One Foot From The Top
Dennis Dow came bursting into the Pub lounge and in a voice that could be heard clear above the howl of the wind outside, he called out, “ The bloody fool is up there. Hamish is up on the ‘Devil’s Teeth.”
There wasn’t much being said before this announcement, but now there was an instant silence as everybody took the message into their heads.
Eyes went to the blackness out of the window, all seeing with the clarity of memory like daytime. It was a shared vision of their jagged ridge of mountain rising up across the valley to shadow the village.
Josie Macpherson spoke first into his pint of beer.. “ Well! That’s him gone for sure!” Others joined in and as a few of them ventured to the door to peer vainly through the rain and the wind, it was old Mr. Thomas that summed it up, “ There’s no use speculating. It’ll be the fine weather before we bring his body back down !”
The announcement acted like a passive command, and still-warm seats were taken up again with a shudder of discomfort. The evening would be spent with the resolve of personal opinion until everybody was ready to feel their way home; then to go through the whole process again with their families.
The Devil’s Teeth dominated the Village. The ridge began with a low peak but continued with a series of peaks, each higher and more jagged than the last. Then Jutting forward was Spur Tooth, the highest of them all. It was a couple of thousand feet high but was so sheer it looked like 10 thousand feet. The whole lot from solid black rock and like the gaping lower jaw of the Devil himself.
Hamish retreated deep into his mind and still couldn’t find what it was that prompted him to finally do it! He could have chosen any time but this. It didn’t matter that he’d got shelter clothes on and a bag of provisions padding his seat in the lee of a wee cleft. The dark was going to be long. The wet and wind and cold were already eating at his body. He knew though there was no turning back, because whatever prompted him, this moment had been waiting 30 years. It would wait no longer!
The night had been endured. Hamish was driven by his pain and discomfort to seek even worse on his upward climb; even though it would be some time before the valley got the light. At least the wind had blown out and just left the drizzle, which the whole village took for normal daily weather anyway!
There was nothing normal about what lay ahead though. It seemed impossible, …but for 30 years Hamish had gone about his business with his flock of sheep in the valley with one eye always on the ridge. He had studied every crack and crevice from a distance. He knew when the time was right, he would not be beaten like his Father.
No climbers from the city ever came to these parts, and no one but his Father had ever been so foolhardy to try and scale these dangerous heights. Ah there! He justified himself as he recognised a fissure that travelled up through the rump of the Spur. Nobody ever saw this, least of all gave it any great importance. But for Hamish, he knew it was the key to missing the wall at the front they called The Sheet.
Into the crack went his hands, one after the other, followed by his feet underneath him in a painful rhythm of climbing. His strength was being tested to limit and his curses turned to prayers of thanks when the meandering crack opened to a gap he was able to wedge himself for rest.
How long had it been he asked himself. He’d been due to borrow one of the Smithy horses for the weekend to go to the market and here he was, clinging to the side of Spur Tooth. He’d just decided. Now was the time, and before he gave the thought any more consideration he’d grabbed the kit that he’d always got ready and waiting, and set off over the fields.
He was using his arms in front of him as a resting pillow and realised he was staring at his hand. It came into focus and he saw how the drizzle was washing the trickles of blood from small cuts right up his coat sleeve. It didn’t really matter because all he felt was the wet over his body. But his interest had brought the pain of it to his senses. Hamish had no time for that and stirred himself to press on.
Ever onward he climbed and stopped at another break line in the rocks, his chest heaving with the exertion. Now he could see over the front of the ridge. He looked down and felt a flush of emotion as he recognised the scree bed far below. This had been the rocky cushion where they had gathered his Father’s lifeless body. He felt a spirit wind brush over his head and began to cry as he realised he may be clinging where his father had been clinging all those years ago. It was always speculated that he had maybe injured himself on the way up and lost his grip as he tried to carry on. Hamish took a particular interest in the outcrop and looked around him just in case!
He choked yet again. There for sure a little way higher, he saw the unmistakable presence of a rusting tin. He climbed a little further to examine it before shaking himself with even greater resolve to get to the top.
It was at least 3 hours later. Hamish knelt in his battered state with his clothes and hands torn from the sharp rocks. But the day had entered that phase in the morning when there is a calm like the Gods were drawing their breath for the day. The dawn had not fully broken through the blanket of cloud on the horizon to begin stirring things up again. He looked up and could see how close he was now.
The last distance would be a hands and feet, crab climb, but he knew he had nearly done it. He allowed himself the luxury of talking to his Father again. He reminded him of his promise at the funeral. “One day,” he had said… “One day… he would defeat the Devil’s Teeth for his Father. The mountain had spit his Father’s broken body back into the valley like the pip from a grape, and now he, Hamish, was there to subdue and tame it!
At last he stood erect. From the distant village and valley floor it looked like some giant had used a file to sharpen the Spur Tooth into a razor edge. Hamish stared in front of him as he realised the Mountain’s little secret.
The sharp edge seen from below was a façade that concealed a near perfect 6-foot platform of level flat rock at the very summit. Hamish even laughed for the first time in years. A genuine laugh from his stomach.
Here was the moment! The Sun was just beginning to rise above the cloud and strike forth towards him. In front was the platform of rock. He stood before it and was presented with a simple step up of several inches, to finally get on to the ‘winners-podium.’
As the rays of sun began to light him up against the background sky, he saw himself in his mind’s eye.
In those split seconds of anticipation he saw himself standing on top of this world with his arms held high and a primordial scream of triumph filling the valley.
