The Mountain - An Answer to Bill Holland's Newest Writing Challenge
At first all we could see were clouds, covering everything above the tree line. Yet we knew that the mountain was there, somewhere, under the thick white cover. The kids didn't care, they were just playing in the meadow, enjoying the outdoors. As the hours passed, the cloud cover slowly started to dissipate, and behind it the snow-covered top of the mountain became visible. No matter how many times I've seen it, I've always been amazed by the beauty of it, by he change that only elevation brought on. Where we stood, it was summer, warm, we were comfortable in shorts and t-shirts, surrounded by wild flowers in green meadows, among tall pine trees. Yet, so close it seemed that we could walk to its top in a few minutes, the mountain stood, its peak covered with a thick layer of snow. Never ceased to amaze me.
The kids were running around in the meadow, happily chatting about the birds, flowers and wildlife around them. A pair of marmots peaked out from behind a rock, and they stopped to look at them. As we continued up the trail, two Japanese tourists, walking in front of us, stopped and motioned us to be quiet, pointing excitedly to an opening in the forest. A small fawn was grazing there, following her mother. The deer looked up at us, but as she sensed no danger, she resumed her grazing, keeping an eye on her young.
It was so peaceful, so wonderful to be there. Yet underneath it all, I could feel the tension, the hurt, the anger that was still keeping us from talking to each other.
"I have to climb the mountain," he suddenly turned to me. "Are you going to come with me?"
"How? What would I do with the kids? Are you insane?"
"I don't know. It's always the kids with you. There is no room for us any more. I'm going, with or without you."
"You don't mean now, do you? You can't! You don't have the right gear, or the right clothes. Go next time we come, when you are prepared."
"I wasn't going right this second. I know what I need. I've been on this mountain before. But I'm sick of waiting for "next time". What happened to the girl I married? What happened to your sense of adventure?"
I wasn't going to get into the same argument. It was no use. We've been through this many times before, and we were not getting anywhere.
"She grew up." I said quietly. I wasn't even sure he heard me. He trotted off ahead on the trail. I knew he would be gone for hours.
The old depot was deserted when we passed it on our way down. We stopped and let the kids play on the old train. As always, he had just disappeared. He needed to go take a hike in the woods. He couldn't walk as slow as I was with the kids. I tried to understand. Yet, sitting there just with the kids, I felt very much alone. Did we really grow so far apart, that we had nothing in common any longer? We both loved the woods, we both loved the mountain. This place had brought us together years ago, we used to hike these woods hand in hand. Yes, we needed to slow down for the kids, but we could still do it all. A different pace, that's all we needed, why could' he see it? As my four year old daughter came running to tell me about the story they were playing, filled with dragons and fairies, who lived in the train and the surrounding woods, I joined in their game.
We helped the fairies fight the fire breathing dragon, and free the little children he held captive on the train. Then sat with the dragon in one of the carts, when he started crying, telling us that he was all alone, his family left him and he had no one to talk to. He took the children because they were friendly to him, and he thought they would be happy with him. My daughter explained to him that the children miss their mommies and daddies, it was wrong of him to take them. So he returned them to their own home, then the fairies helped him find his own family. His wife and children were happy to see him, they missed him as much as he missed them. His cute dragon kids just wanted him to play with them. So he took his whole family back to the train where they all still live happily with the neighbor fairies. We were visiting with them, and they offered us tea and cookies for helping them get back together.
As we got off the train, we saw the lonely figure coming out from the woods.
"Daddy, daddy!", our little girl ran to him, and he scooped her up in his arms. "Guess what?" Without waiting for an answer, she continued.
"We found a mean dragon in this train, and he was fighting the fairies, who tried to free the children he captured. But he was only mean because he was lonely, and we helped him get his family back and now he in not lonely any more. He is not grumpy either. Want to meet him?"
" Dad, it's just story she made up. Dragons and fairies are not real." said her five year old brother.
"So what if it's just a story? It could be real." her sister answered. "Dad, guess what? Mom figured it out that the dragon was just lonely and not really mean, so now he's happy."
"Really? Your mom is a smart lady. She knows about dragons."
"And about kids," he added, looking at me. "Maybe not so much about people."
What was that supposed to mean?, I thought. However, I kept my mouth shut. We had argued enough for a lifetime. As much as I knew we would need to clear the air, I had no energy for it.
The old barn looked deserted. The place we were renting for the night should have been right there. There seemed to be no road leading to it, no other structure close to it, everything seemed to be overgrown with weeds. Finally we noticed a small farm house in the distance, and a dirt road leading to it. That has to be it, the farm house we were looking for.
