There’s a certain kind of tiredness that can leave you mentally depleted while at the same time the flesh is practically squirming on your bones, restless. That’s mountain-climbing time. Pick a steep one, and within minutes your flesh will settle into your stride. Your thoughts will pop like bubbles, the air will rush into your skin, and your breath will become deep, strong, and then, finally, imperceptible.
Pitch a tent with your head pointed north, and in the late afternoon lie down inside it to watch the ants and spiders explore the strange mesh that suddenly blossomed in their woods. The September leaves will shimmer down the light, and joyful winds will gust high overhead; the remnants of a hurricane that displaced tens of thousands from their homes just days before. Thirteen hundred miles away, you chose this: to sleep for a night on a mountain with a small bag of things to keep yourself alive until tomorrow. How do you measure the size and the shape of this privilege?
Eat your dinner out of a plastic bag at the edge of a cliff, keeping an eye out for timber rattlers. See only a skink with its skin torn at the shoulder, perhaps the survivor of an avian attack that’s lived to see another day.
Scramble up to an outcropping that looks to the west, and sit for every minute of an hour waiting for the first splotch of orange molasses to drip down behind the clouds.
Make a small fire and watch till the last embers glitter; spit water at it until they go up in a hiss. Zip yourself up in your tent and breathe the woodsmoke in your hair as your body releases into the ground. Home.
The birds will wake you at the first rays of sunlight, so that you can hurry from your tent to find an easterly view. Then oatmeal, and fresh socks, and a gathering of the things that you needed to stay alive (so much more than you really needed, of course); and then a leisurely walk back down the mountain, through gullies and runs, over ridges and tree roots. It could be the woods, but perhaps sometimes it is the ocean floor. It’s always both, anyway.
Break a bone here and this mountain, or one of its minion rocks, will leave a tiny mark on your skeleton for the rest of your days. And you with your footsteps among legions of footsteps dating back thousands of years, all the way to the mound-building cultures that lived in these woods long before this was a “state” or a “country”: you are leaving your mark, too. You are wearing this mountain down, and after it gave you a home for the night, no less. How do you measure the size and the shape of this gift? How will you ever repay it?