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Looking Back

M.R. Lyman
 

© Copyright 2009 by M. R. Lyman

Photo of a raven flying above mountains.

 Aye, there's a bit of fiction even in the most ardent truth. I prefer to think of it as the favor, that little part of the story that allows the fsh to get bigger, the tale to be taller, and the adventure to be so much more. Perhaps this is such a tale, one as much drawn in my memory as from it. Oh it's true mind you, as much so as any series of events can be related to someone who wasn't there. Just keep in mind, that my truth is simply that.

 It was the smell at first, maybe you know the one, that scent of old warm stone, watered, topped with dust, then slowly left to cure. I think that was the start of it, though at the time I had other things on my mind. The fngers of my left hand ached, pressed hard against the thin sill of grit layered rock, not so much holding my weight as keeping my precarious balance against the cliff face.

 The task of bearing me fell to the right leg, foot, and hand, which, though firmly planted, were beginning to tire as my left foot's search for purchase was becoming too long winded. The bluegreen and myrtle tops of red spruce and mountain pines and Fraser firs watched with black oak and hickory, maple and birch, even the rare chestnut. Certainly they wondered how silly man must be to think the purchase of a sheer cliff greater than that of firm soil and gently rolling hills. Yet here I was, seeking my next step, under an azure sky sailed by only the rare billowy cloud.

 I sighed gratefully when my foot at last grazed a bit of protruding stone near enough to lever to the ensuing handhold. I planted and pushed propelling myself, right arm extended towards the protuberance reading the shadows and cracks above me to learn my next step. Grasping tightly, left cheek pressed close against the warm, weathered, cliff, left hand where my right had been, left foot following right foot, which was firm upon a rocky jut seen only just as I moved, I glanced askance toward my goal.

 A boulder, some part deemed unnecessary by the mountain, or perhaps longing for the shade and company of the trees below, had long ago loosed itself dropping and landing to where I could not see. Thankfully this lump of rock was of courteous mind, understanding that while it had grown tired of its perch, others may fnd it inviting and so it took care to leave behind a wonderful seat cleft firm and full towards the east. It was this seat so generously abandoned which I so dearly wished to reach heedless of the divide.

 Again, here I think, looking back is where things started to turn. That curing stone mingled on a crisp, cool, draft of warming greenery. The hardness of the rock itself not simply firm but solid blended with the softness of the breeze and the open air through which it traveled. But then, I was more concerned with the open air between myself and where I wished to be.

I pressed my right foot down, feeling a disheartening shift in the tiny outcropping and its layer of silt and so turned my gaze upward and out. My prize was to my right, slightly above and no more than an arm-span from me; if my foothold wouldn't allow a push I would simply fnd a handhold to pull myself near enough the edge to gain purchase. I searched. Grit and gravel dust and silt I found in abundance bits of which be-speckled me, stinging my face and dusting my hair. Though the air was still cool I began to warm uncomfortably, my left foot seemed wedged too tightly, the rock beneath the fngers of my left hand too rough for such little tenure, if they bled it could cost me my grip. Though fush against the mountain I began to feel unsteady; feeting thoughts crisscrossed my mind, “how far was the foothold I used to get here”, “nowhere to go”, “can't quite reach”, “there's no way down”. I felt the breath of panic begin to rise. Sweat nearing the skin. Heart pushing against my chest in turn pushing away from the wall.

 I stopped.

 My heart isn't pushing me from the wall, I thought. My hands are dry, a deep breath - my breathing is steady. My left foot is not wedged, see, I can move it. My fngers are not bleeding, they're as dry as my hands. Time crawled, as it is wont to do when we would give all we have for it to gallop, but slowly panic became tension and tension control. My right foot I thought, it shifted... did it? Pressing again I felt the same shift of stone and sinking feeling, but no, it was different. I glanced down as best I could, gravel littered my little ledge and moved as I did. Carefully I scraped my toes across then back, clearing what bits of loose debris I could and tested again. Solid. A firm leap from my right foot would easily bring the seat within reach. Coiling as much weight as I dared upon the outcrop, I shoved hard, at the same instant thinking “a slipped stone will steal too much momentum, I'll fall short!” just as my hands clasped the rim of the chair.

