gargoyles

The sound of my footsteps trudging up the rocky escarpment does not make an echo as one would expect. Instead it is little more than a dull thudding that I feel down to my bones despite how little impact it has on my surroundings. All around me are turrets of black and white dappled rock that sparkles in the sunlight. Stone buttresses rise all around me, draped in flowing snowy rags like tattered banners. Hours of putting foot to stone has made my soles weary but I breathe and push through the nagging ache. As I glance up at the sunburst in the sky shining down on this strange landscape, I catch movement ahead. Shielding my eyes from the brilliant glare with one hand, I squint to make out a large white creature emerging from behind a wind-gnarled pine. The downy white fur and dark and arched horns like crescent moons against the blue sky is unmistakable. I silence my breathing and cease existing for a moment while taking in the sight before me. For miles I have been trudging up rock with nothing but the chorus of birds and chanting of the wind to keep me company and now without warning or reason, I am staring at a mountain goat non-chalantly making its way towards me. She moves with ease across the stalwart rocks that have made every one of my strides a battle. Marveling at her lithe strength, I glimpse an inquisitive face peering around her massive body and my breath hitches once more. Frozen in awe, I watch open-mouthed as the mother and baby amble across the expanse of smooth stone, as untroubled by the human they approach as if I were a pine tree rising harmlessly out of the boulders. I scramble to the top of a nearby boulder and watch them pass within a few feet of my perch, stopping below to nibble at some determined shrubs growing tenuously between the rocks. This is a world of stone castles and these elusive plants fight for existence, budding out of unforgiving boulders, competing for minerals and sunlight. The conditions have to be perfect to accommodate life in this harsh environment. I watch the young goat, move nimbly across the stones to find his own shoots to munch on and I realize that the struggle for life is not just in the cracks of monoliths. The mountain goats live in this hostile mountain fortress too. With such a precarious balance of resources, it is understandable a creature would see the presence of sustenance as a greater draw than a feeble human as a hindrance.  The mother barely glances in my direction. Moving slowly with one eye fixed on her, I make my way down from my rock and back away up the hill, never losing sight of her until I am safely behind a cluster of boulders and trees; a natural fence although I am not sure what good it would do me. The breeze takes up its rhythmic chant through the trees once more and as I climb higher, I begin to feel the beat of its warbles and melodies. It feels as though it comes from the mountains themselves, growing louder and more insistent as if anticipating my arrival at the next bend, calling to me like a promise. Not until my breath is stolen by the sight of Lake Viviane, do I realize I have been humming along with its pulsating song for hours. The glacial lake spread before me is completely enclosed by stony battlement-like ridges draped in snow. Suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue, I lower my pack to the ground and cup the water in my hands gasping at the delicious cold. The lake’s edges are pure and crystalline; the bottom is covered in a rainbow of stones like a meadow of earthy flowers; red, gold, and deepest green. In the center the lake is still frozen and I imagine that the thaw has been slow and continuous as I peer over the steady stream that pours from the lake and over a cliff, hundreds of feet down. I have passed this creek several times during my trek without knowing from where it came. It is worth knowing the sweet source of the water that sustained me on my journey. Wishing to see the other side of the lake and find a place to camp, I search for a way across and find a makeshift bridge of fallen trees and after testing its structural soundness, quickly decide to forego shoes in order to better stabilize myself. My first step is uncertain and the cold from the water hits me like a draft as soon as I am positioned over the rushing glacial melt. Crossing the perilous logs, trembling with the roar of the water, I look up to see a giant towering above me. His eyes betray nothing as he stares me down. I pause trying to discern if he is a threat but as my log shakes and shifts beneath me, I decide to keep moving, if only to meet this foe on solid ground. As my feet kiss the warmth of the stone on the other side, I eye him suspiciously and pull on my socks and boots. The wind ruffles his feathery white fur as he watches me with preternatural stillness and irreverence. I am reminded of a gargoyle. Traditional gargoyles were used to keep rain water from eroding buildings. In medieval times they were used to inspire fear in parishioners. They were a reminder of the evils that dwelt outside the church which held their only salvation. As I slowly and carefully make my way around him, he continues to watch me and I feel as though I am being weighed and measured by some ancient wisdom. Mountain goats are the gargoyles of mountain peaks and crags, guardians of those who seek their salvation there but more so guardians of the mountains themselves. I make my camp in an aerie of boulders above the lake. The sun sets and a crimson moon rises in the starry sky. I drift off, sung to sleep by the singing wind that howls in my dreams all night long. I wake to the sun gleaming on glass. It is hard to believe that the lake could be more beautiful. The mountains are gray, streaked with their tattered white banners of snow, melting in the late spring sunlight. Filled with a sudden elation, I tip my head back and howl and listen as it echoes across the cliffs and bounces back to me in welcome. I reached for the sky and the birds overhead, stretching joyfully while slowly turning to take in the view spreading in all directions around me. The mountain goat is standing on a rocky ledge above my tent watching me with quiet interest and a resigned sense of duty. I feel like he has been posted there, standing watch all night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s