Sunday, October 17, 2010
It used to be that I could climb most any tree. Up high, nestled safe within its branches, I would read and survey the land beneath me as if I were in a magical land all my own. But those times have come and gone. I no longer hang upside down from branches, or ride aloft on someone's shoulders to catch a better glimpse of a parade. Funny how we don't make a fuss over Last Times as much as we do with First Times. Is taking your first step, first tooth or first word any more memorable or worthy of attention than the final scaling of a sycamore; the bark's texture leaving a mark on your hands that will fade before your eyes. The first and only time (but hopefully not the last) I looked out from the heights of the Eiffel tower I couldn't quite believe the beauty of the city spread out below. Such a unique perspective I will never forget, it's a memory that I revisit often. Something about being that close to the sky has left a mark on me, invisible to most anyone who doesn't know how to see it. Alas, there are no miles-high-beanstalks appearing under my bedroom window, or bouquets of balloons waiting to whisk me off to parts unknown if only I hold on tight. Instead my feet remain firmly planted on the ground; weighted down by demands, responsibilities, secrets, schoolwork, and other necessities. I only wish I could be as unfettered as a dandelion seed. Free to go where the wind might take me, visiting the highest hills and beyond.
When I was a teenager I knew a horse that died. Not an old horse, not a sick horse. A young horse with loads of talent, a sweet disposition, and a crowd of people who loved him and felt his absence like a blow to the belly. Most of all his owner. It shakes you to see someone you know as gleeful and freakishly well-developed in her ability to laugh at herself and anyone else saddened to the point of tears, and more eerily, quietness. The barn was glum, we were mired in grief. She went north to her sister's place, not half an hour from where I now live, and came back not healed but at least shaking her head and almost smiling. "I stood on a mountain," she said, and picked up a pitchfork. Her sister is dead now, too. Though the events are unrelated, they feel linked by image and circumstance. Twenty years later I remember her words when I look up from my own distracting problems and notice that nearly all the landmarks that surround me - mountains, trees - will still be here long after I'm gone, my kids are gone, my own horses are gone, our worries and mistakes and triumphs faded to disappearance. We are all brief. We stand on mountains and then pick up our pitchforks. It's all we can do. The world is changing; my boys will depend on a very different geography to inform them, support them and comfort them. But I imagine the mountains will stay, for a while at least, the highest ones. I hope.