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I saw the goddess. There were others walking idly by in the busy street, citizens, beggars, workmen in shop clothes, black-wrapped widows, children with hoops and balls, and none saw her but me. She was a vision, a magnificence of pure white descending toward me out of the bright blue sky. Her robes wafted and billowed behind her, the inner gown clinging to the soft flow of her legs and arms. Down the invisible steps of heaven she came, her hands reaching toward me, her arms open to receive me.
Great angel wings of white eagle feathers framed her shoulders, drew apart to balance her gentle descent. I stood mesmerized, unable to move, rooted in the street as I watched her approach. Down she came, coming lower and lower, drawing nearer, her size increasing as the distance between us narrowed. I could see her face, the pearl-white smoothness of her forehead, the proud cheekbones, her golden hair splayed behind her in the same gentle rush of wind that tugged at her white robes.
Straight over the marbled temple she came until her form fluttered at the apex of the roof. There, her tiny slippered feet lightly touching the pointed tip of the temple, she paused, her arms still extended toward me. I saw deep into her eyes though she stood high above me, and I saw the richest blue of heaven’s skies, I saw the pity that the gods harbor in their hearts for men, I saw in them pain and justice, and the love, the frightful, unyielding love that is man’s bounty at the hand of the willing gods.
I watched her, I was a man struck dumb.
I may have been jostled by the crowd of people in the street or run down by a reckless cart driver, but it would have been all the same to me, for there was no one else that I saw, nothing else did I see but her. I saw the goddess smile, I felt her presence wrap itself about me, the warmth and strength of it intoxicating, I smelled the perfume of unknown flowers, such as those that grew in heaven’s fields, I heard the sound of lyres and flutes and they filled me until I resonated with their vibration as a shell sounds the sea. Then I saw her lips move, but from them came no sound. My ears did not hear her words but there came to my heart the sound of her voice and she spoke within me, and her words were loving and they blessed me with wisdom, inspiring courage and hope within me.
How long I stood in trance I do not know, though it may have been only a few moments. When the gods speak to man, time is suspended and man’s only obligation is to listen. I listened well and when she was done, she turned and went the way she had come, ascending lightly in the sky, her white robes glistening, brighter than the sun, the perfume and song fading slowly as she departed until I could see only the slightest white spot in the vastness of the blue expanse above me, and then even that tender impression was gone from my sight, all had disappeared and I was alone again, alone in the busy street, left to stand alone in the crowds before the great temple.
I walked as a man in a trance, my feet wandering at the discretion of the flow and tug of the stream of people that moved around me. I walked along the streets insensate, not hearing the carts, the people, the animals that all moved beside me, not seeing the rush of traffic along the broad avenue. All there was for me was the clarity of my vision, the echo of the divine words that had been spoken. I was overwhelmed by what I had just seen and heard and I was still hopelessly caught in the spell of the goddess.
After a time I woke to find myself in a quiet side street, a great distance from where I had met the goddess and my destiny. I woke refreshed as from a long sleep. I felt strong, vibrant, eager to do a great many good things, to do as I had been bidden, to devote the remainder of my life to the purpose that I had been directed. Suddenly everything that I had seen all my life I saw in a new light. The air breathed with a freshness I had never known, every tree or bush I passed was alive, filled with the spirit that had imbued me with a new vitality. I smiled at every passerby, I laughed at seeing children play, I hummed and sang to myself, to the birds, to the cloudless sky.
My blood moved through my veins at an increased pace, my step was lighter, I was at peace with myself, free in a way I had never felt before. I shook with enthusiasm and the plans I had made of a sudden took firm shape in my mind and I wondered why I had not acted upon them before, why I had been unable to see the beauty and truth of the path that now lay before me.
I went into the hills to listen. The sounds of man began to dim. Oxcarts with bridles and bells and loudly trumpeting donkeys, clop of hooves and barks of dogs, the scurry of cloth on busy streets, calls of hawkers, the swinishness of drunks all lay far behind me in the valley lowlands. I felt unclean as though the noise and confusion had penetrated the pores of my being just as my clothes were sooted by the dust of my journey.
The simple sounds I heard again. The upland breezes wiping the sky with the waving leaves of trees, the sound of a wild living thing rustling under last autumn’s neglected glory. I heard the bumblehum of the bees in the long fields of heather, the rushing beat of birds jarred from their perch. Under all the delicate and intricate sounds there was the deep drumming of the mountains, a sound unheard but felt, a thrumming, throbbing in the heart, an echo of the mighty Echo sounding in my soul.
