Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Dreams

I was born and spent the first seven years of my life in the coastal plains of extreme southeast Georgia. Any father east and you're standing in the Atlantic Ocean. Any farther south and you're at the Florida border.

That land is very flat and featureless, except for the rivers and lakes and swamps that slice through or inundate the piney-scrubby monotony. The only vertical relief I ever saw in the earth before the age of seven were the odd bits of dirt thrown up at various construction sites. My dad's best friend had a house built on a berm left over from the construction of a canal known locally as "the Arco Ditch" (the canal had been built by the Atlantic Richfield Company...thus, "Arco"). His house was on a bit of a hill that was, maybe, nine or ten feet high. To my child's eye, it was a vast mountain. That's how flat the land is in southeast Georgia.

When I was seven, though, we packed up and my dad moved us to Atlanta. Or, rather, Decatur to be exact. We took up residence in that city that lies cheek by jowl with Georgia's largest city. One of the first "mountains" I would have seen was the vast granite monolith just outside Decatur known as Stone Mountain. Technically, it's not a true mountain, but it rises almost nine hundred feet above the surrounding plateau and has sheer faces of many hundreds of feet soaring skyward. If an eight-foot pile of sand had seemed huge to me, my initial sighting of this thing was truly an astounding event.

No, this is not in Yosemite National Park. This is Stone Mountain, in Georgia.

I do recall seeing Stone Mountain for the first time. I remember standing at the base looking up at the men working on the Confederate monument that was then being carved into the otherwise beautiful granite face of the peak. I remember seeing those men moving around on scaffolding, watching sparks fly, granite dust blowing, rubble cascading down. I looked on in wonder then, and recall it now as a travesty on the body of this natural wonder. If there really was a God, he'd reach down and scour that horror off the mountain and put things back the way they were.


We even climbed Stone Mountain when I was a kid. I don't recall who walked me up the mile-long trail to the top, but someone did. It may have been my dad, or an older brother. I just don't remember that detail. But what I do remember is the dreams that climb touched off.

Soon after going up there, I began to have dreams of walking up the face of a mountain. In my dream there were others walking up there, too. I wasn't alone. I've had that dream periodically over the past forty-five years. It's a pretty vivid dream. I always start off standing beside a car or a truck. And then I start walking toward this towering wall of granite that's very, very steep. I follow other people climbing up. The sun is shining low in the sky and the granite is almost golden. And it's warm, and the sky is clear and blue. The mountain is beautiful and I just want to climb it.

And that's the dream. That's all there is to it. It's a very nice and pleasant dream and whenever I have it I always awaken with a feeling of well being. When I got older, I started to wonder if there really was such a place. The summit is of granite, but it's not Stone Mountain. The peak in my dream isn't as vast as Georgia's Stone Mountain. It's impressive, but not 900 feet from base to summit.

Finally, I stumbled across some photos of a mountain that's in Oklahoma. Until I saw the photos, I'd never heard of this particular mountain range. The only mountains I'd ever heard of in Oklahoma are the Ozarks, which it shares with Arkansas and Missouri. I'd never heard of this other range called the Wichita Mountains. Once I saw this photo, I read up on them.

They're composed of granite and the highest of them rise to a bit over 2,000 feet above sea level. They're not big mountains by any measure. But some of them have impressive vertical faces, and many of them are devoid of much in the way of tree cover, rising impressively over the surrounding flatlands.

And there, in the form of Quartz Mountain, was the peak that I always see in my dreams. I swear it is. I always knew that I'd find a mountain that resembled the one I've dreamed since I was seven years old. One of these days I plan to drive out to Oklahoma and visit Quartz Mountain. I hope to hike up one of the easier slopes and see what things are like on the summit.

After all, it's the mountain of my dreams.

Quartz Mountain. Photo by Alan Ellis.

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