11th April 2015
Mountains, no matter how big or small, softly round or jagged steep, call out to us to be climbed, to go up, up, up until there is no up but ourselves. They intrigue and beguile, spinning dreams that drive some to the best kind of madness, to the obsession of the pointless, no prize but the view, their only gift to come down with new perspectives on our world below.
Mountains offer us the opportunity for adventure, a journey with an uncertain outcome, but also one that can be defined and framed by its geology, its slopes the stage for any drama, stories carried up there by those who dare. My favourite mountain writing is just such a journey, where the summit is never taken for granted, a story that follows its own path, travelling as light as possible, unburdened by too many words, only enough to spark ideas, memories, impressions. There should be pace if we are to hope to reach the top, as pace gives us the time to stop for a moment to see beauty at our feet, as well as what lies above and below us. Most of all the words we use should give us the very thing we seek when we climb to the tips of the earth - space to imagine.
There were many strong pieces to choose from in this week’s competition, but entry 695 stood out for me for the lightness of its description and the gentleness of the story, which like all great writing could be folded out like a map - that between the words there was space to imagine more. The unexpected appearance of Lily adds a whole new dimension to the climb, and through her introduction we are allowed to experience the first pangs of heady love through Deed’s sixth grader eyes, and feel what it is to be young again, to have escaped your parents, and perhaps have felt real freedom for the first time. Most of all we are left with Deed’s longing to somehow recapture it forever:
'In dry clothes, I sat on a wooden chair on our back porch, staring up at Dunkard Ridge. I would retrieve my fishing gear tomorrow morning, as light played off the ridge, while over the mountain, Lily would see the ridge in shadow—the perfect compliment to a boy of ten.'
A second piece that stood out for me was entry 722, which is written from the perspective of someone with more on her mind than mountains, the landscape unimportant, just a screen on which a very human story plays out. Again there is a lightness of words, with the reader left to imagine both the back-story and the story to come, as well as strength and bravery. Best of all the writing plays with us, leads us on, and soon the summit is no longer important - only the journey:
'I was a game. I was having more fun now. I pointed out birds I'd never seen before, and the shapes I saw in the shadows of trees. Brian answered when I spoke, and I could hear a smile in his voice. Maybe even relief. Maybe I just wanted that part.'
Lastly, although it seemed incomplete, entry 711, stayed with me long after I’d read it, as I found it intriguing, and I loved the beginning, with the killing of the snake:
'The snake was a three-foot timber rattler, invisible to me until it uncoiled and swept downhill across our path. We were dressed in hiking shorts and low-cut boots. My calf would have passed inches from of the snake’s loose, deadfall-colored coils.'
I would have loved to have seen the story run out with the girl in the canoe without the use of the psychiatrist’s couch, and so felt perhaps the author overreached themselves here - but then as in climbing mountains, often it’s best not to judge those who fail to climb the steepest lines too harshly.
Our thanks go to Andy Kirkpatrick, one of the UK's toughest mountaineers, award winning author, motivational speaker and monologist – and this week’s guest judge, who interrupted a busy week of climbing in the English Lake District to read your entries and choose his favourites. According to his website, the US magazine Climbing once described Andy as a climber with a “strange penchant for the long, the cold and the difficult”, with a reputation “for seeking out routes where the danger is real, and the return is questionable” so hopefully Hour of Writes wasn’t too small a challenge!