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July 24, 2009


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Those paths really do cling to the edge of the mountains. Remembering that road still makes me shake. Jeff has good judgment: the right companions make all the difference.


and always: always

exploring of how we wander our life

Vistas at altitude remind of the breadth of all: the soul, of possibilities of choices, the physically perilous. Inspiration that comes from enormous 'scapes' and heights often worry because they show all that was missed, but fires the soul with the tangible grandeur of what can be seen. The ascent that frightens offers up two alternatives: to continue on with the eyes one metre ahead and the mind two metres in front shutting that ever clever brain down completely, the other alternative is to simply turn back and realize that the fear is affecting the form and the limbs. The mind cannot unlock fear in the mountains, it cannot deconstruct it once it has arrived. Leave the scene one way or another. Once, however, one has 'peaked' at a summit...this is a taste and sensation that will run roughshod over the next fearful encounter and urge the memory and body upwards and onwards. Sight lines which ripple with blowing white, thin air which rips into the lungs and winds that decimate any thoughts of real power resting elsewhere ultimately provide an elixir that punishes with pleasure. The imagination drawn up in three dimensions take a sword to anything not crucial - such is the mountain - human contract.

A friend-- who lives below sea level-- tells me he has never really seen the mountains. He tells me that he was surprised that I would imagine those woods as being on the mountainside.

In my mind, when I imagine Dante, I imagine the poet standing in a wood at the base of a mountain. And through the trees he can just make out the snowy summit of Mount Delectable. Not unlike the forested area at the base of Mount Fuji.

However, when I imagine-- instead of Dante-- myself in the poem, I am no longer in the wood, but rather I am on a slippery mountain path clinging to the side of the Himalaya-- just past Zoji La on the road to Leh.

My friend who says he doesn't know mountains also tells me a bit about how he imagines hell. Hell. For whatever reason, my mind always stops prior to that-- petrified at the dead-end on the mountain slope; petrified, instead of going forwatd or turning back, I go lie by the pool and imagine paradise....

By the way, friend and fellow citizen of the empire, I just remembered that our mutual Conrad recommended the Everyman Library Edition of the Divine Comedy, in part because they have the Botticelli drawings that I love so much. So, with that, I will pick up a copy to bring back. Believe it or not I am still debating the book of illustrations from the exhibition of the drawings that was put on in London several years back.

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.”

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Prince Pirooz in Kyoto just emailed to remind me of our mutual friend Bob Brady's beautiful article, "Mountains of the Mind"-- originally printed in one of my favorite ever issues of Kyoto Journal:


Everyone knows that the mind becomes extremely mountainous only a few steps in from the coast. The creatures that reside in this uncharted area on our mental maps are seldom seen by others, yet are common to us all; still, they can be a hazard to the solitary explorer who is not prepared to confront the unbelievable in his hinterland as he wends his way into the nether regions, from which few return unchanged.

Hermits, poets and other explorers of these fastnesses are well acquainted with the species of the inward realms, and are even known on occasion to have them eating out of their hands. But these nether fauna can never be completely tamed; and what would the outer reaches be, without their inner complement of native wildlife?

Between ourselves, however, we can only use metaphoric nomenclature to speak of these denizens we harbor in common, the names we call them imparting no description of their morphology, coloring or way of life. These are not crude and dispensable beings, but highly developed and specialized life forms essential to our spiritual ecology (psychological and religious taxonomy notwithstanding).

And there are many more such beings that have no names; yet we all know very well in ourselves of at least the presence of these creatures, who have at times poked their heads out of the thick undergrowth that adorns the verge of each of us; they are all part of the vastness of the experience when, in the world outside, we see a mountain and its wilds, that call to us as like to like; to climb such a peak and view the world from its summit is to do so as well within ourselves, to view at one remove the panoramas that we are.

And in so ascending we metaphorically surmount the wilderness within, survive vicarious passage to the summits of ourselves, to a clearer light, a cleaner wind. And we take this knowledge with us on our return to the narrow lowlands where we spend our daily lives as habitants of seeming mountainous islands, surrounded by seas of intercourse teeming with creatures that thrive in the depths of the apparent distance between us, those sometimes stormy, sometimes tranquil seas of relation that are as much illusion as the real world; for as each mountain is aware, at the foundation we are all connected.

[From the archives, July 2003.
First published in Kyoto Journal
The Sacred Mountains of Asia issue, 1993;
issue republished as a book of the same title
by Shambala Press, 1995, ed. John Einarsen.]

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