I looked down the trail from where I was standing, and there was a slight rise that blocked further view. There were about five or six people standing at the top of this rise, which was about 80 yards ahead of me. I could see this was our new destination, so I headed up the trail to gain that point. Zander, having crossed The Third River about 40 yards above my location, also headed toward the rise from his own position. Both of us would converge at the rise, me by traveling the path, and Zander going cross-country through a small mountain meadow.
That’s when we were surprised by a fourth river! It had been just out of sight, and was almost as bad as The Third River! But now, with the confidence of having breached The Third River, both Zander and I separately and carefully found our way across the ice-cold cascades of water pouring down this rocky and treacherous channel. In a few moments, we had braved the torrent and were now approaching the trail’s end. There didn’t seem to be any other obstruction to our progress except the slight incline to the rise, at the top of which a few other hikers had gathered.
The trail I was on brought me closer and closer to my destination. As I got closer, the rise continued to block my view, and I could not see beyond. It would only be another minute or two until I would have ascended enough to see over the top. I was close, only about 30 yards away from the small gathering of people. I wondered why they were standing there, but I was preoccupied with my thoughts of having passed the fourth river, and I was focused on the short length of trail before me to give much thought to this small assembly of people. The trail led me gently upward, closer and closer to the top of the rise. Still, I could see nothing of what lay beyond.
It wasn’t until I was only a few feet away from the top of the rise that I saw why people had congregated at this point. I gasped. I was struck by an immensity that was almost too grand to comprehend. My surprise was complete. All thought left my mind as I stared unbelievingly at a giant monster of ice. Below me, and extending for miles, was a gigantic sheet of glacial ice that stretched from below where I was standing up to the very crest of Mount Baker far above me!
The feeling of standing above this glacier, whose shocking presence filled my eyes and completely occupied my full consciousness, was thrilling. The absolute surprise of it was immeasurable, and then to be viewing the ice of several millennia, bright, white, crackled with deep crevices, a brilliant white sheet stretching for miles in every direction, the feel of the ice cold air wafting up and cooling my face, my eyes squinting in the brilliant sunshine and icy sparkles, was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had.
It took a few moments to take it all in! I truly mean that I was in shock for about a minute, my mind completely absorbed by this amazing phenomenon. I had never before been so close to a glacier, let alone one that had been sprung on me in surprise! And to realize that we had been so close to this behemoth so many times before and yet never realized that this icy Godzilla had lain in wait just a short hundred yards beyond what we could see… Well, it was a fascinating realization.
When I recovered, I looked to see where Zander was. I was imagining his own surprise at discovering this almost unbelievable wonder, and in a few moments Zander had joined me on the brink. Zander had a huge smile on his face, and I could see he was excited and happy. I’m sure my face looked similar to his!
I use the word brink deliberately, because we were standing on the very edge of a 700-foot drop. This frightening sensation was part of our astonishment at seeing the glacier. Apparently, over the millennia, the glacier had expanded and then receded in its breadth, and it had gouged out this huge channel in the mountain upon whose edge we were now standing. The glacier left this gouged and lengthy cliff as an historical reminder of when, at one time, it had filled the entire swath.
So it was that we stared in awe at this chilling magnificence, letting our eyes travel its length from where we stood up to the very pinnacle of Mount Baker’s ice-capped peak, and the vast width of its broad glaze that stretched from below our feet across the mountain valley and beyond where we could see. Below us, as our eyes became familiar with this vision, we could see a small group of people, diminished to the size of ants, pecking away at the ice with their ice axes. Upon further study, we could also see the tinge of blue ice in the skyscraper-high crevasses that indicated ancient ice from storms that blew thousands of years ago.
We stayed and looked in wonderment for an hour, not tiring of this immense and unfathomable miracle of nature, enjoying the fresh polar breeze that blew upward toward us and cooled our sun-browned faces. We ate a snack, musing upon the astounding display at our feet, boyishly threw a few cliff-side stones into the frosted maw of the giant, and truly, it took us several times to convince ourselves to turn away and head back down the trail.
The way was familiar now, as we easily crossed the fourth and then The Third River…through the flower-filled meadows that braced both sides of our mountain trail, across little streams of cool water politely reminiscent of the icy torrents we had conquered today, down, down, our trail led us down into the waiting forest, but we were forever changed. We had seen what lay beyond The Third River, had triumphed after years of delay, and discovered not just the immensity of one of nature’s most amazing and inspiring features, but also felt within us the majesty of our own capacity for beauty and the joy of life.