Walking step by step over the ridge of a mountain, I find that there is a sense of place and purpose. To be above the world on this monumental pile of dirt and stone, having ascended the steepness of its side while traversing switchbacks and makeshift stone staircases, is a moment of accomplishment. It is the forced breathing out of exhaustion as pride flows through the veins to reveal exactly what has or has not been done as it is punctuated with a victory yelp.
It is the mathematical objectivity of everything. It is one person challenging him or herself to a contest. It is not a race; oh no, it really is “hiking your own hike,” but it is a game where the athlete competes against the natural antagonist beneath his or her feet to push up and over to victory.
For this, the hike is a sense of one foot in front of the other repeated again and again, the heaviness of the chest and the pain that runs through the calves and thighs getting replaced with a sense of “this is what I can or cannot do.” It is the backpack that is strapped around the hiker’s body hauling the necessary gear as it pushes down on the frame that is carrying it. It is the boots that the hiker wears on his or her feet as they protect the sole and the toes and the heel from the rocks that are balanced upon while the hiker climbs higher and higher to the place where he or she can ascend no more.
And now that the hiker is here on the flat ground that hovers well over a thousand feet above the valley, he or she will know that IT has been accomplished by crossing miles of horizontal trail to arrive at THE PLACE.
For me, there is a sense of accomplishment that I achieve while I am engaged in this action. When I have won my battle against the elements and I am walking along the top, I will be moving across the flat part that stretches out to the end of the field of view that you see all so “clearly” from down below. And yes it is flat except now the perspective of all things that it really is are completely different in that there are things going on beneath the tree cover that you could never imagine.
For starters, this new here is a place where I feel in control of things despite my abandonment of the other everyday nature of the world, the flat place that I exist in amongst the valleys and field. On top of the world in this new place, there are rock jungles and thick brush as well as infinite piles of stones jutting out from everywhere. Here, there is a sense of comparative speed in my movement, at least as compared to the place that is up or down, but there is also a sense of care in how I get to THERE and navigate my body around the boulders to reveal occasional openings from the thick forest, which will allow me to see the eternity of where all of the rest of you do your daily business.
Except now, I will be able to survey the vast sea of the world from the kingdom in the clouds, and I will be master of all that I survey.
Perhaps, while I am there, I will see the rectangular shapes of farm fields as they cut through the land to create new boundaries of a workman’s purpose through the once grassy fields that make up our Pennsylvania landscape. Maybe, I will see the trail as it cuts through the mountain in front of me. Inevitably, I will see the roads that drain the wild out of Penn’s Woods.
If I am unlucky, I will see your dwellings as they jut out above the forest, and I will see a view that is devoid of any and all wilderness. However, if I am given the eternal reward that goes with the hard work of my climb, I will see 4-5 mountain ranges in the distance through a clear blue sky that is occasionally punctuated by beautiful, puffy white clouds floating peacefully into the heavens. In the foreground, I will see deep oceans of green as the trees stretch out everywhere to reveal a place where Nature can live, undisturbed in its peaceful ways. As my eyes gaze toward it, I will breathe it in to replace the sea-level existence that I pushed out of me in the forced march to the heavens.
And in my head will be songs of energy, songs of peace, and poems of grandeur. Gone will be the words of the American Book of the Dead. I will temporarily discard the vampiric existences of the world that would attempt to bleed me dry. I will refuse to carry the burdens of hatred and resentment that are cast upon me and cast out from me. And as I walk away from pain, sadness, death, lost opportunity, and hardship, I will fill myself with love and only love to guide my effort to the perfect place, even if I can only be there for a little while.
This is the only place I can be like this, trapped in the effort of doing and not doing. It is a place where I am not responsible for the actions of others, and they in turn have nothing to do with my own. If I push faster or slower, it’s all on me. I like that. I know how to do what I need to do, and if I don’t, I will learn how to regroup while I am down there to gain new knowledge from others. I will seek out the skillsets that will make me better.
I will do what I need to do on my own to show you that I am capable enough so that I can be the one that you depend on, should you need me to help you get up and over. I will live fully and truthfully and purposefully to do this. I will not make the errors of the past. I will not give in to my thinking. Oh yes, I will rise up from the valley, from the ashes, and I will be the solitary man on top of it all. I will see the future, and I will push forward to make it mine.
What other choice is there?