When I think of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I think of White Mountain Peak.
White Mountain Peak is an arid and lifeless mountain emerging from the desolate desert floor in Eastern California. There are no trees. There is no water. Only shrubs and shards of rock. It is as barren a piece of earth as there ever was. And some of my fondest memories were forged on its slopes.
Looking back, it’s all too tempting to identify a mythical Golden Age within our pasts. One seldom notices a Golden Age while one is living it – such is a tragedy of life. But, if my memory does not deceive me, I was well aware that I was living my Golden Age atop White Mountain Peak. I had just graduated college, I had just realized the means and desire to explore the world, and I had three close friends and cohorts who shared my passion of exploration.
There isn’t much to say about the four of us. We once had our lives together, hiking around obtrusive pieces of forgotten earth, and we have since parted ways. I live in Texas. One lives in Arizona. One lives in Colorado. One still resides in California. An extremely small fragment of the past belongs to the four of us. The future will probably never see us all together again.
They’re still my friends. I still talk to them and visit them when I can. But we are adults now. Life took us in its currents and spread us downriver. No more tomfoolery; it’s either swim or drown.
I’m in awe of the sheer eternity that the White Mountains represent to me. The oldest known trees on Earth, the Bristlecone Pines, reside in these mountains. They have lived for 5,000 years, persevering through volatile, high-altitude weather conditions, droughts, fires, and mankind. When the oldest of them sprouted, prehistory was just becoming history. 5,000 years later, we were fortunate to walk among them, cracking jokes and laughing.
Yes, for a brief moment in the history of these timeless mountains, the four of us stood atop them and enjoyed ourselves, as if we weren’t somehow standing on the surface of Hell itself.
Perhaps therein lies a contradiction inherent in the existence of humanity. The story of ourselves atop White Mountain Peak is the story of Mankind within the Universe. There lie the mountain slopes forever – lifeless, stoic, still. And for a brief moment, four friends, bringing with them camaraderie, love, joy, and benevolence, suddenly appeared and shared that joy with the mountain’s eternal indifference. And then we vanished.
We found a moment of paradise atop an eternity of lifeless hell.
This is the infinitesimally brief moment of human existence versus the unfathomably eternal duration of the universe within which it exists. It is not unlike the brevity of our interpersonal relationships within our lifetimes. Is not the fact that we can find camaraderie atop a lifeless moonscape a tribute to the magnificence of the human spirit? That the warmth of humanity can be birthed out of something so coldly inhumane?
In the pursuit of greatness, the Artist must eventually come to terms with the idea that greatness is merely a delusion. When the Artist Creator, he who has the arrogant pompousness to seek eternal glory, comes face to face with the sheer eternity of lifelessness represented by rock and sky, there is no choice but to accept a disheartening, crushing humility that greatness is but a fool’s dream, a myth to entice the petulant and woefully self-important.
I, a seeker of greatness confronted by the aimless, meaninglessness of my existence, am humbled by the vast emptiness of the White Mountains. I try to find solace in knowing that they will continue to exist long after I am gone, that the world does not live and die by my consciousness, that future generations will continue to share their humanity with its inhuman trails, and even after humanity has long since perished, its rocky slopes will continue to exist. I try, but admittedly, it is hard to do.