Ode to the Mountain
by Tom O’Hare
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
I fell because the snow wasn’t deep enough. Last year, on the mountain, beside Eric. That was the problem. The snow just barely covered the November leaves, and the footing was treacherous, and I’d gone out like a goddamned daredevil to some area from whence there was no return, and certainly no way to climb the extra ten feet up the ice-caked frozen cliff to safety. And so, I shimmied on my cold, frightened ass the best I could, and the snow just broke, and down I went. I tried twice to save myself and grab tree trunks on the descent, but I just wound up with whiplash .
Three seconds, I was at the bottom. Frantically scampering to the long loop around the perimeter, with cross-country skiers around me rejoicing at their stroke of fortune on this, the first substantial snow of the year. My elbow hurt then, and I could feel the blood get cool on my skin as it seeped out to the air. Trouble, I knew. I looked up at Eric, who asked me if I was alive. I hollered yes, and waited twenty minutes for him to climb down. Cold and shivering, I was introduced to the mountain. My elbow has never been the same
Eric says that the mountain is special. He says a lot of things are special, because he’s Quebecois and he’s still working on his adjectival vocabulary, but I find that it’s one of the most precise words he ever uses. When something’s special according to Eric, you generally find yourself realizing that it’s quite goddamn special in your own eye. The mountain, especially.
I used to go up there a lot, to that mountain, early last year. I would look over the city and think about the girl I loved then, who’d left me and whom I imagined would be the end of me at the time. She wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter. I wrote her a letter there once about how lonely and depressed I was. It said something tragic, I’m sure, because I sensationalize and gigantisize just about everything. And looking out over the city gives you the poetic license to talk about horizons, and sea-levels, and other such tragic blagh, so I’m sure it was top-notch. Real Hamlet-like. Sans all the literary weight and artistic justification.
There are no stairs anymore. They were too dangerous so they came down, and now people tend to walk the long, ridiculous way all the arduous way around the main road to climb up the western side. It is long and ridiculous, and not at all scenic once you get past a certain point. I tend to go up the way that brings you to the bridge. The bridge that romantic young couples with jackknives tend to gouge as a tribute to their momentary love. It’s interesting to look at all the names, the dates, and listen to the little stream turn into a littler waterfall beneath you, and then glance up at the city through the still-naked trees, and juxtapose all that together in your head in a random celebration of life. I dig it sometimes. And it’s interesting to lean forward and look at the strolling or bicycling people and think about how easy it would be pick them off, one by one, with a sniper rifle. Mike’s idea, not mine.
The mountain is adorned with The Jesus. The Jesus is a veritable staple of the Montreal skyline. Day and night, it is representing for team monotheism. The Jesus creeps me out in a lot of ways, because whenever I walk home through the park (always), it’s gazing down on me, demanding that I never forget it, demanding that I achieve born-again status and fight for Team Monotheism. And quickly, already! It’s surrounded by a big, metal gate, which, if I remember correctly, has spikes at the top pointing outward. Jesus was practically an anarchist, if my reading is worth a damn. If he were alive, he’d probably be pissed.
Eric and I sat on a bench in the park at the base of the mountain and he told me a story that made me doubt my faith in mankind, and so we walked. North towards Outremont and into the epic graveyard that spills over the backside of the mountain. I had never been, and he had never been. It was quiet, and we explored, because I’ve always had a thing for graveyards, and maybe Eric has, too. A woman and her husband sat near a fresh grave burning pictures of someone who was more important to them than I could ever know. We hopped a few fences, and went to the other side of the city near Cote-de-Neiges, and got drunk, and laughed, and played pool for three bucks an hour. And I smiled inside because it turned into one of the best days of my life.
I watched the sun come up through the big downtown buildings with Eric once. We lived in the same house, and I woke him up at 5:30 or 6:00, after my alarm woke me, and we made breakfast, he gave me coffee, and we climbed. I remember it being cold. We both had snow pants on, and scarves and hats and gloves, and layers and layers and layers. A park maintenance worker pulled onto the viewing platform in his truck to watch it come up with us. We shivered and waited, and a sharp orange orb eeped up into eyesight from behind the little purple blips of mountain in the distance and brought the day. It was special. It was living. It was life.
The mountain’s got staying power. It doesn’t go anywhere. It will be here long after I am gone, and you are gone, and We are gone. It is special. It is living. It is life.