On the Mountaintop

A photo near Mt. Charleston in Las Vegas, Nevada. Green and yellow-leafed trees are in the forefront. The mountain rises in the background. The sky is grey and cloudy with the sun breaking through.

In early October, my family and I stayed in a cabin in the mountains for several days.

There’s something special about this annual cabin trip, start to finish. It feels like we’re traveling to a different universe. The urban landscape peels away as we turn off the highway and journey down one road that cuts through open desert. There are very few houses, ranches really. We marvel at the rock formations and the beauty of the desert’s dusky color palette. The road winds its way forward and it seems like we might never reach our destination. Then, the alpine breaks through. Trees emerge.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been watching My Neighbor Totoro on repeat. (My family is watching it now as I write.) It’s a favorite of mine and my husband’s, and because we have kids, it’s now one of theirs too. There’s this scene early on in the movie where Mei and her sister Satsuki stare at a large copse of trees near their house. It’s a massive but beautiful jumble of color and shapes looming over the forest’s edge. Sometime later, Mei, the youngest of the two sisters, wanders off into the forest. She journeys through a rabbit hole of sorts, following two little bunny-shaped spirits as they try to shake her off their trail. After tumbling through tree roots and sliding down a groove, she lands in this hollow in the middle of the trees. It is serene. You forget that just beyond the camphor trees is a home, a family, neighbors and farmland, and a bustling city beyond that. Mei befriends a sleeping Totoro, a larger spirit, and she soon falls asleep on his belly.

In a way, Mei finds an Eden in the middle of the turmoil of her life. Her family just moved into a new home that needs major work. They’re trying to acclimate to a new environment. Her mother is sick with tuberculosis in the hospital.

But with all that stress and worry, she finds a retreat. Mei rests.

It’s a bit of a simplification, but it reminds me of my time on the mountaintop, in the cabin.

When the trees emerged on the mountainsides, I felt myself change. Something inside me opened up – blossomed – and turned its face upward to receive the sunshine and bouts of rain. To grow anew.

We didn’t have WIFI at the cabin, so we were all forced to find new ways to entertain ourselves. We took more walks than normal. I spent more time on the balcony drinking in the quiet. I mean it was so thick, I quite literally felt like I was taking it into myself, consuming it.

I drew inward in some ways, pulling out the parts of myself that had been swept back to make room for the constant surge of new projects, interests, and news. This wasn’t just busyness. This was also coping, protecting myself from all the compounding trauma – new, old, and recurring. But on top of my little Eden, it wasn’t difficult to come to terms with it and to allow myself to rest.

I felt new, rejuvenated, more creative and more responsive with each successive day. I was delighted by everything around me. 

Of course, we had to come down from the mountaintop. And Mei had to wake up to her reality at some point. But all was not lost. I have found ways to create my own little mountaintops at home, carving out longer swaths of time for myself or just lying down to do nothing. This allows me to pull out more of what has been hidden or neglected, to examine and put them in their proper places. To give them adequate attention.

Everything is more manageable.

There’s so much more that I can say about Mei and her sister (and Totoro), but mostly I want to say that these little mountaintops, figurative or literal, are nice reminders of the ways we (re)kindle ourselves and make room for the necessary transformation that comes with healing.

Have you made time to go on the mountaintop? I hope so. And if not, please give yourself that space.



October and November’s TBR

you don’t have to be everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves (poetry), edited by Diana Whitney

Quince: The Definitive Bilingual Edition (graphic novel), created by Sebastian Kadlecik, written by Kit Steinkellner, illustrated by Emma Steinkellner, and translated by Valeria Tranier

The City We Became (novel) by N.K. Jemisin

Misfits: A Personal Manifesto (nonfiction) by Michaela Coel

Reparations Now! (poetry) by Ashley M. Jones

I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff (nonfiction) by Abbi Jacobson

The Last Graduate (novel) by Naomi Novik

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