I woke up shortly before midnight to the mountains calling. I slipped on my boots and jacket, and, on second thought, my sidearm, and then out the camper door with my dog.
I thought I’d go a little way out, look at the sky, and return. It had been raining earlier and there were no stars to lie under as I had said I would do. Leaves yielded gently under my feet.
Partway up the trail, on the side of the ridge, piles of detritus where the rain had washed branches and leaves to catch on half-buried boulders. Shadows leapt in the flashlight’s beam.
I switched it off and listened. The silence of nighttime woods after a rain. Cloud-dark sky.
I continued. I wondered for a moment whether I was nuts enough to go all the way to the top in the midnight dark. Then I knew that I was and that, in fact, I intended to. There was something for me to do up there.
The route to the top is, as the crow flies, slightly less than half a mile. Due to the ambling steepness of the trail and the fact that I am not a crow, to the top and back is a nearly three-mile hike. I had been re-reading The Odyssey at bedtime, in his honor, and the journey seemed appropriate.
He taught us to face our fears boldly in search of Truth. I thought nothing of the most likely catastrophe until much later: That my flashlight batteries would die and leave me in near-pitch darkness at the top of a steep ridge. It was other, less rational, fears that I stepped through: Twigs breaking to the left (bear?), rotten log under my foot (snake?), leaping shadows of the night (the long fingers of dark fae grasping after my soul, obviously).
My beam alighted on one of the thousands of quartz chunks that litter the trail, and I knew that it was for me to carry. I picked it up. Another. They went in my pocket. A third was too large for the pocket, and heavy. A weight, because my climb through the dark was otherwise too easy.
I switched off my light, thinking to make the journey yet more challenging. One step, two, three, each one taken in terror and blindness and on ten, a voice spoke to me, in my head. His? Maybe. It was wry, amused, yet gentle with love. “That’s really not necessary. Besides, you’ll miss the show.” I took ten more steps, and switched on the light.
Mountain laurels, mounting on each other in spectacular full-bloom display, appeared suddenly in the torch beam.
I smiled and trod onward.
I reached Sybil Summit unexpectedly, the night making familiar paths unfamiliar. I sought the pink ladyslipper that had bloomed there the last time, the one my aunt sent for me. It was still there, still in bloom. I laid the large crystal beside it in the leaves. My beam next fell on a gnarled long-dead tree trunk with a hollow at its base, and I knew that the other two crystals belonged there. For my grandparents.
I sat. The sky was dark overhead, but the tops of the surrounding mountains were alight with the starlike sparkle of individual mountaintop homes, and the ambient glow of distant urban areas. The ground did not shift under me. My grandparents nor my aunt spoke to me. And I knew that I was not done. This was not what I had come for.
I stood again and walked on. The highest point of our property runs along the back side, along a high ridge that borders the national forest beyond. Sybil Summit is the first point of this back ridge on one side, and a trail runs from it to the other corner, which is marked by a large wind-swept clearing where the children build fairy houses in the dirt.
It was there that I was bound, where I had a job to do.
In the day, the trail is not easy, thanks to the abundance of blackberry brambles that grow across the path. At night, starless and moonless, it is like the rocks of Phaeacia. No. Not so dangerous, nor I so cold and heart-weary as Odysseus. I did get a scratch on my arm, though.
What can I say about the rest? The task was not so difficult as routing a hall full of suitors intent on devouring my kine and bedding my wife. It was only a remembrance.
The story goes like this.
Setting: A classroom.
Characters: A roomful of students. The professor.
As told by: Kyle Crew
‘What is Romeo and Juliet about?’
A hand, who apparently knew everything there was to know, shot up. ‘Love.’
‘What is Hamlet about?’
The hand withered to silence. The hand had read Hamlet at a young age, (and was very proud of that!). But what was it about? Come on.
‘Love,’ he said. ‘They’re all about Love.’
My task was merely to tell his story, the piece of it that I know, to write it in stone as it is already written in my heart. To write it as the wind howled and the trees creaked against one another in the night. One stone at a time, I wrote it.
And when I was done, I turned to the starless sky and wept aloud, wailing my barbaric yawp into the silence and the cold and the darkness, and then I sat and then
The stars came out.
Two of them, directly in front of me, side by side like a pair of eyes watching me. Gradually, several more below them, stretching across below the eyes, a familiar half-smile.
And then I walked home and slept, straight through to morning, my first real sleep since I heard the news. Before I fell quite unconscious, though, there beside the stream drowsing, I remembered to tell him, because his daughter had asked me to: “Hey, Clarissa loves you.”
Came the wry reply, “I know.”