One day a young man turned up at a tourism office near a mountain in a strange land. He really wanted to see the mountain, because it looked beautiful from afar, but he didn’t have a tour guide to show it to him. So he asked at the tourism office for a guide. The mountain was tall, and though it was beautiful, it also looked quite dangerous. Because of this, he wanted a good guide, one whom he could trust to show him a reliable way, and to showcase the beauties of the mountain.
There were many guides available at the office, and not a few other tourists. He noticed that other people chose tour guides almost at random, though some looked a bit doubtful to him. He asked for someone who could show him the right way, gently and without fuss, but they all just looked blankly at him. Eventually a tall, distinguished-looking man pointed out a book lying on a table near the door.
“There’s a written guide to help you. You could try that – but it might not help you all the way,” the man said. “Be careful. It is an old book, and may be out of date.”
The young man thanked the other and walked to the table. The book was simply covered, with a plain white cover and a title that simply said Mountains. The young man was immediately concerned. The book had clearly not been read very much, and the overly general title concerned him. Shouldn’t he choose a more suitable, more tailored guide? He turned the book over and read the brief description on the back.
A companion for the climbing and appreciation of mountains. It contains knowledge and wisdom to be used during the climb, as well as hints and tips for appreciating the views that appear on the mountain. It is meant to be read from beginning to end during the climb, but it is also recommended to be used a reference after the climb.
The young man smiled to himself and looked round once more to see if there were no other suitable guides – but he’d made up his mind. He bought a light raincoat from the purchasing desk, but when seeking to pay for the book the cashier shrugged. “I’ve never seen it before. We don’t sell it here.”
So the man fastened his shoelaces and ventured out of the office and looked once more at the mountain. It seemed remarkably tall – there were clouds visible well below the peak. A shudder of nerves ran through him, but he gripped the book, and opened page one.
“The climb is going to be a difficult one. Make sure you are prepared; do you have the right boots? Do you have a hat and raincoat? Are you ready for flies and mosquitoes that will bother you on your trip? And do you have endurance?” The man bit his lip, for though he had the supplies, he wasn’t sure he could physically climb the whole mountain. “It’s ok to hesitate. Just set out with a confident pace and you will be all right.”
So the man took it at its word and started on the walk. The path was well defined; it was a sealed tar surface, and the vegetation – tall conifers and pines – was well back from the edges of the road, with soft grass on the sides. It wasn’t particularly steep, and he could see well forward.
And so the man read the guide as he climbed. It was very good – he liked its style, its personality, and how it seemed to know at what point of the climb he was. The climb took many days, and though he looked back on it later with pleasure, it was fraught with peril. Often he would see animals lurking in the conifer forests to the side of the road, and strange howls echoed through the nights. Reading his companion for advice by candlelight, he saw it didn’t have any advice on such things. “Do you hear the wolves and the strange beasts?” It would say fearfully. “They might make you turn back or kill you.” The book said these things but seemed at as much a loss to what to do as he was.
Sometimes he came to a part of the path that seemed too steep for him to master, and the mountain beyond looked even worse. “Mountains have cliffs,” the companion said awkwardly. “Can you climb them?”
Other times he sank in despair on the side of the road, unable or too discouraged to continue. “The road is long and difficult. Maybe it’s even impossible.” He would eye the book and ask aloud, “why did we even start this? What was the point?”
But he would read and slowly his courage would return. On bright and sunny days the road was steadily climbing but easy going, and he sang aloud in the air, as the guide spoke of the trees and the sky and the clouds and how pretty the mountain peak is.
As the road continued, the young man was sometimes surprised by the book. One day he found himself idly kicking a pebble as he continued, and when he opened the book to see what it had to say today it said gently, “rocks and pebbles irritate the feet, and tire them silently.” Ashamed and surprised, he left the pebble on the road and trudged on.
Another time he bumped his head on an overhanging tree branch. He hadn’t been watching, focusing too intently on the road. “You need to keep your eyes forward and keep moving – but sometimes the trees try to annoy you.”
“Move forward – doesn’t everything look pretty up ahead?” The young man slowed down when he read this, because he felt sometimes the book wasn’t right. But this was rare, and what it made sense to him.
“Don’t resent the narrowness of the path.”
“See the lands from this height – don’t lose sight of them. They are as precious as this mountain.”
“Do you see how far we’ve come?”
As the man climbed, he was more and more surprised by the questions the book asked him and the insights it told him. Sometimes he felt the companion knew much more than it should. But he wondered why it seemed so little used when he’d picked it up at the tourism office.
The analogy is by no means perfect, but as Latte and I go on this journey, I get continually amazed by her. I only started seeing how she puts words on paper on this blog, and it was mindblowing, though I’d already known her for two years. Each time I thought I’d understood her a little better, and then she revealed something new about herself. She doesn’t do it intentionally, I think – it’s just who she is. And what we’re doing here is a discovery of each other, what we are and what we do. We walk together – she isn’t some voiceless book, and nor is she leaving me to walk the hard yards (nor I, I hope, her); we’re working hard together, and encourage each other, to keep going. And on the way we share things like this, things that we would never have thought we’d find in each other way back at the foot of the mountain.
Instead of painfully obvious and hopelessly romantic stories, I wish I could write on the same level as her. Who knows, maybe she’ll teach me that too. She teaches me a lot of things. I hope to be as good to her as she is and has been to me.