My Mountain, My Obsession

One day, after I’d been living in Dir Edis for several months, I was standing outside my house waiting for my Pickup Truck Escort For Respectable Ladies on the way to school, and I happened to look northward and discovered: a mountain. It hadn’t been there before. It was just suddenly there — in the distance, true, but undeniably mountainous.

Harhahermon20050828

I knew there were mountains in that general direction, but I am not great at math and even worse with spatial organization, so it had just never occurred to me that I ought to be able to see them. And I’d gotten so used to the blurring that is the almost-perpetual condition of the desert horizon that it had never really occurred to me that the haze might be hiding something.

An aside: there’s a reason it took a Divine act to show Moses the Holy Land from his resting point on Mount Nebo. Even though it’s, like, feet away, just down there, you often can’t see the Jordan River or the Dead Sea, and you certainly can’t see Jerusalem. There’s a helpful map pointing to where all those things should be, but it’s a lucky visitor who gets to see them. You just get used to an abbreviated field of vision in the desert.

So anyway, one day, there was this mountain. And I kind of became obsessed with it. I scrabbled around in my brain trying to figure out what mountain it might be and realized that there are actually a number of “Mount”-type names in the Bible. This was before smartphones, so I finally had to ask someone, and of course they told me jebal as-sheikh, which was utterly unhelpful to me in terms of labeling it with a name I knew. But that’s what I called for months, until it occurred to me to look it up on one of my visits to an internet cafe, and realized it was Mount Hermon — disputed territory, the height of the Golan Heights, the training ground for the Israeli ski team. And I could see it from my house!

Once I knew it was there, I looked for my mountain every day. some days it was just a line, like an unmoving cloud. Some days it only appeared as a slight difference between degrees of haze. On some days it was as shockingly clear as changing the channel between SD and HD. Those were good days.

In 2000, I found myself with an unexpected and last-minute vacation (another story!), and hightailed it across the border to spend some time in Tiberias. During the break, I took a day trip to Sefad, which I had enjoyed as a kid. I ate delicious blintzes and walked down flower-hung alleys and eventually stumbled into the studio of Bracha Lavee. There, right on the top of a pile of prints, was one entitled “The Sea of Galilee.” It looked like this:

Lavee

The angle was wrong — too far to the west, obviously — but there it was. I bought the print on the spot and when I got back to Dir Edis I taped it up on my wall. Then I could see my mountain every day, even when the haze was heavy.

When I got back to the U.S., I put the print up in my room — in my parents’ house, where I lived for almost a year while I sorted out my life. That year for Christmas my parents gave me this page from an old book:

Illustrated History

And it was off to the races. I have a standing order with a friendly bookseller to let me know if travel guides from the 1880s come across his desk so I can tear out pages, and I stalk print- and booksellers on Ebay. There’s a lot of repetition, but my collection is growing.

All together, the collection now looks like this:

wall

…but it won’t for long, because yesterday I bought another book-page:

Reclus

Another T. Taylor drawing, this one from “La Nouvelle Geographie universelle” by Elisee Reclus, 1884.

So that’s the art collection. But there’s also the bad poetry. Poetry is like sneezing, in my life. It happens sometimes, sort of violently, without a lot of warning, and then sometimes the result is just a mess. I just thought of that analogy but I’m liking it! To some extent, however, these writings — whatever they turn out to be — are a kind of therapeutic processing of who I was a decade ago when I had this really weird, really profound experience. And I have to honor who that person was, even if the poetry she sneezed out occasionally was… messy. Plus, I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers write bad poetry. That has to be a thing, right?

So here’s that.

I think my mountain is magic!
Because it is a Nebulous Mountain
An Ambiguous Mountain
If, upon emerging each morning from my house,
My eyes fell easily upon its peaks,
I’d smile and move on,
Its spell fading swiftly over time
Til my eyes were blind.
That’s why I love my Sometimes Mountain
As I have from the day I began to suspect its existence,
Lurking stealthily behind blanking haze.
No cloud that! Constant, though faint,
Steady, though fickle,
And with unswerving faith and vigilance
I caught it at last!
On a clear day you can see forever
And even a sneaky silent mountain
Is revealed in its overwhelming solidity.
I think my mountain is magic!
Because even though it can be hard to see
I always know it’s there
And when it sweeps out from its hiding place like a debutante at the ball,
It’s worth the wait!

I think for now I’ll stick to prose — and buying art!

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