Reflection 147: Steep Climb

September 26, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Both hard workers, Carole and I allow ourselves only one four-day vacation a year—when Maine summer glides into fall. These days we always seek the same destination, a small island on the coast. This year I rowed us over at high tide on a day with light winds. We unloaded our gear where we could get onto the rocks, then I moored the boat in a small, sheltered cove. Trouble was, the tide was so high, I couldn’t get out of the cove by walking along the shore past cliffs and branches reaching over the water. The only route was up the steep wooded bank at the back of the cove. So up I went on all fours, grabbing a limb here, bracing my knee there, willing my body to rise vertically through a tangle of sharp branches lusting after my flesh. Calculating each move, watching for sticks aimed at my eyes, I fitted myself to the terrain as if it had grown up around me. Though I didn’t belong there, I made as if these were my native haunts. The logic of the place sank in, and by the time I got to the top of the bank, I was an old hand. Four nights later, I had this dream:

I am at a gathering of college alumni. I recognize a lot of people, but don’t really fit in that scene. Everyone seems stuck in his ways. Feeling like a stranger, I excuse myself and head down a steep flight of stairs, then walk along a gravel road, which rises steeply ahead, like the great wave in Hokusai’s view of Fuji. It is night. The pitch becomes vertical. I have no choice but to scramble among the vegetation on the side of the road, groping with my hands, grabbing stalks, bracing my feet, forcing myself upward. At the top of the rise, I am in the laboratory of a distinguished scientist, surrounded by elaborate research apparatus. He is at the end of his tether; his training has got him this far, but he can’t move ahead. I tell him he has to die to his discipline and accomplishments if he wants to get beyond them. I demonstrate what I mean by jumping into the well of a deep pit. I find myself sprawled at the bottom, among a group of my peers—those who think as I do. We lie there trading new thoughts among ourselves, wounded but alive, planning next moves.

Hokusai View of Fuji


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