Tuesday, 6 February 2007

untitled (the lady of the moutain and the lake)


The lady lived between the mountain and the lake.
This is important. The three were inseparable of each other.
It was a small house, with a pointed roof. The point of this roof was framed by the towering pinnacle of the mountain behind it. The two echoed each other in shape, and reminded of the infinite battling with the small. The mountain was verdant in greenery, pines grew there that seemed like tufts of grass against the slopes, and like endless spiralling stairs to the heavens when held up against the pointed roof house. From the distance, perhaps if you look at the mountain from across the lake, where the road and the railway circumvent them both, there seems to be no gap between the trees. It appears to be one massive coating of soft moss, with some parts raised above the other. Yet, when you enter the falling forest, falling in the way the trees tumbled down the hill towards the pull of the great mass of the earth, you would see that the trees stand independent of each other, and beneath your feet are great swathes of needle covered earth, held in a darkness by the protecting shadows of the wavering branches. From inside the forest, the outside is invisible, and you are held within a world independent of any other. The lake and the road and the railway and all the places that they lead to are vanished in the great scope around you, and you forget everything else. You enter an isolated planet of its own. It may seem a blissful thing, but it is easy to be lost. Seduced by the trees and the earth and the space between, you lose track of how each tree looks like each other tree, one maybe marked by a low hanging branch or a sprouting fungus, but nevertheless, the same. The unnatural darkness brought to your eyes and deeper senses makes you forget the dark that slowly blankets the world outside the forest and beyond the mountain, and soon you will be lost.
Follow the striving skywards of the trees, and the woods stop abruptly. Not that this offers you a return to the world, for once out of the covered land; you hit the rocks placed so high on the earth, that once more it becomes oblivious to you. From the stony grounds you can survey it, but it continues without your presence. You stand elevated and watch it carry on without you. It gives you a sense of time. It gives you a sense of dead.
The mountain isn’t always a bad thing. It turns you god-like, surveying what has been created, unobserved, uncared for. But for most it is frightening. Not many make it that far. Even less reach the pinnacle of the mountain, where you have to push through the snow and the cloud, where the earth beneath you lies vanished and you could forget where you stood. On a clear day, perhaps you see the pointed roof, but mostly it is white mist wherever you turn. Climbers hoping to find a view of the world to provide them with their vision, to offer them a perspective of meaning are disappointed. All that you find at the mountaintop is confusion, a blindness where you lose the hand in front of your face. They flee from the meaning they seek.

The lady doesn’t mind the mountain. One day, in her youth, she scaled its height, saw what she knew she would see, and took it as a truth. Coming back down, she paid some money down for the house with the pointed roof from one of the terrified who was sick in reason by the silence of the trees and the lapping of the lake, and settled herself there. One day, she reasoned, she would head back up there, but for now she enjoyed living in its gaze.

There were two mountains. One that pointed proudly to the sky into which it vanished, the other lying prone beneath it, sinking into the earth’s belly, covered by the lake. There are probably more than two, how many mountains reflected in fish eyes, in puddles formed around the shores and rocks, in broken glass floating on its surface. The lake and the mountain(s) were akin to one another. The lake reflected the mountain and the sky, so that to one looking at its surface, no other thing existed on the earth. As the world vanished when you entered the mountain, so it did when you saw the lake. Everything became reduced to these two elements of space, and all surrounding was abandoned in its favour. So the lake scared people as much as the mountain did. People came to admire what they hoped was a sight of natural beauty – outstanding natural beauty the guidebooks say – but what they found was a promise of emptiness and a resounding sense of confusion and fear.

The lady liked the lake though. She looked past the emptiness of it, the thing that uneasily struck so many of its casual observers, and instead appreciated the fish it offered up to her, and the way she could gauge the weather merely by looking to see if its surface was blue and smooth, or grey and speckled. She had known for many years that water was a female element, and therefore was unlikely to hurt her. We all climbed out of the water once upon a time, she would say to herself, and it does no harm to be reminded by it, that one day we may have to crawl back.

