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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010 8 years ago

Mountains high, valleys low

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by: Louis Roney Staff Writer

"Something there is that doesn't love a mountain," Robert Frost might have written. (But he didn't.)

At sea level the human imagination, like the human body, is earthbound by invisible gravity.

On a mountaintop the pull on the imagination is upward, ever higher, liberating.

A mountaintop is reached only by exertion, physical or mechanical.

There's the achievement!

After all, anyone can walk downhill, or coast home.

As I write these words, I'm thinking of a spot high on the side of a "Rocky Mountain" in Glacier National Park, in Montana.

There, where I climbed at 19, my b.w. and I picnicked a few summers ago and listened to the voices of mountains.

Someone reputedly asked legendary Sir George Mallory to identify the wellspring of his urge to climb Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain.

Mallory, speaking in the simplest and the most mystical words, said, "Because it is there."

Sir George disappeared high into eternity in the clouds only a few short yards from his goal.

Mallory is gone. Everest is still there beckoning the dreamers, the adventurers, and, perhaps, the mad.

Martin Luther King proclaimed, "I have been to the mountain," shortly before he was brought to Earth by the lowest of scoundrels.

King's mountain was not Everest, but was just as risky.

King joined Mallory in choosing the lonely, perilous path of the high-altitude dreamer.

The Greek gods lived on Olympus, a formidable mount in Macedonia — but far more accessible than an Everest.

Olympus was a spot just lofty enough to distinguish its divine residents from the hoi polloi living down below.

Mountain resorts in North Carolina, Colorado, New Hampshire, and the European Alps provide us today with much the same kind of "caste stratification by altitude."

The higher up the mountain you live, the swankier you look to those down below.

Mountain-high, you look down literally on most of the rest of the human race — as you do figuratively if your social views depend on an autocratic Weltanschauung.

Adolf Hitler had a hideaway, The Eagle's Nest, on the tiptop of an Alp near Berchtesgaden, in southern Bavaria.

Some summers ago, my b.w. and I stood on Hitler's front porch and looked out across the green rolling landscape of Central Europe.

Mussolini stood on that same spot with Der F├╝hrer more than seven decades ago, as the two insatiable dictators gazed down from their aerie and dreamed of conquest.

Moses brought the Law down from Sinai's mountaintop.

Where else would you expect to meet God on state business?

How prosaic it would seem had Moses brought the Tablets up from the Dead Sea — the lowest spot on Earth!

Where are the Tablets today? Did they ever, in fact, exist?

Are the Ten Commandments really God's Laws?

Could they be pragmatic rules of behavior concocted by the wisest minds among murdering and pillaging primitive tribes? Did God's law come from sages who had observed that the human family must obey moral laws to survive?

Who today would deny that we are better off with the Ten Commandments than without them?

In the "Sermon on the Mount," at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law … I am come not to destroy, but to fulfill."

Christ's humanized universalization of narrower, harder law brought him an unending stream of adorers — as well as armies of enemies.

Did Christ himself say the words attributed to him?

Was his identifiable historical figure deemed "divine" because no human being could realistically be that wise, that good?

Or were Christ's words merely the distillation of then state-of-the-art human wisdom?

The Sermon on the Mount directs us to live together without destroying not only each other, but the good within ourselves.

Many may argue Christ's divinity, even his existence. But few will argue the uplifting code of ethics delivered on that real or figurative Mount, whence the wisdom of the ages was sung by one human voice.

A mountain is usually a quiet, remote giant.

But a mountaintop is, as well, a convenient and impressive metaphorical high ground for people who broadcast words of wisdom, or folly that passes for wisdom.

No mountain dispenses either wisdom — or folly.

When a mountain decides to speak out loud in its own voice, it thunders, "Get out of the way!"

A volcano's eruption is catastrophic, earsplitting and meaningless annihilation.

A mountain's pompous racket and fury signify nothing save "that's how a mountain sounds."

Channing's, Emerson's, Melville's and Thoreau's transcendentalism unites common thought in a voice to move mountains.

Although mountains may be the most awesome features on the face of our planet, a mountain houses no gods other than those installed in it by the mind of man.

When I was a boy in Central Florida, the late, great Kate Smith, a mountain of a woman in every sense of the word, used to sing to us out of our wooden Philco table-model radio, "When the moon comes over the mountain …"

In my young mind's eye I painted a picturesque mountain with a full moon coming up behind it.

Gorgeous, blood-red Florida moons rose regularly over our shimmering freshwater lakes, but where was the "mountain" Kate kept singing about?

Kate Smith made me feel cheated in flat, sea-level Florida, and helped set me on a lifelong quest toward mountains and moons across distant horizons.

Perhaps, millions of years ago, the Montana mountain, on whose side b.w. and I picnicked, was under an ocean.

In eons to come, erosion may bring Glacier Park's tall peaks down to sea level once again.

The timeless erosion of mountains instills a sense of the eternal that contrasts with the careening tumbles in our own lives.

Mountains' own majesty and beauty are invisible to themselves, but inspire those who have eyes to behold them and hearts to reverence them.

Do we search too far to find ultimate truth?

Perhaps too often, we fail to look within.

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