 Exhausted more from adrenaline than fatigue, I dragged myself up, feet scrabbling for extra grip to aid my ascent. I collapsed into my hard-won chair, panting, grinning, and trembling, and admired the beauty around me. The tall trees forming a great sea of mottled greens, the clear blue sky, the cool air and the warmth of the sunlight. It was quite something to behold but soon my thoughts turned to the remainder of the cliff above me, the summit, a frightful distance from where I sat.

 I stood, fnding my frst handhold just above the cleft in the stone when a high pitched caw startled me. I turned my head, still gripping the rock to see a black raven riding the thermals above the trees some distance away. As I returned to the cliff searching for footing to boost myself up its caw rang out and again I looked. This time it swooped and turned nearing the cliff before dropping near the tree tops below. It was larger than I had thought, much larger and lustrous, a coal black with rare shades of midnight blue. With my mind searching the cliff, I almost turned away when with a squawk it landed, gripping with its talons not more than two mans distance below me.

 I don't know why exactly, perchance my subconscious reminded me of the rocks essence, or the touch of the breeze, or the verdant forest below, but I let go of the stone and turned to face the bird, I on my perch and he on his. Its feathers glistened in the light absorbing it but somehow glittering with a radiance of their own. Its mirrored black eyes stared at me as I reclaimed my seat then gazed out across the expanse. Suddenly, with a rustle of inky feathers more felt than heard it took fight and the world beneath its wings emerged so alive and captivating it was all I could do not to close my eyes.

 It flew here and there, gliding for seemingly no purpose save to revel in the fertile scene we both shared. I watched as it rolled from left to right, dipping as if to point out one tree then another and another, then rising to draw my attention to the clouds or distant mountains of which it deemed I should be made aware. It soared to show me the winds and sailed wide so I could see the light. It dived to reveal an ochre rock beneath a sun bleached tree and climbed to expose an overhang replete with mountain laurel. It did this again and again, showing me what was, what had been, and what would be. I watched and listened taking in all I could, watching time pass then return, slowly realizing that something was different, and as that thought firmed and grew the raven was gone. My sleek-feathered guide had taken wing to a higher perch perhaps or alighted to a hidden branch, leaving me to ponder all it had shown me.

 And so I sat, thinking, gazing out without looking.

 Yet deep down I understood, nothing had changed. The firs and oaks, maples and birch, spruces, and hickories, they had not changed. Their green was as it had been from the start. The brilliance of the light, it did not shine more here, nor less there. It had not changed, it had always been this way. The cliff, the sun, the sky, none of it shifted or moved, it was the same as before. But then there it was, so much more real, as though the gates had opened pouring color into shades of grey. Contrasts between hues creating a scene more “there” than was possible. The scent of the stone, full and deep, had its own color. The forest's redolent growth, alive and rich had its own tactility. The air had its own color and taste, as if the lush blues traveled with the cool breeze and left a thickening cleanness in its wake. The full silvered clouds seemed to whisper as they sailed distant from, yet connected to, the warm sun, talking amongst themselves for the world to hear. No, nothing had changed. Everything looked so different but I felt as though, just perhaps I had seen it before, that if I thought hard enough maybe I would recall where or when or how. Was it some summer day from my youth, some cold winter's night, a child's dream? But then I realized it wasn't important. I had eyes, I knew how to look, but just now, upon this hill, looking out across the world that was always there, I had been reminded how to see. So there you have it. My tale, true to me, perhaps to you, and just possibly to a certain raven nested high on a cliff, gliding over a green forest sea. You know, some journeys take you far away, some take you within yourself, and some, rare and lost to many, take you outside yourself, past that point where we all say “this is who I am” and instead say “this is who I was” and even, just maybe, “this is who I want to be.”

 When not scaling mountains or being distracted by noisome birds Mr. Lyman often finds himself immersed in reading, writing, traveling, cooking, or the relating of such to those too polite to tell him to shove off. He is well versed in Philosophy and Psychology with a smattering of Ancient Mediterranean and Asian History thrown in for color, and struggling mightily to learn Japanese. Mr. Lyman currently lives in a quiet suburb with his fiancee and cat, though the former frequently threatens to rectify the situation.
 
 

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