Thursday, October 15, 2015

Descending the mountain.

Last weekend I visited my brother and his family for Thanksgiving. Before dinner, my brother mentioned going to a local provincial park and getting some air. They run their ski-lifts during the fall, carting tourists up the mountain to enjoy the view and the fall colours.

We headed there a little after noon, my mother, my brother, sister-in-law, and the two kids. It was a slow, awkward ride up, the sun glaring directly into the faces of those being pulled up the mountain. Every once in a while someone would drop a backpack and the ride would slow down, hold a few minutes and then sputter back to life.

After twenty minutes or so we were at the top of the mountain. The views were indeed beautiful. There was a light fog in the distance, so we couldn't see the city. We could make out nearby towns. We could see the red and orange of the fall colours, and neighbouring farmlands stretched between smaller hills. Different fields patterned different, creating a patchwork of crops in varying shades of rust.

I find it difficult to enjoy natural spaces when they're crowded. The top of the mountain seemed too small, and poorly planned. No doubt skiing was the main attraction, the walking trails and pedestrian facilities were lacking.  Folks mashed together near the edges of the mountaintop, looking outward. I tried finding a quiet spot, but every space has huddles groups and bickering families.

"Why are there so many Chinese people?" asked my 5-year-old nephew.
"Maybe there isn't as much of a season change wherever they're from so they're here to look at the colours," I tried to answer.
"Where are they from?" he asked.

I stopped myself from instinctively replying "China" since folks with Chinese ancestry could be born anywhere.

"Well, they could be from China, or from here. People can be born anywhere. I don't know." My answer didn't satisfy him, really. He ran off after his brother, no doubt not really caring about the complexities of his question. It bothered me. I wanted to express to him that nationality is a construct and that we should try and avoid assuming anything about anyone. He's five though, and I didn't have the energy.

The kids soon became a bit much for me, so I tried to step away and get some quiet, and maybe some literal perspective as well. I made my way to a wooden bench and sat facing an over-tall safety railing. It looked like a high wooden fence, similar to what you'd see around a backyard, only the horizontal planks were over a foot apart. It seemed to have been intended as a safety gate, when really all it was to me was an obstruction to a view.

I thought about scope. How untethered any of us could be, if so inclined. Here are these tourists. Chinese. Italian. Japanese. All from such different places, so far away from this hilltop. What if I got on a plane, and left? What if I went to their local hilltops?

It just seemed like for a moment I understood opportunity in a broad sense. That things could be left. Other things could be picked up. Choices could be made, in ways I maybe couldn't even really comprehend. My frame of reference is small. My understanding of what is possible is smaller.

Lives can be lived in between choices. Lives are lived in wholly intentional, present ways. This is a think people do. Other people. Not me.

I could leave. I could pay off the little debt I have and then just save up. Sure, right now I think those savings are meant for a downpayment and owning my own little place. But it doesn't have to be that way. I could move. I could live a different life. I could attempt an adventure. I could retreat from this modern life and commit to a hermitage. I could do something. 

So much of projecting into the future involves things we know about ourselves. I am this way. I like these things. I don't like him. I appreciate her. I need certain things. I have limitations. How much of that patterned thinking becomes a habit of limits?

I could stand to be looser. There is no doubt an easiness to being able to feel something, and think something, and not overly identify with it. To visit it, think on it, and then let it go.

So much of my human experience has been spent worrying. Anxious. Depressed. Feeling unfit. Feeling stunted. Feeling like I need to accomplish a certain attainment, or get to a place where I feel fully formed before I can really be of value to another.

I feel this way socially, romantically and also creatively. Notions of success.

All of these hard-defined levels. These goal posts. These mile markers.

So little of it has real value. Weighing value itself is a god-damn riddle.

Perspective is easier on a mountain top.

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