The mountaineer was right about me, of course; I hadn’t shown the mountain any respect. I thought I could walk down one of the highest points in North America as easily and thoughtlessly as I hoist myself up from the couch to get another bag of chips. I watched him stride up the flank of Pike’s Peak if he was power-walking the mall. When he was out of sight, I continued to sit with about as much despair as one person can carry piggybacked.
By my calculation, I had hiked for most of the day and traveled six times the distance my fat ass usually lumbers, but, because of my detour to the bottomless pit, I was no closer to civilization than when I started. I might just as well die right here, rather than trouble myself to walk anymore before I die anywhere else. I was in no shape for this, and, when I took my shoes off to rub my feet, I had all the proof I needed. They were swollen, bloody, and raw.
Although it was the height of summer, snow had been hoarded in between boulders at the foot of the couloirs. I hobbled to small brook, fed from the snow and cooled my feet. The shock went all the way up my spine. It didn’t take long before my feet were numb. It took a little longer before I went numb to the despair as well. By the time I reduced the swelling of my dogs, dried them on a sunny rock, and put my shoes back on, I was ready to plod on.
I had something to write in my composition book before I left. I sharpened my nubbin of a golf course pencil by rubbing it on the sunny rock. I wrote in large, kindergarten letters, taking up a full page:
“IF THERE IS A GOD, YOU ARE NOT IT.”
I considered adding a dissertation about not being God, but then my eye caught the scratchings my pencil had left on the sunny rock. It was only a thin scribble, a line with no grace or flow, a figure that didn’t represent anything or mean anything, a smear unworthy of regard and undeserving of study. In comparison to the enormity of the mountain, it was nothing. It was less than nothing; if you noticed at all, you would have called it a blot on the landscape. If it had any meaning to you, you would have called it pathetic. In a couple months, the severe Rocky Mountain weather will have washed it away.
I retraced the path I had taken to The Bottomless Pit, but everything seemed so different now. My knees had grit in them. With every step I took, first they wouldn’t bend and then they wouldn’t straighten. The pine needles of the trail were more prickly than soft. The birds complained of my presence and warned each other of their forest being violated. My nausea had returned, accompanied by what felt like a bee trapped in my chest. The jagged crest frowned above me and even the waterfall across the valley reproached. Clouds had assembled like a hasty militia and threatened rain.
As big as I am, I felt very small.
I stopped again, took out my little pencil, and scribbled:
How vast it all is. So much outside my understanding. Its age beyond my count.
The clouds distill the mist as rain and bathe the depths of the sea. They fill their laps with lightning and send it towards its mark.
Lightning struck and my heart jumped from its seat. A storm was coming and the birds scurried to cover. Thunder roared and rumbled over the peaks. A tempest came from God knows where. The wind struck, thumbed through the pages of my book, and went on to travel the globe.
A whirlwind of thoughts arrived in the same way. I jotted:
It’s like this, Harry. Do you know how the clouds are directed to stand and told when to speak their lines? Can you see the wires that keep them hanging in the sky?
Where were you when the footings of the mountain were poured? Did you lay out its dimensions with your transit, line, and plumb bob? Did you sheath it with trees? Roof it with a snowy glacier? Did you issue building codes on its height? Did you say, you may rise this far, but no further; this is where your proud peak halts?
Did you give instructions to the morning and teach the dawning sun its job? Do you supervise the storehouse of snow or manage the warehouse of hail? Can you find a pallet of lightning or order a container of wind?
Have you toured the springs of the sea or vacationed in The Mariana Trench? Have you taken a snapshot of the doorway to death? Does your flash work in Hell?
Which way to the address of light? Where does knowledge get its mail? Can your GPS take you there? Can you take me to your leader?
Waddaya say? Can you pick up the world by the lapels and shake the crumbs off it? Will you send a note and say that you want to speak? You can’t even look at the sun when it’s out.
Will your voice carry to the clouds? Can you order up a flood? Do lightning bolts report to you?
Did you give the mountain goat its agilityand tell the marmot when to lay low? Did you inventory the forest and turn on the sprinkler of heaven when it got too dry?
You think you can do anything you set your mind to. You assert, who put this mountain in my way? You question without listening, command without authority, and boast without achievement.
I’ve heard of such moments as these, but now I‘ve had one. Great globes of rain struck me and soaked all my clothes and my notebook. I repented in a downpour, and an outpour of wonder.
To read the original version, see Job 36:26-38:38, 42:1-6