Nature Is Magic, Presented by The North Face

Where there’s nature, there’s magic: We’re drawn to the unbelievable colors that a mountain sunrise splashes against the sky, awed by the iridescent flash of wings in mid-flight, and stopped in our tracks by the smells and sounds that surround us the moment we step into fresh air. Since the 1960s, The North Face has invited us to let nature cast its spell on us by creating the gear and apparel that allow us to become immersed in the world around us.

The brand’s new Nature Is Magic collection is no different. Made exclusively for REI Co-op—with member early access until 8/25—this colorful, technical line of hike clothing and gear are designed to inspire hikers to experience the transformative joy of nature firsthand—even if it’s just the other side of your front door.

To celebrate this new collection, we asked author, storyteller and longtime REI Co-op Member Talia Lakshmi Kolluri to sweep us off our feet with a piece of short fiction that captures the vibrant colors, quick-changing light, ancient mysteries and exuberant animal spirits in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near her home in northern California. Discover the magic out there with REI Co-op and The North Face—we’ll meet you at the trailhead.

Day Breaks in the Cathedral of Stone

In March of 2015, a group of 13 Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep were translocated to the Cathedral Range in Yosemite National Park, a section of their ancestral homeland, as part of a recovery effort for endangered species along the Sierra Nevada crest. The bighorns’ return to the Cathedral Range came after an absence of nearly 100 years. The mountains have always remembered them.

The dream begins inside the granite after the sun dips behind the horizon at dusk, when the rock cools and the stars pierce the dark expanse of the sky becomes pierced with stars. The granite has lived here for a long time. Long before this place was called the Cathedral; before it had any name at all except what the rock called itself. The dream has remained settled inside the granite, waiting to resolve from scattered visions into something real and palpable. At first, it sounds something like the echo of hooves. The pressure of footsteps as the herds run up from the meadow. The feeling the granite used to have when bighorn sheep ran across the valley to clamber up the mountain. But in dreaming, the granite remembers. The clatter and scrape as hooves hit the surface of stone. The thud of their weight on the silty earth and scattered undergrowth. Breath huffing, bodies close as they move together, flowing like water.

It is night in the cathedral.

A distant arm of the Milky Way reaches across the sky like a fading ghost. The luminous dust of millions of stars send their light—perhaps long since extinguished—like a message from before the granite was ever born, to cover the valley.

The North Face Nature Is Magic Norm Hat

The moon rises, touching the rock, the monkeyflower, then skating across the lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock, down to Jeffrey pine. It reaches the black oak and manzanita, and finally the meadow grasses and the flowers below. Painting it all in silver.

The granite imagines the places where the sheep used to wander and wonders what dreams might linger in the rest of the cathedral. And so, the stone releases the dream and sends it drifting off its surface like dissipating summer heat to settle on the wings of wood nymphs roosting on Sierra butterweed. The dark eyes on the nymph wings still for the night, brushed with moonlight. They too take up the dream. The story gains a new lightness, no longer just the sound and weight of the visions borne inside the rock. Four-legged bodies loping through the valley to reach the joint between meadow and mountain. Sturdy torsos on slender legs, somehow untethered to the ground. When they bounded up the rock, it was as though the earth did not hold them down, but lifted them in even, graceful leaps over the stone.

A coyote trots through the valley and pauses at the patch of butterweed, watching for prey in the meadow before making his way along a trail rising toward the alpine forest. Here the dream drifts from the wood nymphs to the coyote’s fur to be carried up the mountain, where the sheep were meant to travel.

As the coyote walks on, his paws impress a residue of the dream into fine soil that the wind will later use to dust the rocks. The dream drifts with the water in the streams that he crosses, sinking into the saturated loam on the banks and settling on the earth between the pines.

A bobcat, roaming through her territory, ears pricked for the sounds of prey, pauses to listen and crosses through the coyote’s footprints before dashing up the rocky surface in the moonlight, carrying the dream higher and higher.

The nymphs, the coyote, the bobcat, the flowers in the meadow, the trees on the slope toward the mountain, the granite jutting out from the earth—all of them pass the night under the same spell. Herds of bighorn sheep, rising from the meadow at the cathedral’s floor like apparitions, running up the hallowed walls and along the trails snaking up the mountain, living inside the cathedral where they belonged.

What if granite is meant to be pressed upon by the feet of the sure-footed?

What if the clamor of hooves is the echo meant to reverberate inside the vaulted embrace of the cathedral?

What if the sheep were waiting inside the granite for the moment when they could be awakened and emerge again?

Day breaks in this cathedral of stone.

The North Face Nature Is Magic Borealis Water Bottle Holder

The owls and bats have roosted. Dew glitters on the leaves, on the blades of meadow grass, like stars that have descended from the night sky and come down to rest. And everyone begins to wake from the dream.

The granite feels the sun begin to skate along its surface, warming it from above. The dew evaporates, and the stone remembers the dream. And in remembering, feels the ache of emptiness without the feeling of hooves clambering to the peak.

Now a fissure opens and begins to spread. From the fracture, a hoof emerges. A nimble foot, dusted with the glimmer of shattered rock, stretches to reveal a leg. And another foot emerges, and with it, a body in the shape of the first climbers. A body the color of the sun on stone. A body meant to run through the valley and ascend the cathedral walls. And as the animal fully emerges from the rock it shakes its head free of the last of the stone fragments, revealing the curves of two great horns.

The ram looks at the cathedral surrounding him. At the meadow, the pines, the monkeyflower and the manzanita. At the light cascading down the granite to reveal the glimmer of a river, and the lakes it flows into. He turns to the rock that dreamed of him and summoned him back into reality. In the pattern of the granite, he sees all the brothers and sisters that are meant to join him. The ancestors that came before him, the lambs that will follow. The thrum of their feet across the meadow toward the first moment of ascent up the walls of the cathedral reverberates in his chest and he imagines that if he turns his head, he will see them there, waiting for him.

And he remembers.

The feeling of bounding with his herd, of ramming his horns in competition for a mate. The taste of wild grass as they graze together.

What if the mountains conjured the sure-footed? What if the meadow conjured the nymphs and the ground squirrels to scatter pollen and seeds? What if the trees conjured the tanagers and the orioles to chatter and sing across the canopy? What if the snaking trails conjured the coyotes and bobcats to wander along them?

The bighorn closes his eyes and raises his head to the breeze, taking in the scents of the beginning of summer.

Behind him, in the granite, another fissure begins.

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