Eric Mills, 130 TESS
The mountain near our village rises up out past the edge of expansive sugarcane fields. It is the only mountain in the area. On clear days you can see it sharp and obtrusive, with brown and green patches working their way across its surface. But more often than not, rain, dust or smoke steeps the air and only a faint gray–green mass can be seen towering over the surrounding landscape. On one side about three quarters of the way up there is a bulge that pushes out from the surrounding rock and in this place there is said to be a cave. I heard about it from a man who works at the historical society. Two thousand years ago the cave was a spirit house for the mountain where an ancient tribe of peoples would go to pray. Now it is empty, save for bats and broken relics.
From morning to night the mountain throws its shadow east to west and then west to east like a fisherman casting lines in the dark. Often at night I dream of it, there in the distance mulling over the power lines and palm trees and long dirt roads. It manifests itself in my sleep, massive and omniscient. Phantoms born of firelight spill out the cave, and the wind murmurs old secrets as it passes through trees and vegetation. I wake up to a song made of rooster crows and the low rumble of diesel engines. I get dressed and go to school. And the mountain watches as I ride my bike under the fire of a dawn–broached sky, and it watches when I return, shoulder to the setting sun.
The mountain is always there like a friend or a cup of coffee or god forbid a pack of cigarettes and sometimes when my thoughts shore up against the meaning of what I am and what I do, and the color of distances traveled and the things lost and found saturate my mind in bright light, and the fabric of this world frays and contracts around the fabric of this country frays and contracts around the fabric of this village frays and contracts around the fabric of myself frays and contracts … I look to the mountain. And the mountain seems to say, “I’ve been here, and I’ve been waiting for a very long time.” “When are you going to come?”
But I am afraid to climb the mountain. I’m afraid that its benevolence and mystery, the dreams and the calls whispering from its shadowed jungles, the promises and intentions created in the deep black void of night against which it presses will all inevitably fade, supplanted by the reality that is going, that is seeing, that is knowing. There I will stand, the rice patties, fields of sugarcane and villages a patchwork before my feet, the wind steady passing by and the world rolling slowly toward everything that is yet to be, and I will be permitted these things and only these things. Just me as I am, standing on a giant rock, watching a world that seems both big and small, spinning in its juxtapositions.
Like new lands, like new people, new deeds and ideas and pleasures and pains and even the gods above, it doesn’t really matter which mountain you find yourself under. This is Thailand, this is America, this is now, this is then. This is the you of all time past and the you of each new moment, a reoccurring creature of both cause and effect. And so long as we do not go forth to meet the unknown, so long as we leave our reveries unblemished, the forms that we perceive and the reality that is can remain separate entities, our dreams and waking life cut apart as cleanly as the ocean and sky.
It is the moment we decide to act that everything begins to meld, until our expectations, our beliefs, and our reality are all fused into the horizon of one place and one time. At last, you have come to the top of the mountain. And the hope is that in that moment, at that point of collapse you will not only know what you came for, but what you need to do next. And the fear is that you won’t. You have climbed a big rock only to return none the wiser, and alas, without the dreams that were once cast from such great heights. In the end I suppose that either way, it’s some damn good exercise.
But I haven’t gone yet, though I plan to. I haven’t gone yet to see for myself, so there it is waiting, my mountain. I think it’s been waiting for a very long time.