There was no way someone could look at this picture and call it beautiful. They’d be hard pressed to know where it was either, except that wherever it was there was plenty of rain. Tropic of Cancer? Tropic of Capricorn? Or perhaps it was temperate? If you look close enough you can convince yourself that it’s on the subtropical slopes of the Caspian Sea.
Maybe there’s a giveaway?
Yes, the Exif data: January 13, 2009. So, you go back through Flickr and Google: Malaysia. Yes, it’s in the Highlands, the Cameron Highlands: tea plantations, faux-Tudor guest-houses, Nutmeg manikins and the best flower gardens East of Wales.
“No,” you think, “the photo is not beautiful. Not ugly, either. It’s an anodyne shot attempting to capture a sweeping view that in the moment was beautiful.” You are correct.
But what of the moment that defined it?
He senses your impatience. The first quarter of the hike you’ve struggled for oxygen. Your out of shape body and lungs demanded surcease, but then your blood reaches oxygen saturation and stopping would send you back into dis-equilibrium.
“Come on man, let’s get up this bad boy,” you say.
“You really should stop and smell these flowers,” he smiles back.
“What a cliché,” you say.
“Just try it,” he says.
Like a petulant child you shrug your shoulders and relent. You even stomp your foot like a child a little bit. It’s instinctive.
You sniff the flower peremptorily and pull away. By the time your olfactory nerves send the quanta of info to your brain and your brain has processed it you are already smiling and leaning back in for another sniff.
But this time you linger and shout, like a child, “it’s, it’s, it’s like cinnamon and vanilla and strawberries!”
“I think we’ll call it strawberry shortcake,” he says. “You really should smell flowers more often.”
At the top of the small mountain you have another sensation: satisfaction. There is also a sensation missing you’ve grown comfortable with, an old friend of sorts. There is no pain. You explain it to Jeff.
“In Tibet I blew out three discs in my back coming down from the Everest base camp.”
“Did you climb it?” he asks, surprised.
“Hell no,” you say. “Was just there, taking in the view.”
“So what happened?”
“Jeep I was in crashed, rolled over. Six people were on top of me but in the rush to get out I was the first. Guess my football instincts kicked in.”
You shrug, humble-like, but shiver as well, remembering the fear, smelling the danger. You continue the story.
“A few minutes after I climbed out the pain hit me. Spent the next two weeks in Nepal and India whacked out on opiates. For two years I tried all kinds of remedies. Finally had surgery in late 2005. After that it was two years of putting my life and marriage back together. I failed,” you tell him with a smile.
“But I’ll tell you something,” you say.
“This may not be much of a climb to you! What’s a couple of thousand feet after rock climbing with your bare hands in Thailand, right? But it’s my first substantial hike since the wreck,” you say.
“Can’t tell you how important mountains are to me. Something to their solidity and simplicity, permanent and everlasting,” you say. Then you finish.
“Maybe I’m unusual but they move me. And I feel no pain. It’s been too long since and I forgot how good it feels.”