“Just tag it,” I yelled.
“What?” Ann screamed, her voice carried off by the wind that was blowing madly at plus 60.
“Just tag the summit pole and we’ll get out of here,” I shouted. “We have to get out of here.”
The visibility had dropped to ten feet or less. The snow driving sideways. I could just make out the pole stuck in the rocks on the top of Mt. Adams. The cairns behind me already out of sight.
We crawled on our hand and knees against the driving wind the last ten feet, tagged the summit, and bolted. Then haltingly, through blind intuition and a fair amount of luck, we retraced our steps to Thunderstorm Junction, the visibility there improved “dramatically,” to at least 50 feet or so.
Many summit experiences, of course, are more pleasant. (Although this was quite good in the re-telling hours later around the brews at Moat Mountain.) But most summit experiences are brief.
Life, for the most part, is lived in the valleys.
And it’s in the valleys that things can get tricky.
We plan for months, sometimes years, for the summits. The trips, as we face into them, appear as massive daunting blocks of time. We tag our summits and come home. And the whole experience disappears in the rear view mirror so quickly, almost as if it had been a mirage.
For me, a melancholy sets in after a big trip. The summit rush is gone. The next project may be on the drawing board. But the planning hasn’t started in earnest. And the day to day grind unfolds.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately as the seasons churn once again. It is easy to feel the melancholy in November. It always seems the bleakest month of the year to me – the deepest valley – with the trees stripped bare.
Rumi said, “The spring seasons are hidden in the autumns, and the autumns are charged with springs.”
John Whealon, a former Archbishop of Hartford, used to say, “The seeds of spring blow on the cold winds of November.”
Peaks and valleys. Autumns and springs. They are the cycle of things. To live gracefully through it – and not just through it, but to be present in it – is the challenge.
“The sun rises and the sun sets;
it hurries away to a place from which it rises again.
The wind goes to the south and circles around to the north;
round and round the wind goes and on its rounds it returns.
All the streams flow into the sea, but the sea is not full,
and to the place where the streams flow, there they will flow again.
All this monotony is tiresome; no one can bear to describe it:
The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear ever content with hearing.
What exists now is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing truly new on earth.
Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”?
It was already done long ago, before our time.
No one remembers the former events,
nor will anyone remember the events that are yet to happen;
they will not be remembered by the future generations.”
We rode our mountain bikes along the river valley this morning. The light was luminescent. A mist hung over the water as a full moon set into a panoply of color.
There is such beauty in the valleys.
Some think Ecclesiastes to be a pessimist. But really he speaks to the reliability that is the reality of change.
Rainer Maria Rilke says,
“Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened,
like winter, which even now is passing.
For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.
Be forever dead in Eurydice, and climb back singing.
Climb praising as you return to connection.
Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.
Be. And know as well the need to not be.
Let that endless ground of all that changes
bring you to completion now.
To all that has run its course, and to the vast unsayable
numbers of beings abounding to Nature,
add yourself gladly, and cancel the cost.”
The summits are brief. Walk gently in the valleys, toward the spring.