The view from the top

I encourage all senior citizens to visit a mountain top, preferably one that is uninhabited, and spend some time there as the sun moves across the sky and darkness falls. Don’t go expecting something, just relax and look. Gaze in the distance and at any town or lights below. Be receptive. Find one you can drive to if climbing is out.

Those who know say that mountains are Holy, not because they are closer to God but the serenity at the top is complete. It is possible to understand the truth, not in words but through the enlightening experience, a direct message to those ready to receive it.  If you do, you will never be the same. Whether you are religious or not, this is one place you need to experience at least once. Read my view from the mountain top:

T REX 008f(Ft. Bliss, Texas, August 1971) I decided to climb the mountain to the west of our barracks before I received orders to the Southeast Asia war games. I put on my fatigue pants, boots and a black T-shirt, took a canteen of water, jumped in my Cuda and headed for the Trans Mountain Hwy. This highway was completed a couple of years ago and made it easier to join the highway headed north into New Mexico.

It was just past noon and I wanted to get there and back to my barracks before it became dark. The highest point is about 7200 feet above sea level and this was my first effort on a mountain, although this is only a hill compared to the big ones.

I reached the highest point on the road and there was parking on both sides for those wanting to check the scenery. I saw a dirt off-ramp on the north side of the road and I turned right and down into a gully at the base of the mountain. I looked up. This appeared to be the tallest part of the mountain so I locked my car, took my canteen and found a starting point. I hoped my car would still be there when I returned. click on image.

The mountain was comprised of dirt, rocks and a sprig of vegetation here and there. I checked above, and feeling good, took off at a good pace. leaning low and moving on, scanning for easy paths to follow without slowing down. I was feeling the adrenal flow.

I stopped about a thousand feet from the top, at a large rock. I had begun to feel a little light-headed, a touch of mountain sickness. This happens to climbers who aren’t used to sudden changes in altitude. So I took a drink, sat down and checked the view to the west.

There were some ranches below surrounded by desert and very few vehicles on the road. Below, and a short distance out from the mountain, a small aircraft flew silently by my spot. It was quiet everywhere. I felt alone, more than ever in my life. And it was good.

I got up and made my charge the last 300 yards to the top. Hitting the clearing, I raised my arms. There was a flat area at the crest, around 30 yards or so across. In the center, a steel shelter with thick sides and a roof that looked strong enough to withstand a category 5 hurricane.

Walking to the east side of the crest, I checked out Fort Bliss and the civilian areas below. Somewhere down there, a couple of miles to the left, was the Blue Dragon, a bar and restaurant run by Vietnamese. Airmen and soldiers like to hang out there. Most of the teachers were South Vietnamese, along with their families. There was at least one Cambodian, according to Co Bao, one of my instructors.

Strolling to the north of the area, I gazed as far as I could. The top of the mountain narrowed to less than a yard across. It reminded me of the tail of a large dinosaur, with the top slowly dropping down to the ground miles away. I felt as if I could run all the way to the bottom. I felt strange. I tried to collect my thoughts.

Suddenly, I noticed that the sun had set below the mountain and the shadows of night had slipped across the desert. I went to the beginning of the dinosaur’s tail. I put my left  foot to the left of the crest and my other to the right and looked down.

To the left, bright sunshine, hours away from night. To my right, night had fallen on Fort Bliss and the desert. The city lights were all turned on and I was standing atop the mountain with one foot in night and and the other in day.

I went back to the east side and saw the darkness below and noticed the quiet, the complete absence of noise, although activity was everywhere. Cars were moving up and down streets, fights were breaking out in bars, couples were arguing. Pain and suffering. There was no escape. It was then that I understood as the confusion was gone and reality appeared.  And it was beyond thought and ordinary explanations.

I could picture it in my mind while knowing that all the heartaches were unnecessary.

In the stillness I looked out over the desert. I knew but I couldn’t put it in words. The truth was there before me. It was this place that allowed me to see through the clutter. And the clutter was part of the truth. I learned later:

“Not knowing how near the truth is, People seek it far away…

They are like him who, in the midst of water,

Cries out in thirst so imploringly.” *

And the truth is always there as the Mumon-kan reveals in the gateless gate:

“No gate stands on public roads;

There are paths of various kinds;

Those who pass through this barrier

Walk freely though the universe.

Now I know why a  mountain is considered holy. It is a place where the obvious can be found.

*Translation, Suzuki.



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