High Altitude Trepidations
By Peter Baltensperger

This is how the scenario evolved: Lattimer walked up the mountain without knowing why. He was perturbed when he reached the top, not being sure why he was where he was, except that he felt he needed to prove something to himself, even though he didn’t know what that was. Since he was out of breath from the long walk, he let things be the way they were and sat down on a rock. The sun was burning cryptic messages down on him, the sky dappled with unfathomable white clouds, a pair of rock eagles circling high above.

In a field outside a village down in the valley, an artist was painting a cubistic abstract of the mountain, using colors for shapes, shapes for colors. He didn’t see the eagles from where he was, or the possibilities of the white clouds. He was interested in the fundamentals of the mountain, not in the implications of being. Had he not concentrated all his attention on his canvass, he might have been able to hear the cryptic voices, to incorporate the invisible into the reality of his painting, the reaching out of his mind.

Lattimer was well aware of the precarious balance of sitting on a mountain top under a wide-open sky. As soon as he caught his breath and was able to think more clearly again, he began to pull vague threads of probabilities from the white clouds and roll them into a ball for safekeeping. He had been in such situations before and knew how to deal with the unknown, with the indecipherable, even though he wasn’t sure where he was, the ball of white threads being enough.

When the ball was big enough to be of significance in his search for balance, he looked up into the sky only to realize that the clouds were morphing from white to gray to black as if trying to tell him something he couldn’t understand. He consoled himself by weighing the ball of threads in his hands and contemplating the impossibility of thinking white thoughts under a black sky. He had no sooner tucked his threads of probabilities into his pocket than the clouds began to rain in an apocryphal externalization of cosmic mysteries.

The artist grabbed his easel and his canvass and his paint box and ran through the sudden downpour to his house. He was soaked long before he reached the safety of his own thoughts, but the celestial surprise inspired him to fill a canvass with nothing but rain. As soon as he dried himself off, he translated his brain waves into brush strokes to create a masterpiece that would bring him rave reviews at the gallery. The colored mountain was barely discernible behind the curtain of rain, the eagles indistinguishable dots even though they had long left the sky. Lattimer wasn’t in the painting at all.

He was standing on the mountain gathering the rain with his outstretched arms, letting the impossible soak his mind to take home for future contemplation. He would have liked to be in a painting, he readily admitted to himself, but he was saturated with rain as he was. He would have only distracted the painter and mystified the gallery owners and their patrons. The last thing he needed was the attention of a crowd talking about him behind his back. He was a solitary climber and preferred to keep it that way.

The rain let up just as the artist finished his new painting and Lattimer felt he had enough of being pelted by mysterious assertions and confusing questions. While the artist cleansed his mind of his paints, Lattimer gathered his visions of the clouds in his hands, held them up to the slowly clearing sky, and began his descent into the valley. He had plenty of time to sort his collection of probabilities into plausible piles on his long way down, and he made abundant use of every step. He had all his insecurities and latent anxieties completely organized by the time he reached the river down below.

He never did go to the gallery to see the paintings, even though he had been an integral part of the tableau and would have easily been able to see himself in them. He felt he had done enough by being there and attending to all the details of white clouds and streaming rain without exposing himself to a public who wouldn’t have understood any more than he did. All he still needed to complete his day of exploration was a shower and a change of dry clothes. Everything else would fall into place in its own good time, even the rock eagles speaking to him from high up in the sky.

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Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He writes, and has been writing all his life, because he has to and loves to do it, and because it adds a significant dimension to his personal quest.

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