Mountain Spirit

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mist rises from the valley below the rock mountain towering above the jungle. Jason is climbing that face today, past the cascading waterfall from the peak. An ominous feeling pervades the air, as if a great evil has descended from the heights to accompany him on the journey.

The party of porters arrives two hours late from the village below us, reporting that there has been a murder and suicide this day. Officials from the distant government city have been called to investigate. No one plans to cooperate with them.

The culture here is closed to outsiders who wish to prove themselves against the sheer strength of the mountain. It has been forbidden by the elders.

Jason determines to climb on anyway, while the rest of us remain below, to drink coffee with the tribal leaders. It will distract them, while a lone climber proceeds unhindered by the cultural tradition. The gods will not be happy, they say. It is not auspicious to go there.

"If you die on the mountain we cannot come to retrieve your remains." He has been warned. He has chosen to continue alone, hoping to appease the spirits of the mountain with a solitary sacrifice. We have not been made a party to what that might be.

I shiver and return to the camp. A fire is roaring in the middle, and coffee aromas emanate in the smoke rising. Three tribal elders have already seated themselves. They are arrayed in funerary clothing, underlining their belief that our lone climber will not succeed.

We sit and drink coffee, black, and in silence. We are waiting. Soon, the predictions will come true, and the wailing will start from within the jungle. It always knows when there will be a death.

We wait for six hours. A message comes down from the mountain. Jason has camped at the summit of the waterfall, and will stay there for the night. This will be the test. In the morning we will know something more. It is difficult to remain passive and calm, waiting.

The message never comes. We wait for two days. It is uncertain, what has become of Jason. A council is held. Someone should go up, but no one will go. A ceremony is held to offer the spirit of Jason to the Mountain in attonement for his trespass on sacred ground. Again,we wait.

Finally, a grinning Jason is seen walking towards our fire in the jungle clearing. He has succeeded with the gods of the mountain. He has brought us water from the lip of the waterfall. He lifts it high over the smouldering fire. The container of water will become the new baptismal font. New babies will be dipped into it to make them invincible in battle.

The next day Jason is found in his tent, heavily asleep. He does not wake for three days. We begin to fear for his life again, but the shaman is called and says that Jason has entered the dream-world. If he returns he will be a different person. We wait by his bedside, trying unsuccessfully, to not think of death.

On the fourth day, when Jason arises from his cot, his eyes have changed color, and his hair has turned blue. We do not understand.

But he smiles and reassure us. He is not harmed.

He has become the spirit of the mountain waterfall.

Writing by Regina Stemberger

Photo "2010_07_08_061504" by ronbrinkmann

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