Saturday, November 21, 2009

November 21: Mountains

The classic Japanese woodblock artist Hiroshige created a series of prints called "One Hundred Views of Edo," in which Mount Fuji is a near-constant presence--sometimes prominent, sometimes in the distant background. There aren't many direct comparisons to be made between Burlington and Tokyo, I realize. But in fact, the mountains that surround this small city in Vermont are just as much a constant presence as Fuji is for Tokyo. Of course, Fuji is a bit more dramatic, being a very high conic volcano apparently rising from the plains. (I've never seen it in person.) But I still thrill to recognize the various mountains visible here--less singular than Fuji, but no less distinct in their effect on those who live near them and who see them on a regular basis.

From the crest of the hill in the middle of the University of Vermont campus, you look west across glowering Lake Champlain to be confronted by the jagged wall of the Adirondacks. To the north rises Vermont's highest peak, Mount Mansfield. To the south, the distinctively shaped bare peak of Camel's Hump juts up from among surrounding hills. When I was in college, I climbed both these mountains several times, and once snowshoed up Mount Marcy, the highest of the Adirondacks. Mountain tops are such meaningful places, places of power that summon their strength from the surrounding landscape below and constant contact with the clouds. They literally touch the heavens. To live in a city with the visual touchstone of a distinctive mountain (or two or more) allows you, in a sense, to tap into that power for yourself, as well as the beauty. I think of the excitement I've heard in the voices of friends in rainy Seattle when the weather's clear and "the mountain is out"--Mount Rainier is visible!

Mist rising from peaks,
mountains protect this city,
commune with the gods.

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