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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Throne of the Abyss

There lies in the mountains a wisdom both ancient and profound, timeless as they sit dormant and watch the world grow old. Some rise higher than others, some content to nestle between the valleys of giants and hide unbound by their silent warding. By the breath of the wind and the sorrow of the heavens, the bitter frost of the winter and the scorching heat of the summer, they endure. Along their backs we as humans have taken the strangest of quests- to do nothing more than share in the sight that they hold uniquely poised and singularly dear that these mountains hold. 

However many in a lifetime we may ascend, whether spread across the world or in return to a singular point, in age or in youth, alone or in fond company, whether remembered years later or in the restful night after the journey's close, one thing will always remain constant. Against the flooding of the lowlands and the wildfires of the forests, the hurricanes of the coast and the lightning that rends the lesser earth, to the earthquakes and the volcanoes and every force that nature can muster against her own kind, the mountains endure.

No stranger to the northern ranges of the great Appalachian range, it was to a new corner of the world that I last set out to find. By many, the White Mountains of New Hampshire hold a special meaning. Once a great destination for the Transcendentalist writers and seekers of a deeper communion with nature in the early years of the former century, the mountains have been something of a legend for more than hikers alone. Even those with little desire or knowledge of the Mountains often know of one fabled peak. Mount Washington. Atop its summit lies an observatory and an old (but still functional) railway station. Renowned for the bearer of the world's worst (most unpredictable) weather, in April of 1934 the researchers at the weather observatory measured the highest ever recorded wind speed of anywhere on earth at 231 mph (371 km/h). Against the gale the buildings at the summit are held down with heavy chains slung over the roofs and anchored into the rock itself. Unpredictable fog and rolling clouds creep up the faces of Washington when an unwatchful eye takes its leave for but an instant.

For those who know not the respect demanded by the mountains in the best of seasons, much less in the worst, there lies a danger that has claimed too many lives to name. Yet to those who are more patient and understanding of the timeless power that resides atop those slopes, therein can be found something much like the transcendence of what binds us to our own form.

Dotting the ridgeline lay cairns built by our forbearers, beacons of the way forward found by the labour and sacrifice of those who too have relished in the gift of the mountains. Spanning the arc connecting peaks and winding down back to the valley floor so far below, through the barren landscape or between the trees on the forest trails, guides across the waterfalls or the dangers of the cliffs, they too remain as though to transpose the thanks of man into a language the earth can comprehend. We have come, and so too shall we leave, yet it is you that has given us this beauty to which our gratitude is eternal.

Like a throne unto the Abyss the rocky summit climbs through the tree and cloud alike until only rock remains. At that precarious height where the sky becomes an ocean, the world below falls into a pale grey singularity devoid of feature and light. And, like the oceans, an errant current can pull away that silty murk to reveal the splendour beneath. A hidden world to the Ascenders, seen in such a way as can never be truly appreciated from below. As the fish swims, the sky is foreign, and to the birds what lies beneath those waters endures as inhospitable. Yet to those precious few who tread the seas and skies alike exists far more than either creature will ever know.

Bathed in daylight we are blessed with the sight of the world below, and when the veil of night descends we are given something perhaps even greater. Nested away from the lights of industry, in the heart of the mountains the stars begin to creep back into the sky. One by one as the day withers away to the far corners of the world, those Suns of distant planets begin to radiate their light instead to us. One becomes ten, ten become ten thousand, and soon, a new and profoundly beautiful scene is revealed. Those same stars which guided so many travellers in a different time now appear for us to follow.

To where?

Only the traveller may know why they follow the stars, and perhaps even they know not where they will be taken. One thing, however, remains true across the Ages and boundless of the nations.  Once that first step has been taken, the world will never look the same again.

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