or reach out and touch, some kind of perfect justice.

Along with communicating grandeur, the mountains also offer sanctuary. These magnificent peaks almost conspire to reach out and embrace, as if to say: ''We know the heart of man. In our presence, the wicked cannot survive.'' That may seem hard to imagine. But this is probably why the ancient Hebrews found security and protection in the heights. When pursued by trouble, the Psalmist would ''flee as a bird to the mountain.'' One can look unto the hills from whence cometh one's help. Even Zion, the city of God, is to ''get up into the high mountain,'' in preparation for the day of gladness.

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