Mountain High Enough
When I climb out of the shelter in the damp morning, the compass says north is to my left, downhill. I add this to my ledger: 44. N = L (down). I read yesterday’s entry: 43. N = F (down). So yesterday, forward had been downhill, and north has been downhill two days in a row. I look around. Today, forward runs straight and level for what looks like forty yards, maybe more, before I lose the ground in the trees.
I use the numbers because they’re the truth. I started with dates, but they don’t seem to matter. I could write August 17 the morning after August 16 if I wanted to, but that didn’t stop it from snowing almost a foot that day. But yesterday I had been here forty-three days, so today I’ve been here forty-four.
I open the sides of the shelter to let the light in. The sun is much further south than yesterday, but the mountain is to the west today, so I can get some warmth and light into everything for a while. As my shelter warms and dries in the sunlight, I walk to my latrine. I sing as I walk. Today I decide to sing Beatles songs, because I know enough of them to last me the morning.
“…She told me to sit anywhere. Till I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair…”
The morning things had slipped was my third day on the mountain. I blew it off as a trick. I didn’t think about what kind of trick, or who or what might be playing it. Or how. By the fifth day, I started trying to do something about it.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”
I walk to the stream, which is sort of a waterfall today. I wash my hands and face and fill the canteens. The water is colder today, but more bitter than yesterday, almost chalky. Maybe James Taylor songs had been a mistake. I switch to happier songs, catchy teen pop stuff. Maybe the water will be sweeter tomorrow.
The first thing I tried when it slipped was tying things together. I had had rope enough to go around four or five trees near the tent. I had a tent then, too. The next morning, I still had the tent, but I didn’t have much rope anymore. What I did have looked older and had grown into the bark on the one tree it was still tied to.
“I want to hold your hand. I want to hold your hand…”
Drawing things started by accident, but it was what brought the stream back the first time. It had been up the hill from my campsite on day eight — uphill was east on day eight — and was so postcard-perfect I sketched it. Day nine, a stream had still been there. East again, but downhill. Sketching other things didn’t keep them there, though. The only other constant was the big peak. It didn’t quite look the same each day. Some days there was a lot of snow, others a lot of trees. Sometimes it was sort of rounded, like Mt. Rainier in Seattle. Other days it looked more like the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
“She loves you, yeah yeah yeah…”
After drawing stopped working, I tried a lot of things. Writing descriptions worked, sometimes. I’d had no success getting new things to show up by writing or drawing them in. But singing worked, sometimes, sort of. It seemed to do better than anything else I’d tried. Nothing so obvious and direct as “Leaving on a Jet Plane” leading to flyovers. But I’m pretty sure happy music makes the water sweeter. I sang Billie Holiday on day eighteen, and on nineteen, it rained all day.
I take the notebook with me on my rounds. I keep track of my path, how long I’ve been working, what I’m singing and where I am when I sing it. I map what everything looks like today and draw arrows to show where I’ve been. Gathering data is the only thing I can think of that might get me off the mountain.
“I get by with a little help from my friends…”
Sending messages hasn’t done anything, as far as I can tell. On stormy days, I write notes on ledger pages and cast them into the wind. Nothing has come of it. I never find any of the notes, so I don’t know if they’re even getting off the mountain. I have no idea if they’re still looking for me. I was supposed to be home after five days.
I had a tent, until the first time I walked too far out. I explored too far, out of sight of the campsite. There were no trails after that, not even when I turned to go back. When I’d gone farther back than I’d gone out, I decided the campsite wasn’t there, anymore. I’m grateful I took the backpack that day.
I walked downhill for ten straight days then, days sixteen through twenty-five, through unbroken woods. Ten days of downhill hiking, when I had only gone two days up the mountain, and I never reached a valley.
“You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world…”
Day twenty-six I started on the shelter. It didn’t change much from day to day. On day thirty, it had been made of cedar bark. Day thirty smelled good.
I think about Job, in the Bible. I think I know how he felt, a little. He lost everything, and didn’t understand why. Higher powers were messing with him, just to prove a point. What point is there in this, I wonder? At least I have my health.
I picked enough strawberries today to feel full for a while. By the time the sun is setting behind the mountain, I’ve caught a rabbit and roasted it over a smoky fire. I keep coals burning in the back of the shelter. So far I’ve managed to keep them day to day, although some days it’s hard to find enough dry wood to cook on, if I have meat. The only thing I’m willing to eat raw is maggots, and I’ve only had to do that once. After that day, I don’t sing The Cure songs any more.
I refill the canteens in the last of the light and make my way back to the shelter. The water is already sweeter than it was this morning.
“Help! I need somebody. Help! You know I need someone. Help!”