Nothing brings clarity to life like a cold, crisp morning on the mountain.
The frozen grass crunches under your feet as you walk up a steep hill and turn to look down the valley. A rabbit runs from a patch of brush and seeks shelter in yet another patch. A crow cackles in the distance.
You turn your back to the biting cold and rub your hands to stay warm. It may be more comfortable back inside but you have no wish to return so you walk further up the hill, mesmerized by the silence, broken only by the occasional cackle of a crow.
Yeah, God was in a good mood when he created this show of nature, a morning entertainment currently enjoyed by an audience of one. It’s a moment away from the noise of the city, far from the newscasts, the Internet, the overly seriousness of life and the pettiness of society.
Up here on the mountain, debate is two squirrels fighting over a nut or two crows cackling at each other in a language only they understand. Survival is a deer blending into the trees, trying to avoid the hunters. No spin, no hype and no hatred.
The beavers have been busy, damming up another creek. You cleared out that dam on the last trip up the hill but the beavers don’t give up. They have their job to do and no human interloper will stop such a force in nature.
You sit on some rocks that form a ledge at the top of the hill and pour a cup of hot coffee from the thermos, using the heat from the cup to first warm your hands, then your innards. A squirrel regards you from a distance, quickly decides you are not a threat, and goes on about its business.
Smoke rises from a chimney at a house at one end of the valley. A pickup truck winds its way along the dirt road that runs by the creek where you swam and fished as a kid. But it’s still early, even for country folk, and little else stirs.
Trips to the mountain are withdrawal from the strains and stresses of modern life, sojourns away from the TV set and even news from the radio. Daily newspapers don’t even reach this part of the country. Osama could nuke Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and you won’t know about it until you venture down off the mountain, back into the range of those bothersome electronic signals that seem to bring nothing but news of pain and misery in so many parts of the world.
Then the silence is broken by gunfire on a distant ridge. It is not the sound of a terrorist attack or an urban drive-by but that of a hunter with a deer in his sights.
Every time you come to the mountain, you vow to return more often, to recharge your batteries and keep things in perspective. But the pressures of making a living, of staying on top of your game, of toiling in the fast-paced, ever-changing modern world keep you away more often than not.
But why? The world as we know it will not end if you stay on the mountain. The stock market continues its rollercoaster ride without your presence on a computer keyboard. George W. Bush can go to war with Iraq without waiting for you to write about it. God knows Harry Potter and James Bond can carry on without you.
So you pour another cup of coffee and wonder if this is the time to finally keep that promise made so many years ago, that often-broken promise to finally retire and return to the mountain for good. You don’t have to go back to the madness. You certainly don’t need the money or the headaches or the hassles or the pressure.
You could finally take time to write that book everyone claims you have in you, to spend more days like this, both appreciating and photographing nature, to go for days without seeing a TV, reading a newspaper or logging on to the Internet.
You could, but you won’t. The world may survive without you but you cannot survive without the world. The mountain revives you so you can return to the madness and carry on. Much can be done if one care enough to try.
The mountain is your reality check, the periodic time of reflection and the clarifying moment of realization.
The mountain tells you to go back and fight the wars of modern life.
Take your lumps. Nurse your bruises. Deal as best you can with the changes of life.
Then come back when the time is right.
The mountain will be waiting.