We tried to go to church, but it was one of those days to be randomly depressed. Karen and I sat in the car talking until after the service had started, so we drove home.
I thought of going on a hike instead. That's what she needs to cheer her up on a gorgeous summer day, is some exercise and fresh air.
Then it popped into my head, MT ELLINOR.
I've failed at that mountain twice before. The first time was when I had my first child in a baby carrier, and I was shocked to find myself physically unable to walk up the side of a mountain. That really highlighted how suddenly and badly one can become "unfit" and was quite depressing. I had to wait at a resting point while the husband, along with others who still had their lives, went up to the top.
I had always wanted to try again. Not too long ago, he had actually fancied a climb, and I was excited about it-- but by then I was twenty years into a toxic nightmare of a marriage. He got angry at me that very morning and yelled the entire drive up there, which wasted what little vitality I had, and I didn't make it very far up the mountain.
But what about now? There's nothing, and nobody, to stop me.
It was nice clear weather, the middle of summer, and only 9:00 in the morning, still plenty of day left.
Ran home to round up kids, but they all had plans and not a one wanted to drop everything and climb a mountain, so I took only Karen with me. Well, she was the reason! And she'd be good company. I knew I would have to take it easy to the top. If the boys had gone, they would probably have been impatient with my slow progress.
We threw food and water into a backpack and hopped in the van. Funny-- after all the time and drama-- it was almost shocking what a normal thing it was to just drive up there, park and get out and start walking up the trail.
What was all the fuss about? It's really not that big a deal.
I parked at the lower trailhead where you don't need a pass. That only saves $5, but I gotta save $5 everywhere I can these days. And I read that it's better to get warmed up on the lower portion before it gets steep, which makes sense.
The trailhead was crowded with parked cars but there were few people on the trail. It was so quiet!
So beautiful, so peaceful. Soothing to the soul. A cathedral of silence.
We found the trail beautifully constructed, with log and rebar steps everywhere there need to be steps.
It didn't take long to notice that the trail may be manicured but it's still steps. You're basically walking up an endless flight of stairs. Only a few hundred stairsteps into it I wondered what I was doing. Lots of determination to get here but is this REALLY what I wanted to do??
Started to get out of breath still within sight of the van.
But there's no question that I am GOING to the top this time. Failing twice, and succeeding the third time, is a well established rule in Western literary tradition, so ingrained into our thought processes that we don't question it. Our heroine must fail twice then will succeed the third time!
It's a very, very long walk in which to think your own thoughts, but the most marvelous, most refreshing part of all this, is how the thoughts go away. My obsessions and questions that had been clawing at me in the morning, faded away in the silence among the trees. The wind breathes and there's no sound except our footsteps.
We had brought a couple bottles of water and some cashews and raisins in one backpack, which Karen and I took turns carrying.
We did have to take it slow! Lots of people passed us.
It was a cloudy day. Here I thought it was gonna be gorgeous, but the mountain was totally socked in, again.
Various peeps stopped to encourage us and explain the upcoming struggles.
They sure are a good-looking set, mountain climbers. Tall blondes with beautiful muscles and big smiles and encouraging things to say. "You can do it, don't give up! Take lots of breaks and keep going!"
I had looked up and read the trail description, and printed it for reference, then left it in the van. Oops.
I asked if there was anything to see up there other than a wall of white. I was told that there were occasional sunbreaks at the top, and if you wait long enough, you'll get a view.
Oh, just one group of sistahs were on their way down, as an exception to the rule. The one white gal in the group looked me up and down and commented scornfully that "those shoes ARE gonna get dirty."
I ignored her and went away with the unholy thought that if only I was a brawler, my fist could wipe that look off her face.
Now I guarantee it, my shoes will stay clean-- for spite if nothing else!
Luckily the next feedback was only ten minutes later, from a guy who said, "You look way too casual and elegant to be out here!" and an entirely different expression, which cheered me right up again.
I thought it was great that I got the poison and the antidote one after another, luckily in that order, and those were the only two personal comments of the day.
We got to the steep part.
We passed the place where I had had to wait with the mothers twenty years ago.
Then we passed the rocks where I got dizzy last time and had to turn back. Any steps taken beyond that point are a win for me!
I wasn't dizzy, I felt just fine.
We got above the treeline and out of the rocks, to the part with the steps going across a meadow. Flowers were everywhere, big and thick and colorful, just gorgeous!
I was SO impressed with the amount of work that had gone into this trail. Somebody packed all these pieces of wood and rebar up here and cut all these steps, arranged all these rocks, to make it easier for the rest of us!
There's a ridge, as I had been warned about, which isn't the top, but makes you feel like you've really gotten somewhere.
Another lady who made it up there at the same time looked up and said, "They must be JOKING!!"
Those rocky spires are actually the top, and they are about a mile directly above our heads.
It is a cruel joke.
There's no question of turning back, we're in this now. So after a few moments of dismayed realization, we start taking steps again.
More log and rebar stairsteps, through more gorgeous flowers, along a series of small switchbacks.
