Oddly enough, some folks feel no real affection for the mountains–or even hills, sand dunes, dirt piles…or speed bumps for that matter! These flatlanders, who seem to congregate most deliberately in the middle portions of these United States and similar terrains, huff and puff and would love to blow all the mountains down. Mountains, for these folks who take the plane view of things, are just one more obstacle that has to be overcome in life…one more wall to climb over to get where they are going. Or for others with an urge to conquer, mountains are just one more notch to put on the belt of “extreme living,” one more element of Earth to bring under humanity’s domain.
Ironic, this missing amazement over mountains is, considering that mountains have held such a fascination for humans of all locales, colors, creeds, and cultural epochs. Think of Mount Kailas (also known as Meru, Sumeru, etc.) in the Himalayas of Tibet, which is held sacred in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Bön as the center of the world, the residence of Siva or the Buddha Demchok, a place of enlightenment, the source of all spiritual power…. Think of the mountain in Christianity where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. Think of Mount Sinai in Judaism and Moses’s chat with God at the top, where he received the Ten Commandments. Think of Mount Olympus in Greek mythology, where Zeus and his cohorts gather when not messing around with humans, or Mount Parnassus, where the Muses reside and give inspiration to the artistically inclined. Is it any wonder, then, that a typical route for the spiritual and artistic paths leads up to a mountain peak, to a mountain cave, to a mountain niche…?
And yet nowadays, no one seems to give much love to mountains. No one seems to dream about mountain peaks and mountain sides, about winds so strong they whip away your breath and your hair and anything not tied down with several strong ropes. No one longs to run up a mountain side to the top…and then to launch up into the wide blue sky.
No one except me, that is. Fool that I am, I love everything about mountains–especially the Blue Ridge Mountains here in central Virginia where I live. I love to look on as the morning sun turns their sides into a richly textured blanket of foliage and rocks and streams. I love to watch the storms build up behind them and then come charging over to rain their fury upon us poor soaking mortals. I love to watch the sun set behind the mountains and, as far as I can figure, leave the world to the charge of night and its creatures once again.
Yes, mountains ought to make just about anyone poetic, spiritual even. But sometimes, when the sun has gone to sleep in its bed behind the mountains, my sleep is filled with nightmares rather than dreams. I have terrible visions of sacrilege committed against these sacred places. I see mountains obscured by smog, ozone, pollution, not by an aura of otherworldly energy, a divine being whipping up a frenetic storm with its presence, an adept achieving the ultimate stage of enlightenment, Ouranus and Gaea charging the world with their conjugation. I see mountains being carved and sundered, their ancient bodies rendered in twain so that human travel will be ever easier and life more convenient. Rather than being traveled by aspirants engaged in spiritual pursuit, these paths are worn by shipping trucks, tour buses, and passenger vehicles. Even worse, I see mountains actually beheaded, as if Alice’s dreaded Queen of Hearts had uttered her deadly decree, “Off with their heads!” Cut down to size with ruthless precision, the sacred bodies of the mountains are then gutted of whatever useful goodies they contain.
For a mountain man such as I am, these troubling nightmares easily threaten to crumble my waking peace and happiness as well. But in these times of trouble, what do, what must I do? I run away to and up the sacred mountainside. I plop myself on the nearest mountaintop and chant my hymns to their ancient presence. I listen to the winds whipping in every direction and screaming out what they have learned from the mountains’ wisdom–the knowledge and lessons of the Earth itself, old as the Earth itself, lifted up to the sky by the Earth itself. Rather than pushing my proverbial peddle to the metal to get over the mountains like the Little Engine That Could, I wander my way up the mountains with slow and deliberate pleasure. I huff and puff in pure delight up and down and up and down…whether my poor old legs will or no!
Sure, I could easily sit inside thinking about the monumental mountains. I could even get a bit more active and fight to stop mountain beheadings and slicings so that they can keep standing proudly across the world–with their heads still firmly where they belong. But besides all that, I really just want to get out and hang out with the wise old mountains. I want to stand at their feet gazing up in awe; I want to sit on their shoulders and chat with their windy voices. For when I do, I seem to find something wiser, older, and more powerful than my self. When I commune with the timeless mountains, I seem to tap into the nourishing chthonic energy of the Earth itself.
So you can have your flatlands and your valleys and your beaches where even speed bumps get in the way of your view. Just plop me on the mountaintop and leave me be with the wise spirits speaking in the winds.
[Author’s Disclaimer: As with my meditation on trees, this post should be read in the proper spirit–part ecstatic celebration, part flight of fancy, part general commentary.]