A cold wind swoops down off the mountain, like a seagull feeding from the open ocean, taking small bites from the skin not covered by my thin jacket. There is nothing that can be done about it, and I can’t even say I would if I could. It’s part of the user fee. Pain, or at least discomfort, is currency on a journey like this. If broken bones are dollar bills, surely the wind and cold are the nickels and dimes.
My father used to tell me that the destination is the least important part of a journey. He also used to say that no matter where you go, there you are. In addition to being the king of non sequiters, he is still my benchmark when it comes to telling tales.
I go off alone often enough to know the dangers of what I’m doing today. This mountain is familiar though. The canyons and ridges greet me with wide arms, like old friends. It is a climb I often made with my father, first at his side, then on his back when the incline became to steep. The first time was when I was six and he was the strongest man I knew.
Though his grasp no longer folds over my hand like a magician palming a coin, he is still a giant in my eyes. He is older, wiser maybe, but not the Hercules of my youth. Like a Renaissance masterpiece buried under layers of paint added later by lesser artists, the strength is still there, hidden under the grey hair and loose skin. Knowing that fills me with a false belief that he’ll live forever.
At the top I look out over time and space. The green carpet stretches back a few hundred miles and a dozen or more years. After that first climb we’d come here, sometimes with his buddies, sometimes alone together. He’d tell me stories as we climbed, partly to pass the time, partly to keep me from thinking about how tired I was becoming. He was good at that too, keeping me from noticing when something was unpleasant.
He’d title his little stories: Gus & the Giant, Gus & the Pirates, Gus & the Bear. It was always Gus and something or other. What his titles lacked in imagination, his stories more than made up for it. Fascinating tales of adventure, sacrifice, and conquest one and all.
The worst of situations, the lowest humiliations, could all be endured with one of these tales occupying my mind while the world swirled around me. Imagination is a painkiller. Like any drug though, imagination isn’t free.
I start back down the mountain, darkness chasing the sun toward the horizon. Mentally I count the nickels, dimes and dollars that have paid for my imagination. It’s my way of passing the time. My way of not thinking about how tired I’ve become.