03 June 2009

The Mountain Keeper

Once there was a boy. His name was Enrico. He lived at the bottom of a very green and very fertile valley.

Enrico loved where he lived. He knew the valley and all its inhabitants very well. He knew the village streets and enjoyed evening strolls through them.

He had many friends and was never afraid to start a conversation with villagers.

Often, he was seen running among the flowers and playing in the streams.

But as full and happy as his life was, Enrico soon felt that something was missing. This feeling made the boy question the world around him. And as soon as he started to question the world around him he started to look outside the world where he felt most comfortable and most certain of his place. And the first place he looked was up.

"What's up there," he asked.
"Where," was the reply.
"Up there."
"There? That's your house, silly. That's where you live."
"No. Past the house. Up. Up there."
"Up there? Above the house? Nothing. Just mountains and the sky."
"Mountains and the sky? I want to go there," said Enrico.

"Where? Up there? Oh, no," he was told. "There is no reason to go up there. Everything you need is here. Here you have your friends.

Your pets.

Your villages, churches, markets, and schools. Everything. What more do you need?"

"Yes, yes," said Enrico. "I know, and I love it all. It just seems that there must be something more. And that something must come from up there. I mean, the grapes that make our wine come from up there.

The grass that feeds our cows that give us the milk to make our cheese and ice cream comes from up there."

"True," the villagers conceded.
"The wood and rocks that we use for our homes come from up there."

"Very true," they all agreed.
"The water we drink comes from up there. Even the sunshine that keeps us happy comes from there," said the boy.

"Yes, maybe. But those are places incalculable and far too dangerous for travel." Here the villagers drew the line.

"Any water you would find up there would be frozen and buried by the snow.

Any sunshine you would find up there would be tempered by the cold winds.

No, Enrico. Those are places unthinkable. Mind your business down here and you'll never have to worry."

The villagers argued their position but Enrico had already made up his mind. There seemed to him a new and even bigger world above him. A world of endless possibility. To stay with what was comfortable and known would be more dangerous and more uncertain than the wind, rocks, and snow high above him.

Enrico went to sleep that night and dreamed of his plans.

The next morning, Enrico woke up early and prepared for his travels. He and his pets left before dawn. The villagers went about their daily routines as usual and no one even noticed that Enrico was gone.

It wasn't until that evening, when large storm clouds began to roll over the mountains and into the valley, that Enrico's sunny presence was noticed as missing. The storm clouds blackened and soon it began to rain.

The villagers feared the worst.

High in the mountains, Enrico was afraid, too.

It stormed for four days.

But Enrico learned many things from the valley far below. He knew the same rocks from up high were used to build the houses in his village. So Enrico built a small house to take shelter from the storm.

And Enrico used what little wood he could find to make a fire to keep warm. He collected water to drink that sprang from the rocks and he thought that it tasted even better than the water that flowed through the valley. And using everything that he learned from his life before, Enrico and his pets stayed safe and happy.

On the fifth day the skies cleared.

Enrico knew that after four days of storms the fifth day would bring him luck. Once again, he and his pets took up their travels. Higher and higher, farther and farther, deeper and deeper into the mountains they climbed.

The destruction from the last four days of storms was clear and it made Enrico appreciate the power of the unknown. Still, they persevered.

Enrico looked up and found the highest point he could see. He made that point his goal. Up they climbed. And higher still. As if straight into the sun.

They struggled and struggled and at times Enrico wondered if he had made the wrong decision to leave his village and set off on his own. His pets never questioned their actions, though, and the sun kept the sky above them a deep shade of blue. This gave Enrico courage. And so they continued.

In the Time of False Messiahs

circa 1648

He sat in the shade of trees at moonrise
Following with his eyes the tracks of fleas
Who were hunting wolves. A poor rabbi
Dressed in a paper gown, he ate a black potato.
Women danced behind him like the snow.
There were boats in the sky above him
And they were lowering ropes.
There was famine everywhere in Poland.

The fires of the city made him cold
So he walked into the forest.
He walked along a brook into the hills.
He praised the white trees
And the owls that nested in them:
Their simple fires of digestion, the bones
Of mice igniting in their bowels.
He reached up and grasped a rope.
He climbed into the boat.
There was a famine everywhere in Poland.

Everywhere below him there was hope.

--Norman Dubie

Finally, they turned a corner of rock, snow, and ice and the world Enrico once knew fell out from beneath him. There was sky everywhere above him and everywhere below him there was hope.

And Enrico looked all around him and he knew why he was there and his pets knew why they were there, too.

There was nowhere else to go but up.

And from that point the world only grew bigger.

Enrico and his pets never returned to the village and the valley far below. At every ridge and every mountaintop, the boy, soon to be a man, would spy another ridge and another mountaintop to which to travel. And he would. And his pets would follow. Enrico spent the rest of his life climbing from one high point to another. With each successful journey Enrico would learn something new and this would inspire him to continue when a retreat back to the valley floors would have been easier and safer.

Enrico noticed that often the tallest, healthiest, and oldest trees lived in the most precipitous of places--hanging off the edge of a cliff, their roots exposed into air and turned back toward the more stable soil. He thought that maybe the will to survive depended on the severity of the struggle; the more you are forced to bury your roots into the side of a cliff the more aware you will be of your precarious surroundings, the more strength you will raise to accomplish the long task ahead. He thought about this for a while. Then he moved on.

As he moved through the mountains Enrico mastered his ability to construct rock shelters and houses. Soon he noticed signs that others had used or briefly occupied his stone shelters. Old campfires, cooking utensils, and even beds attested to the fact that not only were the villagers venturing farther and farther into the mountains but that they were moving their livestock to higher pastures as well. It wasn't long before Enrico found new stone shelters that he hadn't made in new places that he hadn't been. Stone shelters modeled after the same design Enrico perfected on his own.

He also noticed that the houses in the valley were being built differently and placed in different locations so that they would resist and avoid the seasonal effects of the sometimes difficult weather the villagers were forced to endure. He reasoned that this, too, was learned from the style and placement of his own shelters high in the mountains.

This made Enrico very happy. He felt that finally he was able to give something back to the community that gave him so much, that taught him all the valuable lessons of early life that he could have never learned on his own.

The valley prospered and made a name for itself as a home of artisanal products and a culture reinforced by honored traditions. Though from afar, Enrico felt that he, too, contributed and helped the valley's villages flourish. Not only did he anonymously teach building techniques and styles but his vision to reach for higher and higher places encouraged other villagers to search for inspiration above the valley floor.

But Enrico never returned to the valley. He died many years later, alone but never lonely. The remnants of his life are still recognizable and easily accessible, all made possible by his sunny disposition and his impulse to question the world around him with wonder and love.

Stories still circulate among the villages about Enrico and his pets and many believe that if you look closely enough you can still find Enrico among the rocks and snow, safe and content in the high places of the world around us.

--For HBH who has a lifetime of mountains to go.


Johannes said...

Great story, thank you - it lays out how mountains of rock and snow inspire curiosity, adventure, and ultimately satisfaction. Given your writing and the footage you must know the keeper very well, haha. :-)

Jeff said...


Anonymous said...

This should definately have a copy right. I would purchase it for the love of your expression, mountains, photography , everything. Take it off your blog and publsih it.

It makes me think of my sons, my grandson, and your Hank and of course you. When the mountains are in your heart you can never leave them.

Jeff's Mom

Andres Chianale said...

What a beautiful story!

A hug from a friend from one of those valleys. And thanks for the inspiration!

Lea said...

he's a lucky little kid.