He stood carelessly on the jagged cliff edge. His limpid eyes slowly scanned the ancient horizon in hopes of catching a brief reflection of a time long ago. His mouth curled upwards into a serene smile and I watched as he drew a breath… almost as if he was savoring the last drag of a cigarette. I shivered as a cool breeze whipped across the rock face and came in contact with the stagnant sweat that had collected on my lower back. He seemed unphased by the December air and continued to listen to the prehistoric language the Appalachians were softly whispering. Like the elementals of old… he desired nothing more than to wander valleys, ford rivers and haunt mountaintops.
Men climb to visit summits but cannot reside a top of mountains and for good reason. The conditions are oftentimes unfavorable and harsh… water is scarce and the ground not bountiful for growth. Mankind belongs to the valley. Man wasn’t designed to wander this world alone but instead to live in harmony with one another. Man needs community to not only perpetuate its species… but as a means to create… to inspire… to thrive. However; equally important… the spirit needs its moments of solitude. The spirit can become diluted when the persistent and never-ending clamor of the crowd takes precedence of life.
My stomach rumbled deeper than rolling thunder across vacant Midwestern plains. I peeled open and broke off half of my white macadamia nut breakfast bar and extended the other half to the wild spirit hopping around in front of me. He smiled and silently declined... continuing his gleeful mountain top dance along the cliff side.
I slumped against a rock and turned my face towards the heavens to bask in the morning sun. Hours had passed since we tiptoed out of our room and spilled into empty predawn streets for our first strides. We had silently bounded alongside swift moving rivers before intricately lacing together different footpaths leading us to our current location high above the city.
I continued my detailed observation of this unique entity who was joyfully celebrating life among the clouds. I gazed upon him with envious eyes. He was completely and utterly blissful. In the few moments where he actually stood still… I saw his spirit at peace. I observed a man that was free. One not bound by the complexity this realm boasts. He wasn’t simply reacting to the environment but unconditionally aware of his motives. He was in competition with no man. He longed for something more meaningful… a deeper respect… one that was not tied into contests among men. He yearned to receive the same reverence from nature that he continuously poured into these mountains. Nature will mercilessly beat you down. She will humble you in unimaginable ways. Ways that are so unforgiving… so ruthless… that it will make one swear off revisiting this type of darkness. He not only understood this concept and accepted it wholeheartedly… but it haunted him... leaving him continuously returning to the mountains to try to capture nature’s heart and admiration.
The glimmering smile from his adventurous eyes indicated it was time to continue our journey. I pulled my stiff, rigid body from my rocky chair and peered out over the horizon one last time. He smiled before darting down our elevated path. He was always one step ahead… playfully verifying his superiority. We descended the mountain together… hugging close to the ridgeline… in constant captivation of the expansive views. I found myself fascinated at the way he gamboled about in an elegant fashion. His movements were free flowing and ghost like as he scurried near sheer drop offs and navigated the well-worn footpath with ease. His laughter was as pure and genuine as a newborn baby playing peek-a-boo with its mother.
I felt a change in the air as we took a seat on a fallen evergreen. His eyes had transitioned from a radiant green to a dismal grey. We were a handful of miles from our final destination and he knew it would be many moons before we returned to these mountains. He was content with the time spent wandering the forests but yearned for the days where this type of outing would be a daily ritual and not simply a visitation.
We arose in silence and quickly synced our strides as we meandered along the heavily traversed section of trail. We were greeted with smile after smile as we moved closer to our destination… each one softly articulating a friendly unspoken greeting. We paused momentarily along the final vantage point to soak in the Appalachian topography one last time before our final descent.
I stepped down from the ledge onto the soft packed dirt and instantly felt his absence. Other than silent communication and laughter, there had been no exchange of actual dialogue between us. I turned and shielded my eyes from the sun as I watched him slowly dissipate into the still mountain air.
Instantaneously I was engulfed in a cool breeze in which carried a simple phrase. The two words slipped in through the openings on each side of my head, trickled down my spine and resonated within my chest cavity.
PC: Varina Hart
If Heaven doesn’t have a vacancy when my time comes to bid adieu to this realm… I pray You allow me to wander Your sweeping valleys, ford Your flowing rivers and haunt Your prestigious mountaintops as a ghost within Your astonishing creation.
- Fiction -