How To Climb A Mountain was published in Oyster Magazine's Freedom Issue, Spring 2015..
Climb a mountain sometime. Make it a holy mountain, one that's lush and full of color and life, that explodes into great black ravines and flowered waterfalls and crystal valleys when you reach the top. An old mountain, oldest in the world. Your mountain should show you time and science and history. It should be unique, match up only with another partner mountain on a big dark continent a whole ocean away. Pangea. The split. The life of dinosaurs and the dawn of man. You should see it all there, spreading out before you. Big yellow flowers with thick stalks and black frogs so primitive they can only crawl, not hop.
Take six days with your mountain. Start the first one in the early afternoon, hike through the foothills of the great plains that your mountain emerges from. Watch it loom in front of you, watch the sun set beside it and and the stars come out and the frogs start to sing and the fireflies floating around you. Seas of fireflies in the blackness. Hundreds of electric green twinkles, as far as you can see. Feel like a child again, early June in the field behind your house. Think of your mother and what she would say. You'd never imagined so many in one place. And then the stars. The stars.
The next day will be uphill only, and the trail will be rough. Step around boulders, but step on a few. Roll your ankles. A couple times for good measure. Cross two rivers, swarming with clouds of blood-thirsty bugs that cover your arms and legs like small black freckles. Pass through forests of ferns, growing thick as a wool sweater and as high as your shoulders. Make sure to put on sunscreen, but drop acid at lunchtime and forget to reapply. Burn the tips of your ears so badly that the skin turns gooey and your hair gets stuck in it. It will rain on you a couple times, but don't bother putting on your rain jacket. You are toasty from the sun, which will return again soon. You can see it sweeping across the plains when you turn to see how far you've come. That night you will sleep at the base of your mountain. You will sit for hours looking up at it, watching the clouds roll over you, then be sucked back to the sky. A rhythmic pulsing, you feel the earth breathe you in and out. You see time in loops and curls, you understand your role in the universe. You feel the energies converging all around you.
The third day is your climb. You are on your mountain now, and you can sense the energy has shifted. It is more scattered now, raw and intense and frenetic and suffocating. The jungle surrounds you, eating you alive, drowning out everything else with it's aggressive growth and obscene fertility. Your path is up, up, straight vertical, up muddy walls with dugouts for feet, up crumbling rocks and laced root ladders. You are passing under waterfalls, you are checking your footing. You are glancing to the left and watching stones tumble down cliffs. You imagine yourself flying through the air, crashing down to the jungle floor, back into the womb of the world. When you get to the top you feel strange. You will sit down with the natives you climbed with, they will paint their faces with mud and give you ants covered in spicy sauce to eat. They are protecting you from the mountain spirits. Eat enough and they won't see you, you can walk free. The clouds are breathing around you.
When you descend two days later it will be much harder than you expected. Your whole body is sore from the climb, and from falling during your slippery, rain soaked explorations on the top. Every muscle is screaming at you, and the crouching and squatting and grappling required to traverse your vertical plunge is done slowly and clumsily. When you finally reach the base, your knees are creaking and vibrating, inflamed at all angles. Your guide, Salvador, will pick up a stinging ant between two fingers and hold it's butt against your tendons. It pinches and burns, both sides, both legs, and the pain retreats, replaced by a different kind of pain, venom numbing your knees, your brain. But your day is only half over. You are doing two legs of the journey at once, and so down you go, back through the ferns and the boulders and the rifts in the iron-red earth. You have become a machine. The pain and fatigue are so real that they become unreal. You are at once completely removed from your body and yet more in tune with it's mechanics than ever. You hover over yourself, see your feet and ankles and hands swelling up with heavy blood, watch the flexing fists, half-hearted attempts to get things flowing. You are finally untethered to yourself, truly free, your brain has been cleared, you are the cleanest and purest you have ever been. A washed soul. Thoughtless being. When you cross your final river that evening it is the end of your day's journey. You are transparent, cleansed. You are a base to be built upon. You drop your pack, take off all your clothes, and plunge completely into the icy river. Your muscles exhale. You cry. Joy, exhaustion. The truest ecstasy.