Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nineteen: Climb Every Mountain

Number three on the Life Well Lived list is "climbed a mountain." Rather than enumerate a tedious travel log of mountains I've climbed, I thought it would be more interesting and relevant to explain why I love them so and, by extension, why we have chosen to quit lucrative jobs, sell most of what we own, and move our family of four (plus pets) to a tiny apartment in Whistler, BC.

The terrain of childhood is the coccoon of the psyche, inextricably linked with the deepest longings of the heart. I was born in France, and for nine years, lived with the Mediterranean at my feet and the rocky hills of Provence at my back. The sea shone with infinite possibility and the richly hued light it shared with the sky was warm and vividly alive. The mountains though, were my secure protectors. The Tete de Chien watched faithfully through my kitchen and bedroom windows, witness to every secret joy, every bitter tear, a solid and certain landmark in the volatile emotional terrain of my childhood. Weekends were invariably spent exploring the hills behind Monte Carlo, and I learned that there were secret gifts and surprises around every rocky corner - terraced vineyards, stony towns with mysterious narrow passageways, fragrant bakeries, and ancient bells ringing behind the hills. I learned to climb in an old rock quarry:

My brother and I played in castle ruins, picked wildflowers, splashed in streams and watched in amazement one day as a flock of sheep poured over the rocky cliff above, shepherd in tow, to drink all around us.

Then, for three magical weeks each spring, we drove to Switzerland to camp in the Grindelwald valley. For me, the Alps came to symbolize transcendence, because one could follow their heights far beyond the places of school and supper and commonplace life, up to the alpine meadows where flocks of bell-clad goats summered, beyond the trees, beyond even the grass, right to the very tips of the bare rocks where I imagined the borders of heaven lay just beyond. It was tremendously compelling, this ability to leave the ordinary and travel to the end of all things.

I have climbed many mountains since, in other parts of the worldand across Canada, but none has ever quite matched the magic of my childhood peaks. Whistler and Blackcomb come very close, however. My husband grew up in Richmond, with the Pacific Ocean at his feet and the coast mountains at his back, and spent many happy weekends skiing in Whistler. Shortly before I met him in Labrador, he invested in a modest (and at that time, reasonably priced) little condo on the slopes of Blackcomb mountain. We have spent many happy summer vacations there as the military shuffled us around the prairies over the years, and in three short weeks we will finally be well and truly home.