Hidden behind the old, deserted barn, was a very old house, with a tiny garden in front, its door unlocked, as promised. A plate filled with fresh baked, home made cookies welcomed us on the kitchen table. The kids devoured them in a few seconds.
There was a note next to the cookies. "Welcome to our cabin. Hope you feel at home here. If you need anything, we live in town, a few miles down the road. Feel free to pick any of the fruit and vegetables that you find ripe. Enjoy the cookies."
The cabin was tiny, but cozy, built of old bricks and wood. There was barely enough room for us, but we felt comfortable. The real treat was outside though. The garden had fresh vegetables and ripe strawberries, that he kids started picking right away.
"Why are these so tiny, mommy? asked inquisitive little girl. The ones we buy are much bigger"
'Those are genetically engineered," answered her brother before I could open my mouth.
"What does that mean?", asked her sister, giving me a "here we go again, how does he know everything?" look.
"Never mind that, these are much sweeter." she added, as she plopped one in her mouth.
We sat on the patio, around a table, with a perfect view of the mountain.
The kids took off to play in the surrounding wilderness. I wasn't following them as closely as I usually do, I knew they were safe here, far from the city, from the crowded streets, from its dangers.
"Mom, come see the barn with us!" my daughter called.
It was unlocked, like everything else on the property. As I set foot in it, the smells, the sight of it transported me back to my childhood, to another barn, in another part of the world, in the village where my grandparents grew up. Their barn was a different shape, people spoke a different language there, but the surrounding nature, the smell of old hey, of animals that once filled the space, was the same. I had played in that barn with my cousins, during every vacation. I spent some of the best moments of my childhood there. As I watched my kids playing in the old barn and the farm around it, I suddenly knew exactly what to do.
I left them to play and ran back to the cabin to Jim.
"We should buy this property!" I told him as soon as I saw him.
"We should see if we can. I'm sure they would want to sell it, no one lives here, they don't make much money renting it out, we are in the middle of nowhere, how many tourists do you think come here?"
"OK," he said slowly. "But how do you think we could live here? I have a job, we have responsibilities. We can't just give up everything, pick up and leave."
"Why not? Didn't you just ask earlier what happened to the adventurer you married? Who's trying to play it safe now?" I smiled. "Yes, we do have responsibilities. The most important ones are to our family, to our kids. They would be so much happier growing up here. We would all be happier. I can homeschool them if the school in town is too far, or we don't like it. And let's face it, you hate your job, you are not meant to be just another face in the corporate world. Don't you think I know it? I can see it every day you go to work. It is affecting all of us, you being so unhappy. You don't need to make so much money, we are not even spending it, we don't really care. Do you think the kids need more things? They need to be able to play outside, breathing fresh air instead of the polluted city air, I need to let them be without worrying about them every second they are out of my sight. I can stop being a helicopter parent, but I can only do it here, far from the city."
He just stood there, looking at me like he didn't recognize me. Then, slowly, a huge smile spread across his face.
"You are serious, aren't you? Won't you miss the city, your friends, the shopping? Aren't you worried about the kids' education? I don't even know anything about farming or about living in the country."
"Neither do I. But we'll learn. I feel more at home here, in the middle of this deserted farm, than I ever do in the city. So are the kids, just look at them. And if we are this close to the mountain, you can climb it any time you want to. I'll go with you, too. In a small community like the town a few miles down, I'll feel safe leaving the kids with their friends."
As we took a walk around the property, hand in hand, we came across a small graveyard. The stones were so old, it was hard to make out the names, but as deserted as the rest of the property was, this small area looked well cared for.
As we stood there, trying to decipher the writing on the grave stones, an older couple, accompanied by their dog, came out of the woods, walking through a path we didn't notice before.It turned out they were the property owners, Martha and John. We found out that the graves belong to their great grandparents, and the rest of their family, the original owners of the place. They had built the barn and a big farm house in the 1800s. It has been passed down through the generations, but a few years ago the big farm house burned down. Since Martha and John had no children, and were getting old, they moved into town. They had kept the guest cabin and occasionally rent it out.
We looked at each other.
"Would you consider selling the property?" Jim asked.
They were. In fact, they were very happy to do it. They only asked to let them keep the small site where the graveyard stood. We happily agreed.
The kids came to join us, and they instantly fell in love with the dog, who was happy to play with them. When they found out that Martha had baked the cookies, they became instant best friends with the older couple. They walked with them, as they asked a million questions about the dog, the barn, the surrounding woods.
Sitting on the patio that night, watching the sunset over the mountain, we knew we finally found what we were looking for.