The Mountain Spirit

Image by falco from Pixabay

Wet winds whirled with cool mists and refreshing chill up upon the ridges, whistling pleasantly against the crags high above the green country. Soft blankets of fog clung lazily to the grey peaks and rolled over the slopes before catching in the gale and flitting across the sky. Moss clung to damp rock with the clean smell of wet earth along the trail and a single climber ascended through the majesty with aching lungs and a hobbled gait.

He tripped over a stray branch and cried out, slamming into the cold ground with a final grunt of despair.

“This is pointless!” He spat the bitter taste of soil from his mouth and noticed a flat section of rock to rest on. He crawled out from the trail and onto the level ridge that overlooked the vista, “What am I even doing up here?” He slumped down.

“What indeed?”

The climber flinched and scanned the area. The voice came from… everywhere? It whistled in the winds, it emerged from the rolling fogs and reverberated from the deep roots of the mountain all at once.

“Who goes there?”

“You might say I go nowhere, in your understanding. I am the thing on which you tread, turn around friend, and see me.”

The climber stood and turned slowly, trepidation slowing his movement more than his hobble. He gazed up as horror seized his breath. The crags and crevices of the ridge formed a titanic face on the mountain, a mottled, gnarled thing which stared down at the climber with concern.

“Behold, the mountain!”

“It’s, it’s,” the climber collapsed, scrambling away until he felt the edge of the ridge and the eerily inviting heights, “It’s not possible.”

“Not possible?” The face did not move as it spoke but the expression changed somehow, without being seen, to one of amusement. “Not possible that something so ancient and persistent throughout the ages should have a voice, a face? But in your mind it is entirely possible that a tiny, short lived creature such as yourself should come to understand the universe?”

“I guess that’s fair,” he suddenly felt very small, “Are you friendly?”

“I have not thrown you from my skin so far, have I?” The face changed without moving again, the expression morphing with impossibility.

“I guess that’s also fair.” The climber sighed and let his body sag.

“What troubles you, little creature? Why do you persist to my summit despite your injury?”

“What good am I if I cannot even manage a simple walk?”

The mountain laughed, the sound rolled from its roots all the way into the climber’s bones. “Simple? Is that what you call it when a poor creature, alone, in pain, and in tears braves the elements that cause it discomfort? Your journey may have been simple to start, but I know not why you persist on it.”

“I said I would do it. I promised myself I would do it, that I could do it!”

“And failure would lessen you?”

“Yes!” The expression in the rock face morphed without motion again, bemusement, the climber looked away abashed, “No.”

“Then why punish yourself, friend?”

“I was supposed to prove to myself that I could accomplish something. And now look at me.”

“I am looking at you,” the enormity of the being weighed down on the climber, “And I am looking past you, to the beautiful vista that your ‘failure’ has allowed you to view. Go on, friend, look.”

The climber sighed and gazed out over the country. He was struck by the green fields, punctuated by the terracotta roofs of the quaint towns that inhabited them and rivers that spread across the land. They glistened like sapphire veins in the golden sun as it burned through the wispy fog, leaving him dazzled with awe.

“So you did not accomplish the arbitrary goal you set, but you still gained something beautiful, and not just the view. Clear air, exercise, isolation, self reflection, these are also gifts. Maybe you can’t conquer the physical mountain, but there are many more challenges that lay ahead. People will die, limbs will fracture and hearts will break. Your home may flood, or be torn from you in the gale while your livelihood goes up in flames. These are all mountains to climb, in doing so you will become stronger, in mind and body and spirit. No matter how high you ascend, you will be granted some reward for the effort, you just need to look.”

“So the mountains will come even if I wish not to climb them, even if I am not ready, like today?”

“That is my nature, my friend.”

 “Hardly seems fair.”

The face morphed to mirth, “And that is life’s nature, I’m afraid. But despite these trials, you will always be able to find some slither of joy.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Understanding too is a mountain, and I look forward to when you ascend it so that we may speak again. Until then, stop punishing yourself, recognise your achievement and go get that ankle looked at.” With that, the face vanished from the climber’s perception.

He searched the ridge and scrutinised the crags in disbelief. The line that formed the eye was just a shadow, the nose was just a boulder and the lips a crevice. No matter how he squinted or tilted his head he could not make the shapes form a face again.

“I wonder if I’m mad.” He shuffled from the ridge to start his descent, finding that the branch he tripped over was smooth and the perfect height to use as a cane to aid his injury. Smiling, he stooped to pick it up, gazing out over the vista once more. “You’re right,” he said, “Perhaps this is enough.”

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