[part 13 of a 15 part series decribing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]
13) Down But Not Out
Bechervaise Plateau, Thursday February 7th, 1991
We stumble back to the campsite in heavy rain. Surrounded by mud, exhausted, windblown and wet to the skin, we should be miserable. We’re far from it, at least until Bill shares a worse-than-useless bit of news with us. He tells us he’s been accompanied all the way down by a tune that sprang into his head while we were on top. Unfortunately it’s the Carpenters’ song “Top of the World”. And not only does he share this with us, he actually sings a verse out loud.
Something in the wind has learned my name
And it’s tellin’ me that things are not the same
In the leaves on the trees and the touch of the breeze
There’s a pleasin’ sense of happiness for me.
Inexplicably we find ourselves joining him for the chorus, Jim and I going so far as to hold imaginary microphones up to our mouths.
I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
Your love’s put me at the top of the world.
Our choral complicity implies for one brief moment that we think the song somewhat apt. But when Bill tries another verse we quickly come to our senses, and threaten to throw him over the nearest cliff if he dares to sing or mention the song again. He pretends to be offended, but gives the game away by grinning cunningly. He knows that the damage is done, that we will each internally hum that infernal tune right through our (very wet) dinner preparations. He stays silent as we eat, but his look is that of a farmer who’s just finished sowing his crop as the rain begins.
We finish dinner hastily and choose to leave our pots and dishes outside in the rain. The only precaution we take against wind and wildlife is to weigh the plates down with rocks. With a bit of luck the possums and the rain might even wash up for us.
Safely inside the tent, wet gear removed and stowed, I lie back with a feeling of utter contentment. It can rain; it can pour; it can blow; it can roar! Nothing can take this away. I have been mortally afraid for most of the day, and more than edgy for the whole trip. And yet I have kept going, and have achieved all that I could possibly hope for out of this trip.
A fresh squall thwacks into the wall of the tent, rain batters the roof. I just shrug deeper into the sleeping bag and smile. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that borders on joy. Certainly I have come through this trial by ordeal, but there’s more to it than that. For most of the last year I have struggled to believe that I could do even the most basic things implied in being a husband, father, home-owner, bread-winner, friend, worshipper, creative soul. Never a depressive character, I have nonetheless gone through some dark valleys. I had begun to believe that I was of use to no-one. Despite two degrees and a diploma, a wide-ranging CV , and a genuine desire to be useful to society via my work, I can’t even get an interview for a half-decent job.
There have been times when I’ve been ready to give up, to simply pull a metaphorical blanket over my head, and ignore the cajolers, encouragers and others who want to whip me into more acceptable shape. But now, after this, I feel ready for anything. If I have stared down my long-held fear of this mountain; if I have kept going when my apprehensions would’ve had me turn back; if I’ve kept faith with my walking mates through good and bad, then I’m ready to face afresh the challenges of earning a living.
I have never counted myself among any kind of elite in the physical sphere. I’m more of a trier; a persistent type; a sticker. These aren’t virtues that rate on any elite list I’ve ever seen. Yet out here and – I was starting to believe – back in the working world, the ability to keep going even in the face of difficulties must count for something. It might not move mountains, but it could get you to the top of them. Even to the top of Tasmania’s hardest mountain.
Just before drifting off to sleep I pray again. It’s a blanket prayer of thankfulness for survival certainly. But there’s a deeply personal note of gratefulness too; a fundamental recognition that even out here in the wilds I haven’t been beyond the care of the one who delights in making and maintaining this magnificent world. As I slip into slumber the wind and rain roar a loud amen that not even the Carpenters can drown out.
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