By R. F. Grant
While we tread this ground, the coal trains bellow in the distance, rattling the bones of natives beneath the earth. We imagine their headdresses—tattered feathers cresting the brow, multitudinous in hue and number. Femurs of buffaloes, of petrified wood and bone, obsidian arrowheads and charred leather rest beneath our path, amalgamating with the land of our treading. The brisk scent of death and ash, of frost and flesh mold this mountain, the Presence within its chiseled peaks certain. We feel it quietly, like pewter clouds before thunder. Tremors to the housecat before an earthquake. A wordless omen, burgeoning. Spirits watch us, omniscient but unattached. Kneeling toward the earth, they draw the Ouroboros, eternally eating its own tail.
The mountain breathes in this place, the wind coursing through the trees. It speaks in tongues, a language lost to the ancestors. The trembling leaves mimic the shivering of dead rattlesnakes, of instruments once-played fireside, orchestrating the shamanic dance. Behind us spans the valley. Not an atom there is lost. Before us, the mountain, not an atom gained. The wind speaks such a promise, dust devils pirouetting down the cliffs. They diminish at bottom, cackling at the illusion of death.
When the snow falls, a distinct silence settles over the mountain. It is familiar to us, swallowing the forest, encrusting it in ice. Our own breath becomes visible, voluminous, swirling towards the white tempest above. Dissonant, sound clarifies. Surreal, a hollow crack in the woodland causes the blood of life to pump through startled prey. Carapaces of frost encase their feathers and coats. Nap blooms across antlers like moss upon Redwoods. And nearby, ever-present, the scent of gunpowder, a blaze-orange figure sidling through the snow in wait.
Hereupon the mountain, the senses may sharpen. Nature’s virginity befalls the naked eye, the smell of life and death intermingling. Into its unadulterated form the world rewinds. We return again to our sense of belonging, our place within the Cosmos. The great mystery rekindles, the crack in the Orphic Egg visible. Indeed, while we tread this ground, we must remember what the mountain teaches us. We must remember for our children, for it is incommunicable. Beneath the earth, the bones of natives proclaim our time here is precious. And though forward we may progress, we must not forget our roots, for we are fragments plucked from something greater. This, in the end, the mountain teaches us. This, in the end, the great mountain.
–R. F. Grant is a Denver-based freelance writer. View more of his work at rfgrant.com.