Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Most of It

We went camping as a family this weekend in the Bighorn Mountains, next to beautiful pine-covered West Ten Sleep Lake. It drizzled a bit in the evening and then got quite cold at night.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), all four of us slept in one little tent. Fortunately, because it actually remained quite toasty with all of the body heat. Unfortunately, because one little man who shall remain nameless (Grant) is a piggly wiggly who squirmed and kicked and whimpered all night long, keeping the rest of us from sleeping hardly at all.

At about 3 a.m., Elizabeth and I were still awake due to Grant's antics, crammed together with Joy into the left third of the tent, with Grant himself comfortably sprawled across the other two-thirds of it. While having a whispered discussion of our sad plight, we broke into a muffled hysterical laughter, acknowledging the power of one little man to make three other people so miserable, and to look so cute doing it. We christened him, "The Ultimate Bed Hog," and laughed for a good while before reverting to our prior state of sleepless misery.

At about 4:30 a.m, I had had enough of lying with my face crammed against the wet tent wall, so I thought I would just get up, restart the fire, and think for a bit. After blowing the buried embers back into a warm blaze, I took a short hike down to the lake. The skies had cleared and there was no moon; the unfiltered starlight bathed the whole scene in a surreal hue of pale violet. Across the lake, a granite rock face spilled down into the water, surrounded on every side by towering pines. Not a single man-made light or structure could be seen polluting the wilderness beyond.

I was suddenly struck with a triple epiphany (not a melancholic one). Number one: the pure joyous beauty of a pre-dawn mountain lake for its own sake. Here was nature, devoid of any hidden metaphor or attached meaning; it was what it was, and probably appeared the same way it did a thousand years ago. That I happened to be there at this moment to enjoy it was a happy accident . . . but its essential being was unaffected and would continue on unaltered (hopefully) for another thousand years.

Epiphany number two: the striking resemblance of the scene to the mountain lodge where we stayed on Grand Mesa last year, while working in Cedaredge. (Only ten months ago???) Our hearts broke with the rapid, unexplained dissolution of what had seemed to be the perfect opportunity, not so much because of the job, but because of the location. We felt that in the Grand Mesa, we had found one of the hidden jewels of Colorado, and then it was uncerimoniously stripped away from us. So now, to be five hundred miles away and peering out over a pine-carpeted mountain lake every bit its equal in sublime beauty, I felt somewhat of a prayerful vindication: thank you for our new perfect opportunity.

And number three: the setting from a favorite Robert Frost poem, "The Most of It," seemed to vividly materialize before my drowsy eyes. I first read this poem in a frenzied rush while composing a response essay for my AP English exam. I have since returned to it many times, savoring its powerful, somewhat dispassionate imagery.

It narrates the story of man shouting across a stony, wooded lake, pleading with the cold universe for some sign of love or validation. Instead, he hears only his echo, and then a crash into the water across the lake. Eventually, a large buck reveals itself, pushing through the water before emerging onto the rocky shore right in front of him, then crashing off into the woods, and "that was all." Here it is in its entirety:

The Most of It
by Robert Frost
He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff's talus on the other side,
And then in the far-distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush--and that was all.

While meditating on these three epiphanies, the eastern sky began to pale with the first inkling of dawn, and a deep tiredness crept over me anew. I stumbled back to the campground, threw a few more logs on the smoldering fire, and lay down on the dirt next to it. An hour later, I awoke to the crisp, salmon-colored skies with my left arm totally numb from having slept at an odd angle.

As my family slept peacefully a dozen yards away, I arose, shook out my hand, and stoked the fire to life again. From neighboring camps, the rustlings of morning creaked and yawned to life.

Life is many things, I thought: beautiful, uncomfortable, tiring, inspirational--human interpretations of what it should mean. But this mountain morning did not reveal itself to me with any secret meaning. It simply was. And that was all.


Dad said...

Mark, you are a man of many words and those words many times are illustrative of your inner soul. don't always understand them but always love to hear them.

Perhaps nowhere else on earth can you feel closer to that being that made us and all around us then when you are in a setting like you describe. I'm envious of such a moment. They don't happen that often in life and you fortunately know how to express what you are feeling. Wonderful.

I suggest you get a bigger tent by the way and also a blow up mattress. Only way to camp.

Love ya, Bud,

Anonymous said...

Great to hear things are going so well for you! I love that you were in the parade with a Welcoming banner. Very fun! I would love to catch up, and tell you all about Brazil. I put some of our photos on, so I can send you the link if you send me your email. Send me a note sometime!