Hobie Barkley was a first-riser most of his life, and once he was of exploring age, able to go on his own, he toured the mountain like it was newly presented to him, a gift from the God of Mountains. Nobody in the Greater Hills Region of Colorado knew it any better than him. Even some of the old prospectors, their habits and labors cut way back by age, infirmity or a newly-found woman, did not rise to his habits.
Hobart Barkley, senior, his father, raising a lone child after his wife died early, knew he had a special responsibility on his hands and vowed to make the most of possible opportunities for the boy, like breaking the lad into lonely walks soaking up knowledge of tree, bush and sturdy stone rising to the heavens above him, at times fighting off the coming sun, and some late nights holding up the moon’s voyage across the late skies, shaking the dust out of it en route, knowing the ever-smell of it, the odds and ends of clouded moves that raked up pieces of the late hours. Such were, he realized, signs for him to see, remember, place in the pageless book of composition happening during all his hours of exploration and discovery.
Figures leaped at him, not the mathematical kind, at each twist and turn in a trail he had carved into the face of the mountain, seeking names, descriptive sounds chiseled into the face of the mountain. Was it a dog-leg Hobie saw clawed across and into the mountain, across the face and length of it? A plain old dog-leg. He’d wonder where the bark came from, the yap of the animal on the loose yet mired in place in his eager imagination. Sooner or later, he’d see it answer back at a star-lit summons, the light of the heavens leading him the way it could and should, an often-random finger of light like a traffic director at earnest work.
Some of it was carry-over from his wars, though he abhorred war from any distance and, up close; he’d seen three of them, fought in two, and all leaving deep thoughts that life said they would be carried forever: “These belong to you, Hobie. You can’t let go of them.” These thoughts persisted, they haunted him, they clung to his senses, ever and anon, he figured, at his humor and deepest thoughts.
They added to their declarations: “War is never equal,” they said. “It can be even, end up even, but never equal; one soul, one solitary soul, can make the difference, can draw down a soul, find God’s voice coming off one edge of cloud stripped to its core, all of Eternity’s echo is in the crowd of stars.”
Some of his night runs were like visits to a huge sports center with huge crowds of their own held quietly at amazement of talent, of near-torture in their misses, masters of each their own plight: cheering, waving, beer-drinking beyond bounds, generating hate for officials, the opposition, the declared off-sides or in-motion penalties decried to the same heavens as if they themselves had also been cheated upon, left to bias, ineptitude, a secret gamble of odds making things even (which never works to satisfaction.)
At length, sounds decreased in importance, he found his eyes more alert than ever. Thus, it was shapes and figures, or what he assumed to be figures, that attracted him as being left for his discovery on the heart-plain face of the mountain itself, right there rising in front of him.
It made the other statements, where sons of comrades not yet born, would say later in their lives, “I, or we, bought this house for you, Dad.” I’ve known three such sons, and their comrades/fathers comfortably ensconced in these days of days. Not that these houses are all mansions, but they are elegant, show class of choice, the shrewd eye of a presenter toward his father, long in the trenches and battles of life, who had hit or missed, but kept coming back on the target, coming back a winner, a giver, marking a son in the line of love.
When the Flying Horse chose to reveal itself across the broadest part of the cliff face, in stone but off the ground, it appeared he was at his leap into Eternity, a start of a trip without an end. Nothing like it had ever been revealed, he swore to his senses, therefore making it special, of a different aura.
Hobie swore he saw the lift-off, the initial leap, the break from the foot of Earth into the ever-unknown until his own trip would come, him never anxious to start that journey, content to wait the Fates that await every man who comes this way and waits to move beyond.
Tree and bush, hill and dale, knob and knot, came his way; were ear-marked, listed for Time’s sake, listed for his knowing all the matter and form of the Earth. Thus it was, mountain or below the mountain, on the levels of Earth, all came to his touch, taste, hearing, the silence and the boom of silence, the marks he had cut into the life of the mountain, the art of self-existence, the loneliness, the huge up-cry of being alone with so much at hand to know and measure; simply, all there is, all there was.
When Hobie built his cabin, away from home, it was at home at the foot of the cliff-face, saying, “If it falls, it will come and take me down to fly up.” No other thought entered his mind. It was a pre-burial ritual of his days from then on; the trust in the mountain, the trust in the Fates, being inseparable for man and stone.
When Hobie was 32 years old, his father died at the claws of a huge black bear. Hobie buried the bear with his father, united forever. The grave was at the foot of the mountain and he paused there every day while in passage, knowing the eternal coupling, man and nature locked in one spot forever, until Thy Kingdom Comes.
When the landfall itself came, when the cliff shook, came free of the mountain, its sheer frame broke the night silence with a CRACK loud as God’s demand, His Call, it tore loose of all other beliefs and slid onto its long promise of finality.
That CRACK took Hobie down, then flung him into the high heavens, on his last passage from the foot of Earth, to the evermore.
Few of us know. Few of us have read the pageless book. Even we are separate in our existence, moving when commanded, silent at pure moments where amazement must be normal.
Image – Pixabay.com
3 thoughts on “Face of the Mountain by Tom Sheehan”
This is a beautiful exploration on the giving and taking relationship man should have with nature.
Maybe cruel at times but always honest!!
Excellent my friend!
The closing line “where amazement must be normal” stands out. It summarizes the piece perfectly.
Kind of reminds me of that old fellow who spent his life living under Mt. St. Helens, and refused to move before the volcano exploded. That was interesting about the flying horse as harbinger. I grew up also beneath a mountain which became totemic to me, as time went on, I too have seen shapes on its slopes and cliffs. I could relate to this story.