The bells chimed early this morning at my alma mater, signalling a day off–a day to enjoy nature, celebrate fall, take a break from papers, work, stress and the daily grind. The echo of the ringing bells reaches across distances, reverberating through the internet and social media.
“Today is Mountain Day!” The bells chime loudly, beckoning memories of times past as well as instigating a yearning inside those who cannot take a break.
The bells echo back into time. A journey of just a minute, but many, many years. Vivid images of a young woman, unsure in so many ways, flit through the filmstrip in my mind.
She spent one Mountain Day with people–some might call them friends, others might see them as the siren call to this young woman who never quite belonged. The fantasy friends who she wanted strove to be like but never quite could.
They didn’t drive to the mountains, but chose to hike and picnic in the hills near campus. They climbed a hill that whispered with the messages of tall grasses about the fall colors deepening all around. They twirled, and laughed, and sang at the top of their lungs, “The hills are alive, with the sound of music!” Until the awkward young woman twirled one too many times, stepped into a hidden hole, and fell down spraining her ankle.
Already feeling embarrassed that she was always the slowest hiker, the slowest climber, the heaviest person, the most inept athlete–now she felt the added humiliation of an injury that could have been avoided. She needed help to get home. She felt ashamed. She always felt like she couldn’t do anything right.
Today, on my personal mountain, I look back on that young woman and wonder if she’s really changed. Did she find a new path to appreciate Mountain Day? Has she grown in strength and become less self-conscious and more confident?
The answer is both simple and complex.
Today I climbed to the high point of my favorite botanical gardens. I took my own personal mountain day.
I revel in my ability to move at my own pace; to climb easily to a point that just a few years ago had me huffing and puffing for breath. I relish the sounds of nature surrounding me–the call of unseen birds and insects trilling their personal messages. The crunch of my feet on gravel paths. The crackle of acorns falling through branches of trees, threatening to crash down on my head. The scurrying of chipmunks as I move into their territory and they race to get out of my path.
I sit on a bench at the high point. People converse nearby. The sounds of traffic travel over the water of the reservoir in the distance. A plane hums overhead. A gentle breeze shifts through the trees, creating a dancing tapestry of shadows on the ground and on my notebook. The breeze murmurs secrets I yearn to understand.
My mind wanders from the joy of fluffy clouds, to concerns about my choices in life, to worries about the future, to celebrations that I have the flexibility to gift myself with this time . . . this day . . . this moment. I remember the me of my past and feel sad for that young woman. I think about the me of my present who, in some ways, has never felt more confident, more powerful, more beautiful.
And yet . . .
Everywhere I walk I run into women taking together, sharing stories and concerns, sharing intimacies with one another in the safe haven of a glorious fall day. And I feel alone.
So has that young woman changed? Do the mountain day bells call to a different person then the one who tripped years ago? In many ways she had, but she still often wonders where she belongs.
Perhaps she can find herself again in the mountains.