Editor’s  note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years  ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was  the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in  Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

Up Fall Creek in the Pioneer Mountains this summer, Julia Page and I met an old man, shepherded by his middle-aged son and daughter-in-law. He was back for a last trip into mountains he’d known when young. His horse had balked at carrying him farther, so, with help from a thick tree limb and his son, he was step-by-stepping the last mile or so up to Moose Lake.

My instinct, formed by many such encounters though it can go astray, is that they were Mormon people. I thought of him this week while reading Marilynne Robinson’s The Givenness of Things. She partly grew up in Sandpoint, which she called Fingerbone in Housekeeping, her novel set on Lake Pend Oreille. Her new book is a series of religious contemplations or inquiries. She knows the humilities, glories and trapdoors of faith, is a faithful Christian, and faith is the core of her three Gilead novels.

In 40 years, I’ve worked with maybe one or two thousand others much engaged in conservation, mainly in Idaho, Montana, the Northwest, and Washington, D.C. Some have been believers in God or a god, most not. I’ve been one of the not. Yet I have felt what I’ll call sacrament.

Most often it comes in the mountains. That old man, I will guess, was feeling the presence of his Lord there in Fall Creek. I can’t confidently name the presence I felt, but without doubt I felt it, and I think my feeling shares amply with his.

Faith, for Robinson, "incorporates into the nature of things the intuition that Being has a greater life than we see with our eyes and touch with our hands."   My highest encounter with this came watching my daughter being born. Now it visits me in the mountains, when I sense currents connecting the quiet place and the quieted me, and try to follow them.

Robinson knows the grim tidings that daily result from personal faith and organized religion. It is terrible repellent history, apparently never-ending, and it’s ours. I look back and can see in some of my conservation combats the tinge at times of holy war. But turn again, and I feel my faith in the lands and rivers and life in them, in places I go and others I will not get to. Faith that, like I think the old man’s, passeth understanding. I will not cross the latitudes I am away from understanding, but I can have faith, and sometimes do.

"Mister Rock of Ages, tell me where does it stand?" as Gordon Lightfoot asks in a song. I will never line these things up. The human adventure with divinity, and with faith, seems to braid through the more recent one with conservation, and through me. Religion seems forever distinguished for good and ill by the forked character of faith as it takes flesh in human beings like me. Then the mountains say, hush.