The mountains I cursed. The rain I out-poured prayers against. Some footsteps I used to walk. And some I just tried to crush the earth. As if I could. Mind hard as fossilized wood, and feet as white as chalk. I had this trick, for climbs, long ones, three, four hours maybe more, every step a foot higher than the last, don’t look up. Don’t glance toward the top. I would stare straight forward through the curved bill of my cap like a horse head cradled by blinders. Not until the walking levels. Or until the sunlight grows an arch around the rim of treeline, and there are no other ridges above your head, and you find yourself in some sharp bald spot you didn’t believe existed until then. People think you’re having such a hard time when you pass them. People think all kinds of things for the few seconds until you’re out of sight and gone.
So many of them. So much hey how are you, how’s it going, you doing all right, where’d you come from, where are you going, how is the water up ahead. All the way to New York? Well good luck, better get going, hurry up. Where are you from? Almost a thousand miles from home. No, that can’t be right, Pennsylvania can’t be two hundred miles, well, it is a three hour drive. That adds up.
That sunset just before Three Ridges. Wind came in that night and swept it out and I suspect no one will never see that sunset again. Rifle shots at seven AM. Strangers asking if I’m afraid of hunters. Wonder why I’m not wearing their favorite color. Shenandoah was like a burgundy and gold encrusted crown on the regal head of northern Virginia. And Maryland wishes it was bread so bad. But someone has to be inside the sandwich. There have to be some things in between. Neither here nor there. And such places tend to build monuments to history, to heroes who died there but did not live there, or lived there, but died somewhere else. I remember climbing the wide gravel path cut into the side of Mount Vernon. Rust red signs with mildewed once white lettering, walking us through President George Washington’s American life. A lady with two huge skinny as a rail Greyhound looking sharp-headed dogs who had no intention of containing themselves around mine. Coolly bouncing black fur barely glancing their frantic direction. I remember her apology. Her promise. Her dogs are not really like this. The things we swear to strangers.
On top of The Pulpit. Overlooking dead Pennsylvania hillsides. There was rusted blood red and lemony gold and hunter green evergreens going into winter bold. Black birds with flat wings glide at the top right corner of the scene while a couple who badly want to talk to me console their dog who is afraid of heights, and is white as a ghost.
We walked twenty four miles that day. Cursed a few mountains along the way, and honest to God, and anyone else who would listen, I wanted to claim that pulpit. That jagged path like a broken staircase still had a little skin from my shin. I earned it. And I always carry a sermon.
I just want to be a flash of color deep down in a valley. A streak of orange you didn’t expect to see looming there so late into autumn. My voice, hundreds of feet in the air feathers ruffled against thermals.
Preaching to an audience who already knows the war between blessings and curses
is coming to a close. We all exist now in a state of perpetual both. In fact, the mountains I recall the best, are the ones I cursed the most.