The Boy, The Mountain and the Other Side
by Tracy Nunes
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It was big. It was wide. It was tall. It was BIG. Yes, the BIG part needs to be restated. The Mountain was so much more than, well… anything, that it’s hard to know where to start. So, I will start at the bottom.
There lived a boy at the bottom. The boy lived in a village of oddities and commodities. No real pattern of people or purpose. It was as if the sum of its parts was no more than a hodgepodge of dissimilar puzzles. There was the edge, or most of it, and you could see pieces and parts that fit together in unrelated patches while leaving wide gaps and spaces. This was the place he called home. It neither felt whole nor felt right but...it was what he knew.
What helped the boy to lift his mind and heart out of the jumble tumble puzzle full of gaps and spaces was the immense, majestic, soaring, broad, and oh yes, BIG Mountain. As far as the boy could see to the east or to the west the Mountain filled his sight. It seemed to start wherever his feet were at the moment and it went, he was sure, to the very tops of the sky and it pointed upward there from its snow capped peaks. Wherever the boy went and whatever the boy did the Mountain was a part of it.
And, the boy was glad.
In the Wintertime when the coldest north winds blew, the Mountain shielded the town from the harshest of the winds and created a sheltered space at its feet. The pointed Mountain top would be covered with the whitest of snow and the boy would have to squint as he gazed at the eye pleasing contrast between the white of the snow and the blue of the sky. The edge between the blue and the white seemed so sharp, he was sure it would cut if he were to dare touch it.
In the Spring, when the first stirring of warm, gentle air began to glide down the Mountain the boy would stand and breath in the purest air. The warm winds and the fresh sun would begin to do its wonders and the snow would melt. The boy would run to the river and laugh as he tossed leaves and sticks in the water and watched them run down further into the valley. The fresh waters would make for great fishing and his father, sad though he was, would feed the family from the fish that he caught in the river. His mother, mad though she was, would wash his clothes at the river’s edge and he would watch as the river would cleanse away the dirt as it flowed down stream. He never stopped to ponder where the dirt went.
In the Summer time, when the air was thick and hot, he and his friends would climb up the Mountain's slopes and explore in the cool forests. They would make forts and be kings and explorers for the day and then head back down to the bottom of the mountain to jump in the river and cool their brains. Exploring is hard work, you know.
Autumn was bittersweet. He would revel in the bold and brilliant hues of gold, red and yellow even as he mourned the long and sweet days of summer. He would make piles upon piles of leaves and jump into them from the trees. Dangerous, I know, but sometimes dangerous is also fun. His father, distracted though he was, would burn the leaves and the smell of the smoke would linger in the air for hours. The boy liked the acrid odor and he would pretend that he was a captain in the army caught in the midst of a heavy battle, fraught on all sides with peril and intrigue.
The years came and went and, although the boy’s life was not always as he wanted it to be, he loved the Mountain that gave him so much. Its presence comforted him and gave him his bearings. It was the measure of all things in his life. No matter what changed, no matter how the seasons came and went and no matter how good or how bad the people in his life were, the Mountain did not move and it supplied all his needs. It was timeless.
And the boy grew to be a man.
He wasn’t sure when it began. Perhaps it was a hotter than usual summer day or maybe it was a more bitterly cold winter night. It could have been that he was tired of fish or maybe he was no longer silly enough to pretend he was a captain, a king or an explorer. But, it DID happen. It seemed his feelings about the Mountain changed. "Did it always have to be so ever present?" he asked himself. Couldn’t he wake up one day and find that candy hung from the trees at the foot of the Mountain, instead of the fruit he once loved. And why did it seem less like an ever present friend and more like an obstacle in his path? He became sure that instead of sheltering him, the Mountain was really blocking his view, and his access to all things wild, bold and brave.
And, one day he commenced upon a journey….
His journey began, like everything, at the foot of the Mountain. He looked up at the Mountain for a long time. Though he couldn’t bring himself to speak the words out loud, he did say it….In faltering spurts and between sobs, he told the Mountain it was no longer enough for him. He wanted more and he wanted to map his own steps, without the Mountain hemming him in. His tears turned to anger as he began to count the many ways that his life had disappointed him. His outrage began to swell and as it did, he threw it at the Mountain. At the end he was drained. No longer remembering the sweet shadow of protection, he was filled only with regrets and disappointment.
He pondered going over the Mountain, but knew that was impossible. His only recourse was to go around the Mountain; to make a wide path circumventing its base. He looked to the east and to the west; each direction indistinguishable from the other. Closing his eyes, he turned in a circle 3 times. He would go in whatever direction he was facing when he opened his eyes. To his dismay, when he opened them he was facing the Mountain. This would not do. So, he made a hard turn left and began to walk. Soon, it seemed, his pace was not getting him anywhere fast enough and he began to run; his traveling pack bouncing wildly on his back. He ran and he ran and he ran……
All those years growing up, he thought he knew how wide the Mountain was, but his wild run finally slowed and he realized that, though he had gotten far from its shelter, the Mountain still obscured his view. His heart grew hard. Somewhere inside him he heard a voice calling him back to its shelter, but he covered his ears from his own heart and refused to listen. He would see what was beyond the Mountain, no matter what it took. No matter where it took him.
Each day dawned and he stayed on his journey. He set his heart like flint and he walked on. Sometimes he still ran, but many were the days that exhaustion so betrayed him he could do no more than put one foot in front of the other. At last, he came to a broad and flat plane and for the first time in his life his view was no longer obscured by the Mountain. He could see far beyond the plane. He could see vast swamps and shimmering deserts.
