Upon the Mountainside

The sky shifted restlessly and the sun broke through, suddenly close and hot.

I was scrabbling across the face of the crater rim that sits behind Dove Lake. Behind and below was the flawless dark water, but I didn't turn to look. It was an effort to breathe. My mind became slow and simple in that high place.

It wasn't a difficult track. My little sister had climbed happily ahead of me, following the others, and her voice came back down on the wind. I didn't know why my head ached, why I felt sick. I was fourteen and healthy and had been eager to climb up and look out over the broken mountains.

My feet were finding their own way through the alpine gravel, the lichen-stained boulders and resinous low scrub. I stopped.

The rest of them had climbed beyond hearing.

There was a small tree beside the track, and I curled myself under it. My hip found a place in the pebbles. I slept.

The others passed me on their way down from the peak that I'd almost reached. Their noise brought me back and I sat up, trying to find myself in the glittering shade; they called for me to hurry. I followed. I stumbled, I think.

The rock was changing as the path crossed the mountain face; boulders fell away into broken outcrops. The low scrub thickened, into fern and then great towering pines. The path slipped into the gully and we walked in shade.

I took a deep breath of moss, of mouldering eucalyptus, and my head belonged to me again. I wriggled my toes and looked up at the trees and we all stopped to have a drink of water.

The old stories say that if you sleep on a faery mountain you'll die, or go mad, or become a poet. The Celtic brevity suggests that the three fates are equally final and momentous. I don't take these things too seriously.

I know that I'll die, one day.

I don't know if I'm mad; plenty of people wear capes. The neighbours do give me odd looks over the fence, though.

Perhaps that's just because I write poetry.