(Photo credit – Lanark County Tourism)
I make no claim to be a mountain-climber. I am more of a mountain-hiker – someone who has backpacked and hiked through a considerable variety of mountainous and hilly terrain since I was a young man. These include the Canadian and American Rockies, the Pacific Coast Mountains and Cascades, the Alps, Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Appalachians and Laurentians in Eastern North America, and a variety of smaller heights elsewhere. Some of the best are even close to home, such as Blueberry Mountain at this time of year with its sweeping panorama of orange and red and yellow and gold foliage stretching over at least two hundred square kilometers.
I am not laying claim to some sort of special status. I’m just saying that, upon reflecting, I was actually quite surprised at the various places I’ve been, things I’ve done, and experiences I’ve had over seven decades of an all-too-brief and quickly passing lifetime.
God-willing, I may yet get to put a few more pips on my life-map, and even another hilltop or two. I certainly hope so and have more on my bucket-list as long as my knees and other physical attributes hold out.
For me, going up a mountain has always been as much about the trip up as the reward of the stupendous view from the top. There are some peaks I would never consider attempting – Mount Everest, for example. Or the Matterhorn, or Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain.
I understand the tremendous allure of doing something above and beyond what the rest of the crowd have done. It’s one way some gain the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol talked about back in the 1960s. But if the main goal of doing all that excruciating work and subjecting your body to often significantly life-shortening strain is to get some sort of recognition and public acclaim, a sort of flash of the next-best-thing to immortality with your name marked down as one of a select few who ever did A, B, or C, well, maybe you need to re-examine your perspective on what we are in this world for when there are simply so many other aims and goals we can choose to pursue.
The thing about getting “up there” with all its thrill of “making it to the top” is that you discover when you get there that, even with all that amazing landscape or seascape spread out before you, the ground you are standing on is usually pretty barren. It is very rarely a very propitious place to build a home and put down roots. The paucity and special adaptation of any vegetation and resident critters to the generally inhospitable environment at the world’s rooftop graphically illustrates this truth. After taking appropriate time to absorb the vast splendour down below and all around, and to bask in the thrill of having made a climb a relative few have made, it dawns on you that what goes up must come down.
Few if any humans can live on a mountain-top for any appreciable period of time. The air above ten thousand feet is pretty thin, although some groups have been able to do it if there is enough plateau or valley terrain to allow them to glean or produce enough to survive on. But even they do not live on the peaks. Even they have to come down from them to get home where they can actually live and enjoy life from day to day.
There is a bit of a parable here, one of those succinct little stories based on real-life experience that illustrates a deeper, inner, even spiritual side of reality.
Think about any mountain-top or peak experience or achievement your have ever had. Maybe it was finally breaking through in your career or chosen role in life and getting the recognition and reward you longed for and felt you justly deserved. Maybe it was winning the heart of “the One” and believing your “live-happily-ever-after” dream was coming true. Maybe it was winning a big competition, or the big championship, the gold medal, the highest individual honour in the that thing you are really passionate about! Maybe it was an heroic act that wowed the people all around and astonished even yourself in the doing – and still does when you think back on it. Maybe it was the “eureka” moment of your conversion to God when you decided to live to honour the Creator.
There have probably been several such moments. How incredible, precious, even sublime it seemed then, and can still seem even now in its reflected glow down through the years. Some have been higher and more intense than others. Some you realize were one-off for all time and could never be recaptured.
I have known people who have never gotten over some such moment or moments. It’s like the tremendous rush a drug-addict gets on the first hit of cocaine or meth or opioids. They are hooked on the high and run after it constantly.
There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel good and seeking a special sense of fulfillment, but life is lived mostly in the mundane, among ordinary people doing ordinary things. An orgasm is a great thing in its time and place, but we cannot live in continual yearning for the rush and continual regret of what has been.
In doing that, we become blind and insensible to the beauty and wonder that lies just outside the door. We also miss what lies inside the door as we discover each other and learn to enjoy what lies within as much as what lies without. Inner space is as wondrous as outer space.
Continually lusting after the misty mountain-top splendour leaves us paralysed down in the valleys of life, especially when, as inevitably we must, we encounter Death Valley. As Psalm 23, written 3000 years ago by one of the great poets and composers of antiquity, puts it, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
The poet has a secret for getting through the worst times, and it isn’t desperately trying to scramble up the steep slopes of darkness closing him in. He knows he cannot escape the ordeal. He must walk through, but not alone. For he has learned that the key to everything in life is in recognizing and accepting that he is not just a heroic individual standing alone against a host of foes or fighting his way to the top of the heap by his own strength and valour. He stands on and in a real, living relationship with his Creator.
In several of his Poem-Songs, of which we still have about seventy-five, this great writer, who was also a person of decisive action when the time called for it, describes this intimate relationship, based on total acceptance that he has not been made just to pursue his own appetites and purposes, but to submit to a greater purpose and calling, one he is discovering as he lives life from day to day and year to year.
We have other information about this extraordinary man in other parts of the Book we call the Bible. He was far from perfect, and made many mistakes. Some were real doozies which cost him, his family, and even his nation very dear.
He was no better, and sometimes definitely worse, at least in certain actions, than most of the rest of us. But he gives us a vivid and true picture about Mountain-tops and dark valleys, things we all experience as we reach the heights and sink into the depths as we explore the adventure of life.
In case you haven’t heard of the Poet-Composer to whom I refer, his name is David and he rose to the heights of power as a shepherd-boy who became the King of ancient Israel. He won everlasting fame as a teen-ager by single-handedly slaying a real-life giant named Goliath. As to the rest of his story, including some real dismal valleys, I leave you to explore it in the Biblical record of the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.