The Clouds

I wrote this a while ago. I’m not sure if I like it.

A man, still damp and wearing a dirty green raincoat and a short matted beard steps out of his car.  He throws a small backpack over his shoulder and without locking the car starts up the trail by the side of the road. He sets out walking swiftly, exhibiting the erect posture and sure footing of a man comfortable in the outdoors. The trail begins winding upwards, gently at first through dense old growth forest, and the sunlight shines softly through the trees.  The man hums thoughtlessly as he walks, and amuses himself by identifying the various trees, ferns, and wildflowers that he passes on his way.

The trail gradually becomes steeper and as it does the man picks up his pace, relishing the burn of his calves and thighs and the rasping of his lungs. Even his thoughts move in time to his panting breath and pounding heart, until it seems that his feet carry him swiftly forward without conscious direction.  Thoughts of thirst and hunger are suppressed to a faint awareness that quickly dissipates beneath his focused effort, and he presses onward hardly noticing his exhaustion and eagerly thinking only of each next step ahead.

As he emerges from the upper edges of the forest the landscape around him becomes visible.  He sees the trail winding sharply upwards through scree fields and sub-alpine meadows before it cuts behind a jagged cliff face and disappears from sight. To his right, the land recedes into a thickly forested valley, which in turn recedes into a dense covering of low-lying clouds, and then rises again to form still more impressive rocky summits. Upon encountering this spectacular vista the man stops, feeling suddenly weak and nauseous.

As the man sits down and puts his head in his hands, the clouds begin to rise from the valley and creep in his direction like so many misty phantoms, until they form a wall of impenetrable whiteness on all sides of him. The landscape disappears into the void and the man feels briefly comforted although still unsure of whether to continue onwards.  He would like to sit for a long time, but instead picks himself up and continues at a slower pace, frequently stopping along the trail as if to catch his breath and sometimes sitting down upon a rock for long stretches at a time.

With some difficulty the man reaches the top of the mountain, and here he stands and gazes out into the fog.  All he can see is the patch of rock beneath his feet and a flock of small, chirping birds that flies in and out of sight through the clouds: and although this dense whiteness deprives him of the sights he originally sought in climbing, he feels not the least bit of regret, only a wild exhilaration uplifting him.  There is nothing for him here, nothing to see or accomplish, and he only grows wetter and colder and hungrier with each passing moment.  Finally, he picks up a loose bit of rock and throws it, as far as he can, only to lose it to the emptiness shortly after it leaves his hand, and he cannot suppress the pounding of his heart accompanied by an ecstatic grin—for it is here inhaling the thin vaporous whiteness of the clouds that the man experiences the union of the frenzied desire that drives us onward in eternal pursuit, and the tender laziness of the soul that craves only to sink into the abyss. He feels whole, and perhaps even happy.

The man sighs and heads down the mountain, and with each step homeward his gently aching spirit urges him to return to where he once stood silently among the clouds.

Cross-posted at Embryos and Idiots


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