Mountain Call

For all her considerable elegance and city sophistication the call of her West Virginia roots could not be denied. So it was that Mom found a funky wooden cottage at the base of Mt. Fuji to which we would repair when the swelter of Tokyo summers overwhelmed. Once out of the city, we’d continue the three hours up the precarious windy mountain road to reach our paradise. The first days there were always busy making rounds on dirt roads to the hog, chicken, rice farmers, tofu vendor, the kindly man with the loan village cow, for supplies. Each would beam welcoming smiles back to this funny Western family, patting my sister’s and my heads noticing how we’d grown during the winter months. Filthy lucre was never discussed but rather passed over in an envelope with much bowing and thanks.

Every country day brought new adventures of running up and down hills in the cover of scented pine forests behind the house. Now and then through the branches we’d glimpse Mt. Fuji, her serene presence, in stark contrast to our own, somehow always bearing witness. We’d ride our bicycles ever forward on trails we in our youthful hubris, felt sure no one had discovered before. We’d head to the ramshackle Ping Pong Pavilion…a barely standing open walled shed with a rickety table and corroded net, for a game. A favorite neighborhood destination was to the convent school’s spring fed, cement swimming pool, complete with slime green walls and water bugs seemingly performing complex water ballet on the pool’s surface. We didn’t mind. It was wet and inviting. We’d explore again and again the giant timbered, laced with cobwebs and abandoned, Buddhist temple with its enormous Taiko drums. We were sure it was haunted and would tell each other made up ghost stories until we were shaking in our flip flops and had to run away. When the cicadas started up we knew it was time to head home. Once there, we’d get under way with our primary evening chore…stuffing and then lighting the firewood underneath the stone water vat so as to heat water for the eventual bath. Someone would light the incense coils so as to keep the mosquitoes at bay, someone else would set up the mahjong table with the click clack of tiles. Someone else would put the needle on the record…Stan Getz, Jobim, Herb Alpert were our soundtracks. Everyone slept like logs on those summer nights. The thing is that magical place engrained a summer rhythm of needing to spend as much time out of doors as possible, of needing to explore, of being alone in the powerful, realigning force of Mother Nature.

Life evolves and for chunks of the year now, I live in a city setting that boasts some of the best museums and galleries in all the world. Like my Mother, however, the calling of my privileged summers will not be denied. Different mountains, but the same theme. I love to hit the trails, usually alone. I love the splendid solitude they offer, their humbling challenge that both invigorates and inspires.

The time honored Masters hung on city cultural temples, grand though they are, do not hold a candle to the art in nature. To its outrageous color combinations, leaning boulders that would be the envy of any monumental sculptor, breathtaking vistas, complex valley systems…and behind each image a living metaphor. I suppose in the deep breathing and endorphin high of an ascent, immersed in that beauty the subconscious is at liberty to throw up old sorrows and/or life tangles to be metabolized one foot step at a time. For instance last week in the free flowing euphoria of a descent, I found myself ruminating over my six miscarriages…yup…of long years ago. A wave of buried sadness washed over me. I turned to the life force of the surrounding trees for solace. Surely their patient witness would issue comfort. They did. There, on the ground at the base of a giant tree were pinecones and small baby pine trees. Some had taken hold, others had not. Even amidst death the dominating force was life. The image told me that each of those six precious souls found a next ride into life. They had not died, just had been lost to me.

On spiny ridges, apparently unaware of their peril, I’ve seen trees improbably growing out granite slabs 1000 feet off the valley floor simply reaching beautifully toward the light. Others heroically curl and twist up between and around jagged rock outcroppings with fearsome tenacity. In direct correlation to the challenge of their circumstance, the more beautiful the tree. Is this it I wonder? We twist and adapt, we expose our roots and hang on for dear life always reaching toward the sun. Is our own beauty expressed through the overcoming of challenges? I will think of the tenacity of those trees next time I hit a wall in life. The tree found a way to hang on. So must and can, apparently, we.

Maybe this is the calling…to insight, to solace.

Whatever it is, I wish it for you.

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