You take the pain because you ask for it. You love it because others don’t. Complacency and lethargy is the cousins of death, the searing burn that comes from the effort is your muscles telling you, we are still here, we are still fighting the good fight, if only for a little longer.
Stop looking up, keep your head down and eat the pieces of the elephant, don’t try to jam the whole thing in your mouth.
My toe kicks another step into the soft scree, initiating a mini avalanche, sounding like a million gold coins sliding down a dragon’s hoard.
One step up, slide a half step back. The metaphor isn’t subtle at that moment, rather it slugs me over the head like a baseball bat. It’s no different than my life’s path. The mountains tell the truth, or I’ll adjust my perception to make it so.
Eighteen hundred hard earned vertical feet lays below me. And the mountains still tower over, offering up her treasure if I have the will to overpower her. The barrier to entry is high in her game.
But her skin was brittle, peeling away with little more than the weight of a human being.
It’s like wading your way into a storming ocean surf. Your advance constantly being halted by mother nature’s commitment barometer. She’ll let you pass, but not before she knows you really want it.
The real kick in the crotch is that you willingly did this less than ten hours previous. And now you’re back at it. Repeating the motions, but weaponless this time to save weight… After all the deed has already been done. Now all you need to do is finish the job. The easy part is to think back to how you got yourself here, the harder part is completing the task without the adrenaline infusion of the chase.
Three shots rang out. The first followed by the chaos of a known miss. Reload, frantically try to relocate, a smooth pull of the trigger and the reward of a cantaloupe thump from a hit. He’s now walking, not running. A good sign.
A smoking cartridge cartwheels through the air to make room for another. I wonder if these brass bottlenecks know the importance of their existence and how easily they can end one life to sustain another.
One more punch to my shoulder followed by that sweet sound. He stumbles off to be swallowed by the mountain.
That was then, this is now.
Toe in and hope this sucker doesn’t slide burying me in a rock tomb. Go for the finger of rock protruding out of the gums of the mountain like the shattered teeth from an unfortunate recipient of a kick to the face.
The walking gets easier if not more dangerous with the semi-solid rock. It doesn’t slide on you, but if it decides to shed a layer it’s taking you with it in no uncertain terms.
I make it to the spot where one life form was irrevocably changed forever. The spot where with a simple pull of a trigger you would be absorbing one life into your own. I find it odd at that moment that I find the importance of my own existence more important than his. It’s a fleeting thought, as I know self preservation is at the core of every living thing. I’m no different. My life is more important than his and that’s just the way of it.
Not much time is spent on looking for where his body betrayed him and leaked out his life through a penny sized hole.
I know his trajectory well and know the spot where he spent the night alone with his last few breaths wasn’t far away.
Leveling off my ascent, I adjust my altitude and follow the contours of the the mountain. Series of short bursts are used navigate over the scree, looking similar to a boy trying to cross a river without getting his shoes wet.
I peer down the gut of two tentacles of jagged outcrops.
Nothing. Must be the next one.
Another burst of speed to cross the landslide zone and to the relative safety of the next outcrop.
He’s got to be here.
And he is. The grey monotony of of rock is broken up by a thick patch of waving brown hair, alive from the wind, but what lies beneath certainly is not.
I heel into the rock and work my way down to him, taken back by the sheer mass of the piled up animal. A tank of a creature with four short legs to power it through the mountains.
I look out over what his last view must have been. I wouldn’t complain in the afterlife if this was the last thing I saw before I took the plunge.
My camera comes out of my pack to record this short portion of my life. I like to capture the truth of what really happened, not what my ever lessening memory decides to make of it over time.
It’s beautiful, surreal and terrifying. The first two make sense to most people, the last often needs explanation. This exact moment, this exact thing I am doing right now is why I was put on this earth. And to know that one day I will no longer be able to do this whether from dissolving health or unseen circumstances drives deep into me.
The camera snaps a few photos, guaranteeing I can look back to this as it happened.
I sit for a moment and tell myself to soak it in as this may be the last time you ever see this place on earth.
But duty calls and the animal that I killed needs to be broken down.
The camera goes in its case and the knife comes out of his.
I unfold the blade, check its sharpness and stand over the tahr as I make a long slit up his stomach.
My eyes immediately move to the empty spot where my camera had sat moments before.
No no no no nonono.
I stop myself short from launching off the small cliff I’m standing on. A small black case no less round than a bowling ball picks up momentum and uses it to free itself from the constraints of gravity.
Stay in the case. Please stay in the case.
By now the speed has added significant vertical lift to each bounce.
The camera is obviously smashed to bits as if it were a bag of ice being broken apart by repeated poundings on the ground… but maybe it will hold stay in the case and a least give you back the SD card.
The SD card. The DNA of this trip. It holds all the memories of three weeks packed into a lifetime in its thumbnail sized existence.
The mountains aren’t listening or at least they aren’t taking requests at the moment.
The bag bursts. The contents within race in opposite directions as if they were magnets repelling one another.
My eyes looks for the body that holds almost all visual information from my entire trip to New Zealand. But it is useless. The whole ensemble is now nearly a thousand feet below me in a shredded mess.
My heart sinks.
The cycle is complete. The physical pain is now complemented by the mental anguish.
You’re alive, you have the experience, but damn it, this sucks...
// Fred Bohm