Numb & HappyPosted on December 14, 2021
The darkness is complete, the cold – piercing, vividly I see myself in a tent, eyes opening in the dead of night to look at the precipitation freezing on the tarp. I find myself pulling myself out of the shallow warmth of the sleeping bag, already fading into the black of the night. I find myself trekking on steep slopes in utter darkness, the cold that was piercing inside, incapacitated outside. But I cannot stop, not now, not here. It’s the day we attempt to reach the summit.
With the twisted routes carved deep into snow and ice I walk, the sun shimmering quietly through the last vestige of pine trees. I move closer to the top of the mountain. The temperature drops with every step. The colder it gets, the quieter it becomes. The joyous start of the journey long forgotten. Everything is silence and silence is everything. A kind of silence that is filled with contemplation. This silence is heavy. Its weight in my chest as the air gets thinner and my breath- sharper. I am happy. I am numb with cold. But I am happy.
Thoughtless and in sheer awe of the beauty in front of me. The snow clad mountains, looming, and a vast, pale, cloudless, blue sky peeking from behind it. I stand on the snow, freezing.
The snow is terrifying and enchanting at the same time. The whiteness of the mountain fills me with thoughts that if I may ever happen to slip from, will engulf me in perpetuity. It is utter beauty to see that snow. That snow that holds your life within the crunch of it’s happenstance. I always feel as if I am looking at it for the first time. I can feel the softness and at the same time grasp at the deadly nature of its existence.
I can clearly hear the cacophony that goes on inside me – clearly. No devices, no little boxes, nothing, save my camera. It grants me the luxury of introspection, to reflect on things innumerable. It encourages me to listen to the thoughts and emotions that hold the answers I have for the mountains. It gets me in the right mind.
How small am I to these mountains? How inconsequential, my issues? How meaningless, the self. It is not the mountain I set out to climb, that is not the journey that matters in absolution. It is the journey within, it is the climb of my soul alongside it. The view from the top will be beyond a doubt, ineffable. It cleans my own mirror, it helps me take another step towards seeing my own self, in truth. And it is priceless. Try as I may, as I will, to articulate that feeling, I can only fail at that. The journey is personal, indescribable.
I often wonder, would the mountain know? My presence on it? Would they care? I think so, after all I can only go as far as the mountain allows me to. They know. They have been here before the Anthropocene. They witness us today. Do you think they will be proud of us? I think the mountains talk. Through the wind, through the prayer flags adorned in Tibetan culture, through the trees, the rivers, through the rockslides and avalanches and most importantly, through deep silence. They have been here for eons. And they will live on after we humans have been swept out of the world. Time passes differently in the mountains. It proves to be a transverse in my life, taking one into another world; maybe the same world, just different then the now.
It is not always about reaching the top, sometimes you can’t, no matter how hard you try, sometimes the mountains don’t deem you worthy enough in the moment. The more I return to the mountains, the more I understand that it was never about the completion, it was about being on the path, always on, seeking. Because at the end of the day it’s how you climb a mountain that is more important than reaching the top. The mountains give me the courage to confront my inner chaotic world. Mountains will teach you that things are always changing and you just need to find another way to accept the change.
But then again, the climb is just half way into the journey, the descent is still left, the return to civilization, however you would call it. Walking for almost 12 hours, arriving at the resting point where we wait, rest and absorb. I hear the loud gusts of wind, chattering of the brook nearby, footsteps of shepherds taking their sheep and goats to graze. I fill my bottle from streams and waterfalls. Do we think that that water is purely filtered without any other forms of life in it? I think not. Yet it is the purest form of water unlike the one we consume in our everyday lives. How do we keep in mind the coexistence that we are a part of? How long would it take to comprehend that the human race is far away from anything superior, just another form of life. We live and are lived through; we are composite beings, companion species, emerging within and among assemblages. (1)
We lay there on the ground, under a tree, staring at the sky, the dancing branches. We partake in simple conversation, we are enticed by a rustic cup of rhododendron juice and warm Maggi noodles, content to sit in the lush green grasslands. The blades of grass dance through the gentle breeze. It brings a smile to my face. A particular type of peace, a sense of calm.
Whilst I take a sip from the cup, a wave of warmth runs through my body, not unlike the rehydrating kind that you feel from a cool drink under the scorching afternoon Sun. I sit still.
As I write this, I have goosebumps all across my body. And I open my eyes. Here I am. At my desk, in New York, with my table covered in stationery, unread books, gadgets, cables and an unfinished cup of hot tea. Sitting with a content smile on my face. With a pretty view of the dwindling city lights outside my window and the moon peeking over my window. It’s been quite a while since I last bore witness to the silent majesty of the mountains and yet, when I take a sip of my tea, far, far away from any mountains or hills, when I close my eyes and think about the mountains, I shift spaces. I can see it in front of me. The whole journey. I can relive the experience through memory. I am happy.
- Akomolafe, B. (2018, October 16). When You Meet the Monster, Anoint Its Feet. Emergence Magazine. https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/when-you-meet-the-monster
- Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass : indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed Editions.
- All photographs are by the Author