We climbed the same mountain today
A few white hairs we blew in the wind
We surrendered to what never attacked us
We entrusted our future to a rock
I roll small pebbles down a precipice
to test the symbolic capacity of this mountain.
You smile and I talk the next two mountains in you
some water has frozen in a small crevasse.
On the mountain was originally published on Meandering home
John Haines (1924-2011) was a poet laureate of Alaska so imagine snow and huskies and winter cabins. I read a poem about a mountain that is praised for its precision. If you’ve ever walked on a serious mountain, this might remind you:
On the mountain
We climbed out of timber,
bending on the steep meadow
to look for berries,
then still in the reddening sunlight
went on up the windy shoulder.
A shadow followed us up the mountain
like a black moon rising.
Minute by minute the autumn lamps
on the slope burned out.
Around us the air and the rocks
whispered of night . . .
A great cloud blew from the north,
and the mountain vanished
in the rain and stormlit darkness.
I just read a beautiful description of a mountain trek I did once in Argentina or Europe. I haven’t hiked in the far north but I have been in snowy mountain forests on the German-Austrian border. The first stanza sets the stage perfectly: berry gathering at nightfall.
The shadow following the couple (I assume there are two people, where could that assumption come from?) should not be interpreted religiously, like, there is a black moon and the darkness of heart follows us when we look for the forbidden fruit. Forget it. You’re out. That is not what Haines meant.
Speaking of religion, he shows a vitalist world view in which air and rocks can whisper.
Reading: On The Mountain by John Haines was originally published on Meandering home
Early morning I hike up the mountain. It takes me about ninety minutes from the backside of the temple complex to the peak of the sacred mountain. I walk up fast, carrying only one bottle of water I pick up at a stall adjacent to the temple. I offer this water to a local, but instead of taking a sip she thinks I am gifting the whole bottle (that could be resold). I buy biscuits instead. And offer the biscuits to a guide who denies too. I walk alone and it feels good. It has been some time since I’ve taken a decent walk up a mountain, climbing limestone rocks with hand and feet, and enjoying the view behind me every ten minutes. The temple and the town are down there, and the noise of the traffic is like an audible fume creeping up the mountain behind me.
The view from the top is beautiful and I install myself to meditate. I am 31 years old, I believe I wrote a phd in philosophy once and I have no idea about meditation, yet I just sit down, chest unveiled, and do nothing. The rocks are still greasy with ghee from the big fireworks party and my pants get dirty. A British woman walks up to me and says:
“Are you meditating?”
– “I guess so”.
It is funny to see a seven-year old child meditating. Why? He can’t be serious enough to… but meditation learns to see the vanity in our serious undertakings… he can’t possibly understand what is means to be silent inside… but we were all silent inside before we started speaking… there is just no crap in there that needs to be taken care of by means of meditation. Yes.
I ask the mountain some questions, including the classic “what are we supposed to do here?” and the answer she gives me is “live in such a way that you make other human beings smile, and also nonhuman beings.” Then we have tea with a Hindu whose guru is away. Could be contribute some cash to fix the plastic that covers his hut? The message of the guru sounds familiar: all Gods are the same and Love is the greatest. I say goodbye to the British lady and an Indonesian Dutch man who plays to be very interested in Charity Travel. Go on, the world is your stage, you may play. Let’s all play. And then the descent begins. Well, what happens is that I lose the trail a couple of times but I make it back just fine for lunch.
In the afternoon we say goodbye to Nehru and Ruby and hop on a bus to Chennai/Madras where we will take a train to the north. It will be Yeon’s birthday tomorrow, too.