He saw himself photographed into the memory of the peak in triumph, and the tears flowed again for his Father. The scream when it came, was even louder; but it was a scream inside of him.
All he had to do was take one more step up and he would seem like a conquering statuesque god atop the peak to anyone searching far below. One more step! And he could claim it.
Three times Hamish lifted his leg in hesitation to mount the stage. Three times his foot lowered to the ground again. He reached his hand into his pocket and fingered the note he had found in his Father’s rusting tin. His leg lifted and hesitated one more time.
His Fathers scribbled words rolled over and over in his mind until at last he was ready to answer them. The words said simply…. “ I did it! I did it! …
Hamish finally answered. “So did I, Father, so did I” then with a smile, he turned on his heels and began to make his way back down the mountain.
Journey to Enlightenment
Sunday, November 11, 2007
One Foot From The Top
Posted by Richard Gabriel at 1:19 pm
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Synchronicity ......... Who would have believed it!
There was probably just over an hour until darkness. I just had time to get out of my work clothes and into some warm casuals. Judith was ready and waiting and we jumped into the car and made haste to get to the other side of Ledbury.
We had never managed to visit Eastnor Castle but the Park Estate and grounds more than made up for it. On previous trips we had seen many animals there including dozens of rabbits caught in the headlights. The road through the lower part of the park meandered across the hillside then down to the belly of the valley beside the lakes, before running a parallel track on the high ground opposite.
One evening we saw a magnificent Stag strutting across the meadow less than 50 yards from us, and we had seen plent of deer. The noise of the geese, ducks and other wildfowl at dusk around the lake sounds like a shouting competition.
Previously we had promised ourselves we would park close to a track rising steeply up the high hill overlooking the estate, and tackle the hill climb.
At this late time of the year, there were no caravans; no tents, and no people... except us.
Tonight we would climb the hill.
A few hundred yards up the track, a sheep fence and gate barred the way. I lazily drove the car up the hill to the fence and parked on to the verge. We secured everything and started up the track with serious intent. However, we had only walked a short distance... just far enough to 'get our puff,' and from nowhere a young sheepdog appeared!
We looked around for its owner and there was no one in sight.
The dog must have escaped from somewhere or was lost.
It seemed friendly and with a bit of persuasion came over to us.
I found its collar was too tight and with the use of a couple of pebbles I managed to bash a looser hole so it could be refitted.
Our animal-protective instincts kicked in and we speculated on what to do!
The nearest house could be a mile or more away... and where?
We knew if necessary we would take it to the RSPCA... but this would involve logistics! The dog was clearly happy to see us. It constantly foraged around but continued to return to us. We decided to walk on for a while and see if it would follow. We looked everywhere to try and see its owner.
We decided if the dog was still with us at the end of the walk we would take it with us to safety.
Up the hill we puffed. Past the huge growing tree stump half way up the hill.
Looking back over the valley and the distant horizon in the late afternoon light the stump made a fantastic shillouette against the crimson dusk sky.
We arrived at the peak of the hill and were greeted by the sight of a huge obelisk marking the highest point.
The dog was still with us. It had found a dead rodent at one point and we had to wait while it greedily chewed it. The dog was hungry. We had nothing to use as a lead and we had no food to offer.
Once, we saw movement just up ahead and spotted deer moving into the tall bracken. The dog had its head to the smells of the ground and didn't notice them at all.
We continued walking. The track dipped toward the following valley and we saw how it curved to the left and made use of the saddle between the hills. It disappeared along the line of the next hill some distance away.
We were in a quandry. We were even further away from civilisation now.
We could see a house on the distant hill. It would be no further to walk toward it than it would be to turn back. There was still some day light and the dog was still bounding about foraging, and using us as its return marker every few minutes. We decided to try and reach the house to make an enquiry.
The track was a lot longer than we thought. We had walked a few miles by now for sure. We would have been pleased to stay on this higher ground to watch the sunset but it was difficult to relax as we became more concerned for the welfare of the dog. If there was no one was at the house we faced the prospect of looking after the dog on the long way back in pitch darkness.
Eventually we arrived on the hill leading toward the house.
The hedges and trees closed in on us from the sides of the road but we were nearly there.
Suddenly the mood was broken by the arrival of headlights and a chugging engine coming up the hill in our direction. I called to Judith to jump clear and signal the driver to stop. I called the dog to me and it obediently allowed me to grab its collar and hold it to the side of the road.
I waved my free hand to the driver and he stopped just a few yards from us. It was a well used off-road 4x4, with blinding lights! We heard the car door and out stepped a countryman. Judith and I both launched into the story of finding the dog.
The odds must have been astronomical! All that way from home on a distant hillside with a stray dog in almost pitch darkness, and the man who just pulled up in a vehicle was the one who lost the dog earlier in the day, miles away.
The dog wasn't even his. He had been minding it for a friend who was visiting from a farm in Wales. The dog was a young sheepdog and he had been searching for it for hours. He was overjoyed and overwhelmed at the coincidence.
In our version we were overwhelmed and overjoyed at the Synchronicity!
We were all happy, including the dog, who was called 'Meg' by the way.
In minutes, man and dog were safely on their way home.
We too began the long walk to our car.
We were well pleased how events conspired to produce the a happy ending. The long way home did not seem so long after all. At the top of the hill the sunset was glorious! Who could have imagined a simple hike would turn out as it did?
PS. Who could have also imagined that 48 hours later we were on a deep forest walk in the Forest of Dean and we rescued another 2 stray Labrador dogs!
But that is another story.
Richard and Judith
Posted by Richard Gabriel at 1:16 am
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