Karen really impressed me! She hadn't been excited about Ellinor, this wasn't her idea and wasn't some big thrill. But she just kept on walking after me, she doesn't quit. That girl has heart!
The word "valiant" occurs to me.
Near the top, at the base of the rocky peaks, there's some climbing among big rocks, and that's when the sun came out.
After a couple hours of blissfully thought-free climbing, we came around the rocks just below the summit, and there before us the opposite peak shone clear, sunlit, between dark clouds. It was beyond unearthly gorgeous, and when I saw it, the most powerful thought came to me.
I had never seen that view before, but I have felt it.
It was an old memory, of a noteworthy day very long ago. The day had already been marvelled about, processed, and filed away. It was ancient history.
It was back in that fateful fall of 2012, after talking to the angel about love and frequencies and power and God and healing and grass, all very fascinating stuff.
I was alone one day with nothing noteworthy happening on the outside, but a battle on the inside. It was the most titanic inner struggle of my life: self vs love.
Something had occurred to me that I needed to do. I needed to pray a blessing for someone else. It was a blessing that I didn't really want to be bestowed, for selfish reasons.
Love seeketh not its own. Love isn't petty and jealous.
Love is connected to all of us if we choose to accept it. Got it.
No big deal, right?
All I had to do was to say, "God, please," and then finish the sentence entirely for someone else's benefit rather than my own.
I thought it would be easy enough, until I tried it.
Some self was going to have to die.
I ended up face down in the grass, crying my eyeballs out with how badly I didn't want to, and felt I'd been wrung out and that there was nothing left of me.
Yet, when I got up, I was stronger, not weaker; larger, not smaller; and I wasn't weary and despairing at all.
I think that's the first time I ever felt the power of love. Hatred is a weak and frightened thing that crumbles away as soon as you look at it!
And love is so immense, so limitless, it can be drawn on for anything you need, as long as you need, and still have inexhaustible power left over.
I wrote in the diary, "This is weeping on the mountaintop in lovely, lonely glory, from the sheer beauty that can't be expressed. This is fullness of heart, not emptiness."
And this is what it looked like.
When I came around those rocks and saw this, that memory came back as powerful as if it was moments ago.
I stopped right there, whipped out my cool new smartphone and wrote--
To empty yourself is to become full. To lose is to win. To give up is to attain.
I haven't lost! I get the mountaintop! I get the understanding, to keep!
I know what love feels like, and that it can never die.
Now, are we creeping up on realizing that to give up your life, is to gain it?
Thanks to technology, I get to keep a photo of it.
Eventually we got to the top, proper, but that didn't matter as much :-)
Oh, sure, it's cool and everything. Now I can say I've been up there.
It made me remember that I'm actually not that big on dizzying heights or stomach-wrenching chasms to glaciers far below.
I basically took a look and said, "Okay, cool! All done here, let's go back down again!"
I stayed far back from the edge and stole a few hesitant glances. A guy watching me with amusement said, "It's okay to go right up to that rock and lean on it!"
I said, "Or I'll stay here in the middle, thank you!!"
Karen leaned against the rocks and looked over. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking her to step back just to make me feel better.
There were parents worried about their kids climbing on the rocks, and I was glad my boys weren't with me. Some daredevil dudes were up doing Our Hero on top of rocks.
On the way back down, the clouds cleared enough that we finally had a view of the valley, and Hood Canal. And then on the other side, Lake Cushman! Appearing like an aquamarine in a dreamscape, it actually got me to shout-- a bad word. Oops. I gotta quit that.
Well, it was VERY pretty!
The clouds obscure somewhat here, but the blue blob at the top of the picture isn't the sky, it's a lake.
I said, "Hang glider. Right here, jump off, and land down at that lake!"
We took a ton of pictures and then started back down the ridge.
We were above the timberline and above the clouds...
Back down the steps through the flower meadow.
There was a guy going up with a huge backpack.
I said, "Are you spending the night up here??"
He said, "No that's my paraglider!"
I expressed slight interest and kept walking. The guy put down his pack and started gearing up, about the time my conventionality burned off and I just stopped in my tracks.
I said, "You know what? For that, I will wait. That would be like the coolest thing this week," and a guy who was on his way up agreed with me, only said it would be the coolest thing this year.
There had been a brief clearing, but it was clouding up again, so we kept heading down. But at the bottom of the meadow, above the treeline where the rocks start, I looked back, and that guy was still suiting up. Some other people who came down reported that he had decided to wait for another clear break.
Why not just sit on a rock and see what's going to happen?
Then I heard someone else up there chatting and the very last of the modesty burned off. What, other people can chat with him and I can't? Like there's some kind of a law?
Karen sat on the rock and I marched right back up there. Let's live in this moment, not some other. Right now this is the coolest thing, it's happening and I'm here for it and I'm gonna take some pictures.
My new smartphone takes pretty good pictures, doesn't it? I hadn't taken a video with it yet so I fiddled with that while waiting. Would rock completely to get video of this guy jumping off a perfectly good mountain.