The lady lived alone in the house with the pointed roof, bar a goat from which she got milk, and chickens from which she got eggs, and the cat from whom she got good company. It was no bad thing to live alone, she felt, especially as she had no fear of her surroundings.
The lady owned three books, the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Complete Works of Dickens. She required nothing more; for she felt that in those three leather bound volumes she could find poetry, history, philosophy and good tales. She had read the whole Bible now, even the chapters on begetting, even Revelations. But she had a real fondness for the psalms, and would often recite them to herself as she cooked her dinner or boiled water for tea. The cat’s particular favourite was always ‘as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’, and the lady would chuckle: ‘that’s what they think here is chuck’. She had learnt the term from her Shakespeare. Meanwhile the goat always gave good milk in tune to ‘the Lord is my shepherd.’ In the evenings she would wind up her record player and listen to ancient recordings of thirties dance bands and read slowly over whichever play or verse or novel was taking her fancy at that moment, smoking tobacco from a tin that never seemed empty.

Sometimes the lady would welcome visitors into the house with the pointed roof. They were more often than not solitary, tourists put off by the emptiness of the surroundings looking for a warming coffee, or transient men and women, turning off the road in search of a nearby place where they could stay for a while. In earlier times, she would share her tobacco and milk followed by her bed. They would hold her in a half suppressed need to feel the sensual human contact that they felt the surroundings so completely wiped out, whilst she would enjoy a sensation often forgotten but always pleasing. Still, her need was much more relaxed than the recipient, for she understood enough to appreciate the warm nurture of the mountain and the water from whence we all originally came, and as she got older, less and less shared what lay under her blankets. Sometimes a familiar face would return and she would smile warmly in recognition. They would sit down together and she would tell them of a new verse discovered, or how she had noticed a new cadence of sound in one of her old recordings. They would try and tell her about the news of the world beyond the mountain and the lake, and although she would smile and nod in feigned attention, this conversation would remain outside her hearing. The lady knew that there was really no world outside of the shadow of the mountain and its double in the lake. Still, she remembered enough about the fragility of egos to maintain a seemed interest, whilst inside she contemplated whether she would find salmon in the lake this season, when the berries would ripen, or why one of her hens wasn’t laying much this week. The world mattered not. What was important was the creation in which she resided. But her visitors gave her pleasure, and as the evening would wear on, they would sit in a contented togetherness, no less happy for its impossibility at lasting. When they left, she never felt sad. She knew if it mattered, they would return and find her.
And so the world continued.

The lady knew that time passed. She could see it in the behaviour of the lake and the changing colours that passed across the mountain. She could feel it in the need for more or less blankets, where the moon lay in the sky, and how much hair or fur graced the back of her goat and cat. She saw the growing of grey pepper in her hair, in the stopping and starting and ultimate stopping of blood, in the lines that grew life on her face. She heard it by the whistles of trains that carried the other world away from the lake. It didn’t bother her. The mountain and the trees and the lake had survived time as long as they had, so she knew they would let her know when it was ready for the world to stop. She carried on milking and fishing and gathering, accepting gifts of honey and wine from her visitors, and sitting with her cat and one of her three books.

One day the lady stroked her cat and pulled on her warm coat to milk the goat and collect the eggs. She put them in the kitchen, and tied the laces of her best boots. She closed the door of the pointed roof house and headed towards the mountain. Its pathways opened up to her and beckoned her into it, enfolding her faithful presence into its rich fertile breast and she nodded in appreciation. She lost herself in the needled earth of the forest floor that made everything beyond it vanish into oblivion, her feet stroked the rocks that offered her the view of her own world and graciously accepted the enveloping mist that shut all else out.

One day the lady stroked her cat and pulled on her warm coat to milk the goat and collect the eggs. She put them in the kitchen, and tied the laces of her best boots. She closed the door of the pointed roof house and went down to the lake. She untied the small boat she used for fishing and let herself drift. The lake held her close in the mothering oceania from where life came.

There are many stories about which path the lady actually took. She seemed to be found twice. But that is immaterial.

Visitors are always grateful to find in the intensity of the frightening landscape, which is so far away from any world that they recognise, the house with the pointed roof. Here they can help themselves to eggs and milk and tobacco, enjoy the company of a rather aloof, by now rather feral cat, and read some of the most admired literature around. They don’t question its presence, for they feel to ask anything of where they have found themselves would only provoke answers that they don’t need to hear. It is the only place between the mountain, the lake and the seemingly far distant road that makes anything around them feel at all safe.

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