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The International Writers Magazine: Pilgrimage

Journey To the Mountain
• Susan Dale
David headed off in the direction of the sacred mountain. Winds were picking up speed to scatter the fog into mists and beam frail rays into the horizon. Soon into his journey, the mists parted to an abandoned castle that once housed Asian nobles.
Lion Mountain

He looked over its broken walls to see copper lamps being lit by swami-like men in long gowns with their heads wrapped in scarves. One of the men told him that they were lighting the lamps to show the departed nobles the way to Nirvana. The lit lamps laid dancing shadows across the mist of a new morning.

Many pilgrims were coming from many directions. David looked around to see them walking the many paths that lead to the sacred mountain. The mountain, far away and remote, seemed a dark monolith rising to the clouds and beyond. Boulders and rocks jutted out from its sides.

Taking up his journey, he walked beside the swami-pilgrims. He slowed his pace when they did; the pilgrims to greet other pilgrims; he, to ponder their great quest. Looking around to observe the pilgrims, he saw some walking and some riding astride the donkeys, plodding sure steps along the rocky trail. Long trails of pilgrims, near and far, they were around, but not part of him, they were within something that encompassed them in intent. With long gowns whipping in the winds, the pilgrims plodded on towards the mountain: they had faith like a mountain; faith solid, everlasting, and rising high. A focused multitude; some were already up on the far-away mountain, and looking like dots going up. Many more were headed to the mountain. In diverse ways they came; coming to keep coming. Some tarried for tea when the sun sat wide and full in the hot heavens. Others kept steadily to their quest, walking in measured steps; looking straight ahead. And there were those who stopped to visit with other wayfarers, and others who paused to tie prayer flags on a long rope that stretched from one path to another. And as the multi-colored flags unfurled in the winds, the sun shone through their bright fabrics to highlight their prayers. David heard the prayers as flapping on wings of faith to follow the pilgrims into the long afternoon; pilgrims following pilgrims. It seemed as though they should never get to the mountain, looming high in the foreground. Looking like a thick slab of marble, the mountain rose further up than any other’ in this very mountainous terrain; peaks in the clouds, mountain’ eyes so far up they were seeing angel wings. This sacred dome sat aloof, stark,  with shadowed peaks jutting out from the rising rock.

Winding up to the mountain, then up the mountain, then to the mountain peak, these pilgrim had clouds in their eyes and carried faith on their shoulders. Onwards they trudged, many from far-off lands. Some had been traveling for weeks; others for months. Pilgrims small against the looming mountain; the mountain gray and tall to the heavens; the mountain here since creation. And as the pilgrims traversed paths to the mountain, they were praying for the strength to complete their journey; a quest to become part of the timelessness of faith like a mountain.

For many hours, David had been walking with the pilgrims; walking since before the dawn. Came a new morning to widen and deepen the horizons, and light up the skies. And when morning melted the last of the fog, he slowed his pace to walk into the new day. He walked until high noon thickened the skies. The skies were weeping hot tears of humidity when he stopped to sit for yak tea with a group of pilgrims. The sun on their necks; sweat on their brows, they shared their flat bread with him, broken and slathered with yak butter. A clattering of cups, the sacred mountain looming over all of them; the soft hum of conversation. Up then; all of them including David. And as they continued on, he watched them touch their foreheads to another mountain on their path; this one smaller and deemed holy because of its gold streak, like a seam of soul that ran through the mountain’ depths. Like the pilgrims, David’s feet were set to faith and walking the many miles that faith was taking him … to a buffalo dung fire where squatted a mountain tribe from India. The Indians observed him with black eyes squinting against the sun. He squatted with them to have another cup of tea. Wandering souls that they were, they poured from their portable pots, which they carried through their wandering quests of wandering miles. And in a late afternoon being overtaken with long shadows, they began setting up the tents they would sleep in until dawn arrived.

It was then David walked away from the mountain path. The sadness of leaving behind the mountain and the pilgrims fell upon him like a curtain falling on another act of his life to which he would never return. His holy quest delivered him to the realization of life’s fleeing moments.

He left behind the tents and the prayer flags. With the pilgrim’s good wishes in his thoughts, with their flat bread in his pocket, their faith in his footsteps, the sacred mountain over his shoulder, and the wayfarers in the background, for miles upon miles, he trod on alone.

© Susan Dale March 2012

Susan has poems and fiction on Eastown Fiction, Tryst 3, Word Salad, and Pens On Fire. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.

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