by Miguel Strother
An ominous wind draws my eyes towards bruising thunderheads in the late summer sky of the east and sends seeds of brooding imagination toward the jet stream of the pacific and the broken soil of the west. There, I remember, on the western hip of Mexico in the early 70’s, I began a timeless journey with a young revolutionary who’d fled from the status quo of suburban Montreal in pursuit of an incredible idea. It was a journey that has never held more meaning than it does at this exact moment in time.
I was a young, dark soul in limbo, constantly at war, but she had the calm glint of an ancient understanding in her pale blue eyes. She’d escaped a life of dirty politics and television to pursue a peace that her family insisted was impossible. I had never lived anywhere for longer than eight or nine months. We were instant companions, bound in a relationship that I’ve come to understand was formed years before our chance meeting. From the beginning we spent all of our time together and I quickly found life without her impossible. She possessed an extra ordinary kindness and in her careful voice explained to me through patient whispers the meaning of my life. I was instantly in need of her and helpless without her.
After countless encounters with shotguns and hammerheads we left beautiful, savage Mexico in the same plump 40’s Chevy van. She’d taken on some timeless role in my life and was not about to guide me back to the same dull existence that eagerly waited to wrap our freedom in that same expressionless skirt. She rebelled against the nuclear family; against the grating whine of a vehicle driven to the brink and now clearly out of control. Instead of returning to that, we went to the cradle of the Rocky Mountains; where hippies and bikers swapped crazed ideas in a bathtub Utopia protected by the great forest of God’s impenetrable monuments.
She told me many stories during our time in this sacred place but one in particular seems relevant right now. It was a story about a Chinese man who worked as a slave of empire building the railway through the mountains into British Columbia. After years of torment and danger the man fled from his captors. In shackles, with out proper food or clothing, the slave disappeared into the cruel Alberta woods.
Not wanting the slave to become an example to others, thus threatening the industrialization of the nation, his captors set out to reel their slave back in. But the man’s spirit was strong and he stayed at bay for months. However, as now, captains of industry will not be kept at bay for long. Eventually, a large group of his captors and their dogs tracked him down and cornered him at the side of a steep cliff face that led to the top of one of the pristine valley’s huge mountains. Rather than being caught he set out to climb up the perilous face of the fortress. Enraged and unwilling to allow the example of escape to be set, his former captors followed.
And so the battle of wills was waged. With every step the journey became more dangerous, explained my mentor, but still he climbed and they followed, he climbed and they followed. They crept above the tree line and into the glacier scree that sent each of them one step backward for every two steps they took forward. The slave’s muscles and mind ached, his lungs burned, and blood soaked the torn edges of his clothes where the iron bit into his skin. But still he refused to yield. Finally, he reached the 3000M summit. When he came to the jagged 1500M cliff at the edge of the summit and had no place left to run, he jumped to his death rather than being caught and brought back into slavery.
The same immovable mountain hovered above me everyday and night that I lived with my companion in that lush valley. Its two huge peaks connected in one long, mysterious swoop across the western skyline. It watched, like a mother, my every move. Its height spurred my imagination and protected me from the outside world. What could be up there I wondered, until my guide eventually convinced me to follow the route that carved toward its summit. It took nine hours to climb to the top.
There the wind hugged me. Set at the far eastern edge of that large granite saddle, blanketed by the blue sky, was an island of grass with one solitary tree defiantly jutting out above of the quite valley 3000M below. I crept to the edge, closed my eyes and leapt. The wind carried me in slow strokes across the sky, like a seed in the wind. I saw all. Two young boys hurling ponderous rocks into the languid ice-blue river. The purple house where hippies hiding from the draft gathered for poetry and wine on starry Friday nights. The endless green fields where a weathered rancher let his horses roam. A long stretch of lonesome highway where burly bikers fearlessly threw open the throttle.
When the wind eventually set me gently down at the foot of my companion, I asked how a man in shackles being hunted could scale such heights. It was his hope, she explained, a hope that he would rediscover freedom. He did not want wealth or glory, he simply wanted his freedom, a right we all deserve. A right she herself had fought for her entire life. He would not be stopped. She said.
Miguel Strother is in the land of muses of many road-heights; not alone.