To Reach the Peak In Thought and Experience
It's a long way from the gutter to the summit. Daily we are faced by the media's relentless preoccupation with horror and disgust - the legacy of domestic violence and of ''home-grown'' terrorism. News value? Most of us yearn privately for a more noticeable upward thrust in our urban culture. Where are the experiences that could bring us to the threshold of wonder and delight?
When William Butler Yeats's writing began more and more to illustrate that feelings are real things, he was bringing us to a new perception of events, as well as having us become aware of the tangibility of emotions.
This is akin to what happened to my wife and me when we visited our daughter recently in Whistler, B.C. (This ski resort, north of Vancouver, continues to have activity in the summer months.) Rosalind and I accepted Kristen's invitation to reach the peak of one of the neighboring mountains. By ski lift, of course, and without skis. Nothing extraordinary about this, but we were about to discover in a simple way how event and idea come together.
The ski lift that took us up Blackcomb Mountain was uncovered, accommodating us three abreast - with only a thin restraining bar to separate us from empty space. As we were drawn upward, the temperature dropped ever so slightly. There was no discomfort. On the contrary. Wreaths of mist bathed our brows and filled our nostrils with their freshness, letting us glimpse between them from time to time Blackcomb's snowcapped peak high above us. A great stillness enveloped us.
It was as if the mountain were embracing us, as if wisps of its immensity were breathing through our lives. No birds sang. Height and silence came together like gentle conspirators. Just once we saw a lone marmot scampering over the rocks far below. All the time, we were soaring noiselessly.
There were three stages to our effortless ascent. That is, three distinct stages at which we stopped as we were slowly lifted one mile above the picturesque town of Whistler. As we approached to within 20 yards of each lift station, the restraining bar would automatically rise above our heads. For some 10 seconds before our feet touched the boards, there would be no bar to clasp: We were solely at the mercy of the mountain. Strangely enough, I felt no vulnerability, only an increasing intimacy with the space through which we moved.
The last station signaled our arrival at the summit. We stepped along black rock and then found our feet sinking into snow! We lifted the white stuff in our hands. Not powdered snow but marbled and clinging. For a few minutes, the summer was lost. Now the winter flew between us in a flurry of snowballs.
Finally, we entered the little ski lodge to warm our hands and drink hot chocolate.
Then the descent. Gradually the air lost its coolness as we were lowered slowly into the warmth of the valley. But the wonder and delight that suffused us at the peak - that never left us. As we walked back to the car, the mountain light would not leave our faces, and there was a lovely stillness between us.
In the altitude of our thought, the world's violence lost its prominence. The history of dark experience fades in the luminosity of upward thinking. Whenever the heart is surprised and lifted, ideas become events - growing sweeter and more vital as they are reenacted in the memory.
We recognize here a kind of lyric afterglow that is the poetry of felt experience. Yeats's interpretation of feelings as ''things'' lends a new dimension to Wordsworth's definition of a poem as ''emotion recollected in tranquility.''
Our Whistler ''poem'' continues to brighten our thought; its mountain moments go on soaring in us....