Monday, January 16, 2012

The Mountain

The mountain told the crow he was lonely.

"If you would use your wings to fly away, even if only for a short time, you would surely not feel so lonely," the crow said.

"But I don't have wings," the mountain said. "I cannot fly away. And even if I could fly away, I could not do so. Where I am is what I am."

"Nonsense," the crow said, and lifted off and soared away across the valley.

The mountain was not a majestic specimen. It was, in fact, a humble mountain, covered with trees almost all the way to its highest point and surrounded by other mountains from which it was virtually indistinguishable. There was a good deal of mountain competition for a hundred miles in every direction. To the north of the lonely, humble mountain there was a range of truly majestic mountains, rock-faced and snow-capped, that were said to be visible from the smaller mountains on all sides.

The lonely mountain could not see these majestic mountains. He was severely myopic and knew of the majestic mountains only from descriptions he had heard from the birds, and from the occasional comments of admiration he heard from the rare hikers who climbed through the trees --'climbed' was perhaps not wholly accurate; people could walk at a leisurely pace to the top of the lonely, humble mountain-- to stand or sit for a moment at the small cluster of rocks that constituted its modest summit. No one who ever came to the lonely, humble mountain ever addressed a word to him. No one had ever asked his permission to cut down his trees, to build fires from his wood, or to fish in his brooks. For hundreds of years he had been conversant with no one but the occasional bird. Some of them, from their perspective high up in the sky, could at least see that he was there, distinct; could see that though he was covered with trees and bushes and flowers and rocks, and that though there were springs and brooks and all manner of animals living on him, he was the mountain, the village in which all these other things resided.

After the mountain had made his confession to the crow other birds began to visit and hector him with the same advice: "Fly away! Fly away!"

The crow must have gossiped that the mountain was lonely. The crow was loud, and loose lipped, and the mountain knew that he never should have confided in him. All that summer the birds came flitting and swooping and soaring in from the north, south, east, and west. "Tsk-tsk, lonely," they would cry. "Tsk-tsk, lonely. Fly away! Fly away!"

Most of the birds the mountain had ever known were foolish. Only the owls were wise, and they seldom deigned to talk to him. He had lived longer than all the foolish birds combined, and he had heard them coming and going for hundreds of years. Of course they were not lonely. They were not anchored to the earth and nearly blind. They built nests and had children and traveled great distances and visited other mountains and forests and lands. The mountain had heard their stories, and once upon a time they had thrilled him.

One day near the end of the summer, on an afternoon when the mountain could once again sense the changing of the seasons and could feel the planet churning beneath him, a hawk paid him a visit.

"I hear you are lonely," the hawk said.

"It is true, yes," the mountain said. "I am lonely. It is lonely to be an old mountain."

"Why do you not fly away?" the hawk asked.

The mountain sighed. "Because I do not have wings," he said. "It would be impossible for me to fly away. And where I am is what I am."

The hawk seemed to consider this for a moment.

"But of course you have wings," he said. "I have seen them. I have been snatching mice from the feathers of your wings for years. And what you are you will be wherever you go."

"Nonsense," the mountain said. "I am a mountain, and if I were to leave I would cease to be a mountain."

"Your problem, old Mr. Mountain," the hawk said, "is that you are stubborn and blind. It is no wonder you are lonely." And with that the hawk hurled itself into the air and was carried away on the wind.

Autumn crept over the mountain and darkness came early and the nights grew longer and colder. Soon the snow would begin to fall and the mountain would be silent and more alone than ever. Winters were hard on the old mountain. They nibbled away at him year by year, and when spring once again came around there would be new cracks and less of him than there had been the year before.

Increasingly, when the first snow came the old mountain would close his eyes and sleep fitfully until he heard the first tentative arrival of the birds and the running of the brooks carrying away the last of the melting snow. One evening in late autumn he was already dreaming of that day when he was startled awake by the sound of migrating geese, crossing the sky above him in great numbers.

As he listened to their exuberant, long familiar traveling songs, the old mountain felt something moving within him, a rustle that built rapidly to a roar --the crashing of trees and rocks, thunderous, terrifying, a noise that gradually subsided and was replaced by what sounded like nothing so much as a huge, rhythmic heart beating furiously and almost weightlessly within him. And then the startled old mountain suddenly felt himself rising in a swirling blizzard of dirt and pebbles and dead leaves.

With dreaming wonder, the mountain watched the earth gradually recede as he climbed higher and higher into the clear night sky, alternately gliding and gyring, carried up and away --or so it did indeed seem-- by a giant pair of dusty wings. And when he cast one last look backwards and downwards he saw that the mountain that had been for so many years home to his lonely heart was still there, reposed in the moonlight and waiting for the arrival of another long winter.


  1. Stunningly beautiful. Thank you.

  2. what sounded like nothing so much as a huge, rhythmic heart beating furiously and almost weightlessly within him.