I climbed a mountain the other day. Well, not all the way to the top. But I went on a wonderful mountain hike, ascending more than 1500 feet, through lush meadows, past tumbling streams full of spring run-off, and tons of wildflowers in hues of purple, yellow, red, pink, white and blue. My neighbor, who has a cabin near Donner Pass in the Sierras, invited us at short notice to join her for a quick getaway. We arrived at noon and spent a leisurely afternoon pottering around near the cabin, but by the next morning I was ready to take off for a hike. Something you should know about me is that hiking in the mountains is just about my favorite thing in the whole world. Huffing and puffing my way up a mountain is how I find true joy, rejuvenate my spirit, and I always feel better about myself, about life, about just about anything.
And huff and puff I sure did. Maybe because I was recovering from a lingering summer cold, or because we had come up from sea level only the day before, or maybe I’m just aging in ways I hate to acknowledge, but for whatever reason, I struggled to catch my breath at 8000 feet, which is unusual for me. We lost the trail a couple of times, when patches of snow and fallen trees obscured the path, and after we detoured around we got confused in the woods, and wandered off track. We were not in any danger, the weather was clear, and Annie was familiar with the terrain, so she knew the general direction of the route. But we ended up scrambling up a steep cliff to get to the outcrop of rocks at the overlook, our intended destination. But as Annie bounded ahead, I had to pause every few feet to steady my heartrate, catch my breath, or sit on a rock to ease the dizziness. I couldn’t tell exactly where we were headed, but I knew we had to go up. So, I plodded on as best I could, up and up, one step at a time.
I made it to the top, and it was glorious. Rock formations dotted the overlook down to an isolated mountain lake. I perched on a ledge next to a cluster of bright yellow flowers sprouting improbably from the dry dirt, munching my egg sandwich and admiring the wide panoramas There was smoke to the south from the fire near Yosemite, but luckily that did not directly affect us. The surrounding peaks were still covered with snow, after the abundant precipitation we thankfully received this year, after years of drought. And, most wondrous of all, dozens of Monarch butterflies fluttered around, dancing in the sunlight.
And I thought, not for the first time, how much climbing a mountain is a metaphor for writing. You plod ahead, not always able to see where the trail is taking you, sometimes getting to a point that turns out to be a ‘false summit’, getting side-tracked by detours and distractions, finding it perhaps much harder than you imagined, but you keep at it, putting one word down next to another, revising it of course again and again, retracing your steps sometimes to get back on the path—but then it magically comes together! And it’s glorious.
I try to remember this as I’m back at sea level, plodding away at Novel Number 2. One step in front of the other, one page at a time.