Wish You Were Here
A postcard arrives, with an alluring mountain scene by my favorite woodcut artist, Tom Killion. I prop it against the fruit bowl to bring the High Sierras into the kitchen as I wash vegetables and cook dinner. The title orients me: I imagine I am looking out at Mt. Whitney in the far distance as I perch near the high glacial lake named Little Claire. The well-pecked bark of a tall weathered tree catches golden light. Another pine towers in the foreground, witness to hundreds of summers. The gnarled, wizened limbs still sprout needles, five to a cluster, each one absorbing CO2 and sunlight, the favored meal of pines everywhere.
Alpine magic is seductive. As I gaze into the picture, my kitchen begins to evaporate until I find myself at 10,000 feet elevation, leaning against a granite boulder, its stored heat penetrating my tee shirt. A dragonfly leaves the water to flit near my face, then returns to skim the rippled surface of the lake. I lean back as my lungs fill with oxygen and my nose with the scent of dry dirt and resinous tree bark. Softly closing my eyes, I exhale leftovers of carbon dioxide and smile at the reciprocity of gift giving with the sparse vegetation that surrounds me. It is quiet, except for a chipmunk’s high-pitched cheep as it dashes from rock to rock. I become still, almost as quiet as the mountain itself, my only movement the rise and fall of my chest and the occasional flutter of eyelids as I sip the intense cerulean sky.
The oven timer’s harsh reminder jerks me back to my home near sea level. I set my dinner on the counter and then return to the postcard, laughing that the clichéd message, “Wish you were here,” has in fact transported me. I peer deep into the picture in search of who has invited me. My eyes travel the ravine in its diagonal descent to the valley below, but I don’t see a companion or even my dog. In fact, where am I now?
Did I start to disappear partway down the ravine, my outline dissolving into shimmer like the pine needles quivering in shafts of sunlight? Did my limbs become inseparable from the Manzanita’s smooth branches, merged like entangled lovers? Perhaps I became more shadow than form as I sensed the raven’s dark glide overhead.
Initially, the mountain called to me, and I responded, a willing wanderer. How could I resist? Then the mountain asked for something more. Don’t bother searching for me. The upslope air currents have gathered my loosened cells and sprinkled them like raindrops over the tree limbs, the granite rocks, and into the clear water of Little Claire Lake.
I wrote this before life changed due to the pandemic. Given the restrictions, it seems yearning, memory and imagination may be our means of travel for the time being.
Recently I found this poem. While my piece is short, Li Po only needed four lines.
The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away
We sit together, the mountain and me
Until only the mountain remains
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