Saturday, June 6, 2009

Go Tell it on the Mountain!

We were six adults, three sisters, a brother-in-law and two nephews, and four kids, three sons (grandnephews) and a daughter (grandniece) whose homes spanned the continent, which meant we didn’t know each other all that well. But the bond of family was taken for granted; we climbed together, intermixing easily.

It was an August day in New Hampshire, and at the base of Mt. Monadnock, the heat, humidity and mosquitoes were discouraging even as we entered the shady forest path. The youngest demanded a ride on his father’s shoulders; I didn’t think he would reach the mountain top.

But before long, he was set down, and all four kids scampered ahead, vying to be first, vying to find the best native blueberry bush to gorge on its fruit. The adults proceeded at different paces, taking pictures, noting the vegetation, conversing. Periodically there were stops as the forest gave way to steeper, rocky terrain for a drink of water and snacks and admonishments to be careful.

Mt. Monadnock is not a difficult climb for kids and able bodied adults (although descending with bad knees is a challenge). The rocks are giant stepping stones, but not hard to maneuver over or around. No special equipment is necessary, and as we ascended, earlier climbers, teenagers, ran and lept down the pathway: oh, to be young again!

The reward of the climb is the mountain top. It’s a relatively flat, ½ acre or so of rock surface with peaks to stand upon to soak in the vista of the green, green lowlands below, the ponds, the stretch to the horizon, which can include a faint glimpse of Boston on a clear day. And there are small planes flying below, white against the landscape.

The summit is windy and chill after the climb, but there are rocks again to shelter beside and eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we’d brought for sustenance. And there’s a bronze plaque that notes the elevation: 3,165 feet. I was thinking about this number as I gazed, feeling very much on top of the world, out into the far distance. I live now in Reno, NV, which has an elevation of 4,505 feet. I was, in reality, some 1,400 feet lower than when in my backyard.

Perhaps this is a lesson in perspective, perhaps in irony. But what I was actually experiencing was the joy of the climb, the camaraderie of joint effort and success, the deliciousness of the moment (and the sandwich). These are the tangible understanding I brought back down the mountain.

And I think that is what is to be learned from a mountain top: how to live when we return. When Moses went, he returned with 10 commandments from God to live our lives. My grandnephews and grandniece that day, returned, I think, with awe at the height they’d achieved and confidence to strive and endure to success. Others may have found a peace that eludes them in the flatland, but a peace to bring home.

My granddaughter is now nine months old. She’s accomplished crawling, and now she has taken to looking up. No longer do the scattering of toys on the floor interest her; she looks up to pull things down (including a chair on her head) and she tries to pull herself up, succeeding, on her knees, in reaching into her brother’s toy bin to rattle the contents and pinching her hand as she descents down. There’s a momentary cry of distress, and then she’s off to other mischief.

When her brother was 18 months old, I watched with curiosity as he climbed a vertical stack of wooden flooring some four feet high, successfully. I probably should have stopped him, but we both wanted to see if he could do it, and he could.

Perhaps that’s another lesson: never be satisfied with the status quo, accept the challenge, strive. Why do we climb mountains? We do because they are there, and we do because they are much more enlarging than molehills. Looking up is our nature and destiny.

This posting is an entry into Robert Hruzek' s "What I learned from a mountaintop..." group writing contest a ( You have until Sunday, June 7, at midnight to enter, and I encourage you to return to Robert's site to read the many fine entries on Tuesday, June 9.


  1. Enjoyed your post, Terro. (And thanks for your comment on mine.)

    I have been up Monadnock a few times. Great mountain!

  2. Hi Paul, and thanks for visiting. I'm not sure my knees will make it up Mt. Mondadnock again, but it's the shiny bits we keep within us that illumine our lives. I'm looking forward to reading more of your new Shiny Bits of Life blog!