Wake up early, a couple hours before sunrise. Uber to the airport. Maybe Southwest, you’ll connect in a hub: Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis. The second flight will be longer than the first. Your neck hurts from trying to nap in the cramped seat. The pilot announces the final approach into northwest Nevada. There are a few mountains on the horizon. It’s a brown world, boring. Reno is suburban sprawl interrupted with high-rise casinos. It’s Pacific Time, still morning. Collect your bags and the keys to a small rental SUV. Heading south, the city quickly falls behind. You turn west. The desert gives way to fir trees. The air cools. Switchbacks ascend to the Mount Rose pass. Snow covers the ground. A wide spot in the road allows drivers to pull off for scenic photographs. Ski lift towers march to the peak on your left. Your ears feel pressured, then pop. On the descent you become aware that you’re entering a different world: a lush bowl, rimmed with mountains, trees densely covering the slopes, water stretching almost to the horizon.
Lake Tahoe is its own world. Walled off from the surrounding desert by mountains on all sides. Lush wooded slopes rising above the lake a stark contrast with the barren Nevada desert to the east.
The Washoe were here before the Europeans came. They gathered pine nuts, hunted, fished, and built a life. They were a peaceful people and viewed the lake and mountains as spiritually significant.
A memorial on the north side of the lake reminds us of the tragedy of the Donner party. Brave, incompetent pioneers who suffered through the longest winter of the past couple centuries. Stuck on the shores of a mountain lake, buried in twenty feet of snow, unable to go west through the pass or east to Reno. They slowly starved. Half of them died. A cautionary tale? Perhaps.
In the smartphone/social media era, Lake Tahoe is a place to unplug and disconnect. Sit by the lake and be absorbed in the undulations of the water. The waves are gentle, quiet, consistent. Predawn, the water is dark, cold. The air is crisp and still. The water tints golden and the mountain peaks red as the sun climbs into view. The morning sky is reflected by the lake, the blue hue otherworldly. The Sierras rise to their snowy crests, thousands of feet above the lake, yet appearing small. You keep taking pictures, frustrated that none of them adequately reflects reality. The morning pushes into afternoon. Clouds drift in front of the sun. The water changes, becoming a darker, blackish blue. The surface rougher, almost choppy. You feel the breeze and zip your sweatshirt.
We yearn for a connection to something beyond ourselves.
That feeling on the shore of Lake Tahoe isn’t unique to me. The atheist and the deist are both blessed by the majesty of this place. Our environment is not just uniquely crafted to enable our survival. It’s also endowed with extravagant beauty.
It is the kindness of our God that draws us toward repentance. In the peaceful moments He whispers to each soul. Can you hear Him?
I love you.