Notes from The Lookout Tower on Spruce Mountain

A quiet morning at the lookout tower on Spruce Mountain. The woman who womans the fire lookout is apparently named Suzie. She isn’t here today. Regardless of her age, she is attractive to me, purely because of her choice of occupation. And even though I haven’t gone up to the actual tower to meet her, I did sit below for a time one day reading. That day I had been considering whether or not I wanted to intrude on her solitude for a good fifteen minutes when an older man started walking up the stairs. I hadn’t even noticed he was close by. You enter the tower from below; the door opens in. When Suzie heard someone coming up, she opened the door and the man walked on in. I headed back down the trail, back towards the trailhead. It was good that I hadn’t gone up to the tower, I thought. It wouldn’t be right if I had gone up on a day when another person had gone up. This was the thought that came to me on the way down.

A clear morning today, clear and quiet and not too warm. I’ve hiked this trail for the 5 days prior to this, twice doing the 9 mile loop, the other three times going down the same steep, 3.5 mile section I had come up. The first day was when the rest of my family was here, the other 5 times including today I’ve done it alone. Although I don’t usually like to go the same way on the return hike, I like the 3.5 mile part on the way up because it’s steeper and on the way down because it’s shorter. Short and steep is my ideal hike.

Just the birds, the flies, and me up here today. So far I haven’t woken up early enough to get up here by sunrise. That’ll be my daily goal once school starts. Even if the rest of the day gives you nothing to celebrate, to be up at 8,000 feet at sunrise is an achievement, something to give the day some value, to redeem it before it needs redeeming, liberate you before you need to be liberated. The rest of the day can go as it goes, can leave you unfulfilled, wanting, yearning, lonely, hungry, exhausted. Just let this moment be, up at the top of the mountain, having risen with the sun, fulfilled by forgetting what does not need to be remembered and remembering what cannot be forgotten. Not lonely, wanting no more than this, revitalized by physical exertion and natural beauty.

I hear someone hiking and quickly get dressed. I had been indulging in some simple animal pleasure, sitting naked on the granite in the sun. I thought I’d have the tower all to myself this morning. Ah well, a selfish desire, no doubt. The hiker doesn’t come all the way up; he sits on a rock a little ways down and takes out his binocs to watch birds. He must want some solitude as well. Not everyone wants it, perhaps not everyone needs it. Some need it more than they want it, some want more of it than they need, sometimes I want it too much, seek it too often and don’t like it as much when I get it as I thought I would.

Those are the times I seek it to distance myself from others rather than to connect with my true essence and thus bridge the gap between others and myself. The times when I need it to get away and evade rather than to meet and come towards; when I need it to avoid pain, ignore conflict and division, forget, rather than to face the pain, understand the division, remember; when I need it to escape feelings of alienation and separateness, rather than to feel more intensely the inalienable aloneness which, when felt fully, does not separate but rather connects me to all who go alone by free choice, who know no other way to truly rejoice, who find joy in the most complete, undeniable sense when by themselves, joy which does not do away with sorrow, joy which includes a sweet melancholy because of the awareness of its passing.

The knowledge that it will fade, far from detracting from the joy, adds to it, lets the man or woman more completely enjoy the solitude. Like the truth of sadness lying beyond and beneath the pleasure of lover above lover, the melancholy attaches to without detracting from the joy of the hour of solitude. Somewhere there is the knowledge that you will feel the alienation again, that your head will again be filled with unnecessary burdens you wish you could forget while somewhere below a vague intimation of your essential essence floats unseen, sinks unconscious.

I let the flies land on my legs, my feet, my thighs. I discourage them from going further, as the other hiker has gone down and I am now back to my natural state. When that essence starts to become a dim memory rather than a daily experienced reality, it becomes more difficult to let the flies land, let other people near. Unlike the flies who are harmless, other people, I think to myself, suck my energy, drain me of me until I am not sure of anything least of all that indistinct thing I call my self. Is it they who drain me, though, or I who do not have the power to resist being drained, maimed? Why among others can I not be the man I am alone? The more the essence is forgotten, the more the questions refer back, centering on its search, dismissing what does not lead directly to its rediscovery. Now the thought is: Instead of being drained, passive, better to go on the offensive, get active. So you try and prove to others your worth instead of acting from an internal sense of self-worth. In trying to prove that you have more than nibbling worth, you start to feel a gnawing sense of worthlessness. Looking for some external reward, some sign you’ve made it in the world, you resign yourself to feeling inwardly empty, unable to stand the sight of yourself alone. You work harder for recognition. Others must recognize your greatness. You are special, unique, unlike them.

Ah, how quickly is the fall from individual essence to societal menace! There is a fence around you now, but you have grown blind to it, it is visible only to others; there is condescension in your eyes, a defiant willfulness in your furrowed brow. Perhaps it is better never to realize any depth in yourself than to grasp it only for a moment while the rest of your life you feel both worse than and superior to everyone else. You can’t reach for the heights without sinking to the depths, can’t have the one without the other.

Well now, let’s try a different tactic. Instead of trying to force others into a recognition of your unique brilliance, instead of filling your hours with useless thoughts of how you are hopelessly misunderstood, couldn’t you spare a few hopeful thoughts in trying to understand others, understanding yourself through relationship with others? A novel idea. Realizing that your uniqueness, though not an illusion, not a terminal uniqueness, realizing that this life-giving, self-creating uniqueness, since true in yourself must be no less true in others, couldn’t you try, instead of feeling drained by piercing and insensitive eyes, pierce through to the sensitive, unique soul of another? Seeing the one, can’t you see there is no other?

spruce mt

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