The mountain

Start at the beginning.

Tacoma — our partially lovely, continuously unfurling city — is right there, between this water and that mountain.

That mountain has gone by several names. Today, let’s call it by an older/counterfactual name (e.g. not after a dead old dude who was fighting for the other side, and didn’t even do a competent job of it; but I digress): let’s call it “the Mountain That Was God”. What’s the difference between the idea of our mountain and the idea of a god? People take both for granted, accepting them as ideas, or things, without much thought. Gods, and our mountain, are part of the world and part of daily experience, but are also impossible, remote, extraordinary.

Speakers of English will encounter a particular conundrum. There’s a glittering word-hoard of King James’ vocabulary that’d be ideal for describing our mountain if it hadn’t been pounded into a filthy stricken rut through overuse and under-appreciation by generations of spiteful, evil maniacs: “awesome”, “terrible”, “holy”, and the like — we’re forced to back off from these words, still ticking and radioactive from exposure to the creaking murderous Christianist mind control system, and say: “Yeah, you know, this mountain is really big, tremendously big, too huge for comfort, reaching way up into the sky (sometimes, when its peaks are covered by clouds, reaching past the sky and right into whatever’s next), and then crushing down past the horizon. It’s heavy, heavy as hell.”

The mountain is too big, and too close. You know where it is even if you can’t see it. Most of the time most of it’s behind the clouds-rain-fog, but when you can see even a little bit of it, ‘zounds!, you know you’ve seen the entire thing. You can feel it. You know where to sit, on which trains, in order to watch it recede as you travel away or to watch it enlarge as you travel back home (an “awesome” experience). You don’t want to be far from it, but you don’t particularly want to get too close. It’s big enough where it stands.

There’s another old word for this mountain-sense: (a) the sense of knowing it’s there, the center of the earth, (b) the sense of truest love (devotion? gratitude?) for the ecology, the people, the earth and the sky and stars that spiral out from it, (c) the sense of knowing that without the very best and the very worst actions of our species (and we humans have been impossibly cruel, unjust, and awful in this town, among others) you wouldn’t be here to watch, or wait for, the mountain, and (d) the hope that you’ll get to see it again, soon; the word for this sense, a word that might yet be recovered, is “faith”.

Back Camera

Watch the skies

When you have a question, go watch the sky. Where the sky is the biggest, most dynamic thing (bigger than the mountain, more mercurial than the saltwater) and when you have a question, look up. No matter how perfect and crisp the day, no matter how grey or blue or orange or black the sky, if you watch long enough, you’ll find that it’s moving along. Even when all appears still, it’s constant motion: the earth, the sky, the saccades of your eye. And your brain, incinerating too much precious energy in tremendous, unceasing, uphill fire-&-motion, cobbling together the thinnest, most fragile veneer of the appearance of a world.

When you have a question, go watch the sky.

Ask your question, but as you can see, there is no answer.

What I saw

On Hood Canal this weekend I saw the perfect thing in a cloudy blue hour’s sky, at the tail end of a deep blue day, before the fireworks started; at the moment when there was just a little light left, as much from the water as from the sky.

When I looked towards the sunset, way out there past the Brothers, which were completely black, along with everything else across the canal: hills, mountains, houses, bridges, forests and the clear-cuts, all uniform black except for the minutest contrast in the snowcaps; twilight on the water and in the fading sky, with a ragged black stripe of the world across the middle —

When I looked towards the sunset I saw the crescent moon, tiny and low, a faint white on the faintest blue-gold twilight and not more than a degree or two higher than the Brothers. Distances compressed along a line of sight: two miles across the canal, another ten or so to the Brothers, two hundred thousand and some to the moon, and somewhere in between an ocean, a planet, the scrambling futility of life on earth. The perfect thing, and then the blue hour ended and I went back to my own life.