And the man knew he should feel glad that he had escaped the confines of the Mountain, so he decided that he would be, and took his first steps forward into the land that was outside its shadow and as he did his vision blurred. What had been a clear and vast panorama became a blur of colors, textures and shapes. He stood in confusion, fear rising up in his throat; his blood surging in his ears. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head, thinking that perhaps there was just clutter there to obscure his vision. Yet, the blur continued and even deepened.
In confusion, he turned back to the Mountain and fell to his knees as he realized that, though he could see clearly in this direction, he could no longer see the Mountain at all. He knew it had been there. He knew that he had expended much effort to escape its shade, but as his gaze spanned from right to left, he couldn’t even discern its outline. His heart stood still with the numbing shock of his choice; to go forward with this decision he had made to leave the shadow, though the way now seemed completely obscured, or return to the Mountain that he now questioned had ever existed.
The choice stuck in his gut and uncertainty planted him in one spot for a long time. When his bones had become stiff and his muscles tight, he knew he had to move. Though his heart cried out for the Mountain he once knew, he turned to the blur and put one foot in front of the other. As he did, he found that if he really focused he could make out images and outines. He could see some things come into a shadowy yet obscurd focus.
He walked on and felt the pressure of each step. Heel, toe…heel, toe…heal, toe; mechanical and measured. Always forward, but no longer with the hard passion of his first jolt from the Mountain. Though he had more visual focus, he couldn’t discern things until he was practically upon them. Trees seemed like boulders and boulders seemed like trees until he was within arms-length.
He found that every few steps there was a pathway that led off in a new direction; a choice to be made. Sometimes he followed those trails for miles and miles, but discovered that it always ended back at the same central trail. He did this repeatedly until he grew weary of trying the side trails; knowing that his course was set. Occasionally, he would stop and gaze back the way he had come; squinting his eyes trying to see it. Every once in a while he would perceive a faint outline of the Mountain; a shifting silhouette and then it would disappear. His mood always darkened after those glimpses.
He traversed through the vast swamps. Always moving forward, always finding himself back on the same path. By day, he tried his best to find shelter, food and clean water, but more often found heat, leaches and brackish swill. By night he swatted fiery insects, cowered in fear from the slithering sounds in the darkness and begged for morning to arrive. He grew desperate to come to the end of the swamps and took to longer days of walking and shorter nights of cowering. He pressed on; no longer running from something, but moving forward in a mindless quest to stay alive.
One night, as he lay in on top of a boulder in the swamp, the wind began to stir. It grew stronger and stronger and he began to feel a strange stinging on his cheeks. It felt like little bits of sand. The morning revealed what he had not seen in the darkness and exhaustion of the night before; he was on the edge of a desert whose dunes undulated in the heat of the day. Though the blurriness never left him, He was sure he could make out a shimmering city in the midst of it.
Excitement stirred within him and he stepped into the desert. He welcomed the dry warmth as his feet sunk into the sand. The contrast to the dampness of the swamp encouraged him. He tried to quicken his pace, but his legs quickly tired as the sand made each step harder and deeper and the warmth gave way to scorching heat. He steadily moved toward the shimmering city. He moved and he moved and he moved. But, it seemed that no matter how hard he tried to get to the city, it was always just beyond his reach. His parched skin and his cracked feet ached as he tried harder and harder. Eventually, he came to the edge of the desert having never found the vision of the city his eyes had promised him.
He contemplated his journey for an extended time as he sat in bitterness. He could no longer remember why he had run from the Mountain. His flight had left him void of any recollection of his disappointments with the Mountain. All he could remember was its powerful presence and its pure protection that had forever been within reach. He longed for it so strongly he felt he could almost see it if he squeezed his eyes really tight. But, when he opened them he was still at the edge of the desert….He got up and moved, no longer even aware of what direction he was moving in.
Gradually, the landscape changed from total sand to clumps of grass, and then larger patches of grass and small shrubs. The small shrubs turned into small trees and then towering pines. Amidst the towering pines were fields of wildflowers that in turn led to chattering brooks and sparkling streams. He sat down in the middle of a brook and allowed his skin and his soul to be quenched by the cold water for what seemed an eternity. He ate from the wild berries that grew on its banks and steadily renewed his strength.
In the midst of the stream, his pupils seemed to refocus and he started to see clearly the beauty around him. He breathed in the scent of the pine and his lungs filled to capacity for the first time since he had run. He took a leisurely pace as he explored, having no desire to leave. The flat forest floor progressively worked into an incline. The air slowly thinned out and its freshness caressed his skin. He came upon a large outcrop of granite and his heart beat skipped and then pounded as he sensed a familiarity about this forest.
Could it be? Once again he ran…. he tripped…he fell…he ran. Gasping for breath and running on still. The tears flowing and his mind numb with disbelief. Was it? YES! It was his Mountain! Somehow, his nearly blind journey had brought him full circle. Somehow the Mountain had drawn him back to its shelter. He soaked in the Presence of the Mountain. Gasping and sputtering his relief, he poured out his heart of grief and his regret. Grief for all of the time lost away from the Mountain, regret for all of the wasted days and nights. And, as he poured it out, the Mountain received it into its greatness and the grief was no more.
The Mountain was big….it was wide. …it was tall and there was a man that lived at the bottom and though the pieces and parts of his life still didn’t always seem to fit, he luxuriated in its shelter and he knew that there was no other place he wanted to be.
And the man was glad.
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