The outlandish outfit and weirdly shaped helmet didn't hurt the mood. We pay money to watch the X-Men but I get to watch this for free.
What a remarkable thing the paraglider is! Like a huge fluffy sail, with tiny thin lines that look like dangling from a spider web.
He told me none of the lines would hold him on its own.
There was a rock on the glider that he was fretting about.
I asked if could I get it?
He said NO and then no no no, he was sure.
He gathered up all the lines and climbed up between them to remove the rock.
He said walking on the shale is scarier than jumping off the mountain. One wrong move and you aren't gonna stop.
I said I thought jumping would be scarier!
He pointed out that the sun looked like a moon.
He stayed there a while, waiting for a cloud break, but no cloud break came. He said he was thinking he'd go anyway, as he had gotten a compass heading during the clear patch.
He said if the breeze came back up again for just one second, he'd turn around and take a couple steps downhill, and land down on one of the forest service roads, then hitchhike back to Hoodsport.
Part of the sail had flopped down.
He said the sail is VERY expensive and very delicate. It looks both!
And then he asked if I wanted to go over there and flip it back up.
I went over SO cautiously. The shale is actually very scary, I found out what he meant as soon as I tried walking on it. One wrong move...
He said he didn't want my shoes to get dirty.
They were already dirty and won't be any dirtier when I get down from here.
I held on to a tiny bit of protruding bedrock, and put my feet down in the rocks so delicately that I only dislodged a few pebbles.
That was my cheap thrill for the day, my taste of adventure by proxy.
I got the edge flipped back up again, then stood there motionless, wondering how on earth I was going to get back up to the trail again.
A couple other guys came walking down, and one asked if he could help.
NO, NO, no, no, no!
I said, "You could help me!" and he reached down his hiking pole. I grabbed the end, planning to use it to pull myself back up to the trail without causing the much-feared avalanche.
That would have worked fine if he had stayed on the path and pulled me up, but I didn't move for a long moment, and I guess he took my lack of motion as a sign that I was in trouble. He came running down to grab me, and we slid down the shale together, dumping rocks all over the sail.
Which the other boy RAN right across the shale to try to remove!!
WHOOPS, that was the end of that party. The paraglider guy was NOT happy with the lot of us, of course, and told us about it in the most colorful way! So we all hightailed it and left him up there cussing.
Oh well, fun had been had.
Notice that we're now still up on the high meadow part of the trail and it's 6:00 pm.
It was 6:45 when we got down past the rocks to the dirt trails.
My legs had started shaking and my knees were hurting.
Knee pain, yay! Might as well get into the pain, it's not gonna get any better and there's a long way to go.
Karen wanted to sit down and rest.
I told her I like to just keep going; if I stop I might not start again.
She said SHE likes to rest until she feels better, then continue!
Karen told me she likes the woods again. For a while after leaving "that other place" she couldn't bear the sight of tall trees and their bad memories. But I've lived in the woods long ago, there's no negativity for me. I love the woods and always will, they are my natural habitat.
Karen said she was happy! and was surprised to remember that it was only this morning that she was so depressed. It seems like a long time ago.
I have been to the mountaintop, and I am different.
Happy, tired and smiling!
It was getting on dark as we walked back. We did the famous twisted ankle and I started to think about the details.
Wished I hadn't drained my phone battery taking pictures.
Wished I had brought a flashlight or two.
Wished for that chicken sandwich I'd left on the dashboard!
We made it off the mountain in full dark, being the second to last to get back to the lower trailhead. The last party of hikers came down just behind us, a family with kids, an extrovert daddy playing funny math games with his boy, and Mom occasionally suggesting we enjoy the silence out here. Ah yes, an introvert mother, and don't think I don't get it, but I could have pointed out to her what a comfort that big happy voice was in this gathering-pitch darkness. I couldn't even see the trail any more, but I could hear the extrovert.
They stayed behind us as we went down. If they had tried to pass, I was prepared to ask them to wait for us.
It occurred to me just now, as I write, that they might have been following my outfit, which was probably the most visible thing in the dark! If so, then it was a mutually beneficial arrangement!
We needed headlights to drive away, and got home by ELEVEN!!
The next morning I was like Yay! I didn't get sore!
In the evening I started to feel it.
The second day the pain kicked in. OUCH, yikes, eech, ooch, ow! Every step a difficulty. Sitting down on a chair hurts.
Is this what it feels like to be old and decrepit?
I tried to go for a walk as "a hair of the dog that bit you" and could barely make it down the steps to the sidewalk. Strolling along was okay. Stepping up on a curb was another story.
The third day, I ended up at the top of my front steps, just standing there, looking down at the steps with my eyes, and my poor old body not moving.
By Friday it was all better.
So! What's next?
How about Mt. Washington? That was the mountaintop in that last picture.
Or... there's Mt Rainier over there glowing deep primrose in the setting sun.
I said, "You know what? We could go up that. There's nothing stopping us."
I started to grin.
Karen said, "Oh, no."
Don't worry, it won't be this year :-)