MountainsEssays, Featured — By wblakemartin on June 20, 2012 at 10:30 am
(A combined & revised collection of journal entries written while wandering through the Alps.)
The mountains here in Austria, they shoot up in droves. Rising above the flatlands like magnificent, earthen statues, they protrude up into the skies, ushering their peaks into the bellies of the clouds. In between the statues, there is a narrow valley that winds through the mountains, blazing a small, humble, trail in the wake of wonder.
I am traveling on this path, between the mountains. I am wandering, sifting through a steady, lush valley of green that dances and shimmers and sways in the lights and shadows of the arches above. This place, this low meadow is a living panorama steeped in wondrous contrast. To the front and rear, there is steady, flat land that seems to spread out and on forever; everything is a startling shade of green. Upon this sea-level stage, the mountains thrust up and away, with jagged rocks pointing further and further up, and small rivers trickling back down, just dancing on the slopes and passing beneath the trees. And the wind is rushing through it all, sailing down the mountain and burrowing past me to who knows where. The breeze drifts by, and nature catches its breath.
Castles dot the horizon. This land smells old, but not decrepit. The fragrance is one scented with time, flavored with history, and carried by the northern air. These stone-laden structures invoke feelings of grandeur, but fade and pale once compared to the architecture of the mountains. They were originally designed to protect and defend when war ravaged this medieval land. But their once-important purpose and design makes them appear quite silly now- what do they protect against? Flowers and trees don’t lay siege, they just bloom and die, over and over again. Still, the castles sit, planted on a ledge or cusp of rock, hanging like humanity’s dirty laundry, hoping for renewal. Longing for cleansing.
Turning my gaze to the side, I see a small cottage seated in the middle of a meadow that is otherwise untouched by man. It seems much more childish than the castles, content to just be plopped down in the grass, unfamiliar with self importance and stone walls and war. The innocence of the hut blends wonderfully with the rest of the valley. Flowers line the outside of the walls, and wildflowers brush the landscape with specks of color, as if the land was finger-painted by a 5 year old ,with blues, yellows, greens, and reds splattered everywhere.
My eyes once again take me to the mountains. What secrets do they hold? What have they seen? I, being young and small, can’t help but gasp at their magnificent permanence. As the tectonic plates underneath continually collide, they spend their lives reaching higher and higher into the heavens, yearning to graze the edge of the cosmos. Snow blankets these upper regions, coating the fringes of the mountain in a permanent white so that the peaks serve as beacons, stretching into God’s domain. But they never quite grab hold, so they gently shrink and wear with age.
Still, these mountains are home to life, to forests of growing trees, to flocks of living deer and goats. They house rivers and streams, provide small ledges for eagle nests, crevices for predator dens. The mountains do not worry for food, do not long for rest. They simply exist.
When winter comes, the trees shed their leaves as the mountain is left naked and bare, shivering in the cold. In this state, the empty, gray face of the mountains moan for the warmth to return. And so the sun comes, which carries life in its golden beams, and extends its rays onto the pale skin of the mountain, shining away the gray exterior until it is a healthy bronze-brown, ready for life. Upon this fertile ground, trees regain their natural wardrobe and fill the mountains with a resounding coat of constant, glorious green. Spring and summer pass in this manner, and everything grows and grows and grows. Soon enough, Autumn arrives and scatters hues of reds and yellows and oranges onto the trees until the mountains are blushing with color, astonished by their own beauty. Who can tell how long the mountains have experienced this cycle of seasons? Time does not apply to these ageless, titanic structures.
When faced with the overwhelming splendor of these mountains, there is no adequate response. There are no words to be said, no lines to be uttered. There are only unspoken poems that resound in the air, birdsongs that sail with the wind, nature’s verse that is continually breathed by the trees, through the mountains. I am silent, and listen, marveling at it all.
I haven’t shaved in days. In an attempt to mimic the mountains, I feel the hair on my face sprouting forth like nature’s whiskers, blanketing my cheeks and chin in a coat of dark brown, my young age showing in the splotches of skin who just can’t produce foliage yet. I am young, 19 years, and am feeling even younger.
Texas, where I call home, is a distant memory in the valley of these mountains. Today I am a troubadour, a seeker, searching for images, feelings, memories that have yet to be uncovered. In this valley, this low place, everything is shrink-wrapped in the mystery of nature. This tree beside me may have been planted centuries ago, but to me, it is brand new, as if it never existed before it met my gaze. I touch it, sense it, and suddenly it is there.
Within the trees, I discover the songs of birds. These melodic outbursts stretch past the branches and flutter into the air, reaching me with the wind. This too, is new to me. I have never heard these choruses before. So I listen closely, and the valley fills with music. In the trees I hear the warbled songs of birds. It sounds like a thrush, but I can’t be sure. I don’t even know if thrushes nest in this area.
All is still and quiet in the mountains now. It is night, and the world is asleep. Lights flicker in the distance, above my domain, in the realm of the trees. I watch as insect after insect makes a break for the brightness. Each one grazes the light, then flutters away in a trance of blindness. I watch them fade into the dark, and greet each new creature as it approaches the nearby lamp, dazzled by the glow.
To me, the lamp is simply that- a lamp. But to these insects, the sphere of light is beyond mystical. It is a signal fire, a wonder, an irresistible miracle planted in their neighborhood. My first inclination is to raise my fist in triumph over the bugs, and laugh at their awe. Because I know that the lamp really is just a lamp. But this fleeting feeling soon subsides to gentle wistfulness as I wonder why I only see lanterns, while they see beautiful, glowing lights all around.
And I wonder, what signal fires surround me? What beacons are calling me forth? What pure light is being hidden by human shades and constraints? And why do I not follow?
If only I could leave this body and depart for the light. I would huddle up against the warmth, and kiss the glow. How silly I must look to these moths, to see the brilliant, pure radiance of the sun and not fly straight towards it. How foolish I must sound to these creatures, as I weakly mutter that their life-light is only a lamp.
In the darkness of these mountains, the stars have emerged in full bloom. Tonight they are not constellational, pruned rose gardens. Tonight they are wildflowers in the sky, bursting forth above the mountains and into the deep-ocean blue. Learning from the moths, I stare up at them in wonder. How bright and deep they must be. How little I must seem from their cosmic eyes. And ah, what mystery they must and always keep.
I gaze up and into them, but I do not seek answers. Their light is enough as it drifts down and rests in the reflection of my eyes. I look towards the highest mountain peak, and long to climb it. I long to stand upon its summit and reach towards the heavens, grazing the light-dust edge of a glowing star.
But such yearnings are not to be fulfilled tonight. So I just sit and let the cosmos shine. Tomorrow the sun will rise over the mountains, and wash the world with light. Tomorrow I will once again journey through these mountains, and breathe in the soul-air of the valley. Tomorrow I will wash my face in a cold stream and feel myself come alive. And I will continue on, as I walk in shadow of the mountains. Always traveling as the sun rises to meet me. Always climbing up and into the light shining above.