The Roar of the Mountain
by Sonya Lea My roar is the wind upon the ledge of the mountains I had to climb until I remembered that I am the mountain. The mountain lives in me, the one they (lacking perception that I do not end at the skin) call the woman.
I am the mountain who lives with sunyata, the great emptiness, and I also live with the one they call a man, whose memories and words emptied in a cancer surgery.
For a number of years, and still sometimes today, this man is neutral, a blank space, nothingness where once there had been a narrative of his life. He learns the story we wish for him to hold, so he can live inside the culture, but that is not who he is.
For all I know, he fell from the sky into this husband body so I might be reminded that I am not who I think I am.
That first year that he is memoryless, we prod him to encounter the city. I take him for walks in the parking lot outside our apartment building. His overwhelmed eyes look toward the horizon and then down at his feet. He has to hide from civilization, and its eruption of stimuli. Inside him, there is no relegating to the background; everything is a possible source of self. I watch him and am reminded that we do not look at one thing—we are looking at our relationship with the thing, and what we call our “selves.”
We take him for walks into canyons, where the November wind moves across the chaparral and sagebrush and goldenrod of the San Joaquin Hills and down to Laguna Canyon, carrying sand and the sense of erosion.
In the second year we enter France, and our animal nature emerges. We walk, dream, eat, make love. We awake in the fog that comes with living in a millhouse surrounded by a fast-running river. At twilight, we stroll down the River Oust. We hardly speak anything of the future.
In the third year, we return to our former home to walk a particular range of mountains, one-hundred-million-year-old thrust faults, often with unique, dramatic dipping sedimentary layers. I sense that these particular mountains are essential to my understanding of my own nature. I make a commitment to return to them each year. My husband walks, silently as always, his giant feet having grown more sure of the ground.
On a day I’m far into the backcountry, in the Slate Range, near Skoki Mountain, after a month of day hikes across rivers, hauling up switchbacks, scrambling over scree slopes, and walking onto ledges I’d previously considered death-defying, I look over the limitless range of mountains. There is no one for miles. The wind slices toward my body, and I feel the sensation of my “self” dropping away from the edges of my physical form and extending, farther and farther. I’m no longer observing the mountains: I’ve become indistinguishable from them. For hours I hike within that sensibility. Identity dissolves, and I haven’t been sent into disarray. Is this what the man feels like in every moment? I find myself a part of something previously unknowable, a state I haven’t ever imagined. This experience is outside of my ironic sensibility, and truthfully it is outside of the sentimental one and the tragic one too.
This state feels like __________. (There is no word.) I feel undomesticated, unalterable by a culture.
Language is the awareness that happens because of these events. Language might become how I find the edges of my self, after all of this. Is this what they mean when they say, “it saved me”? There I am connected to all of you, and then there I am languaging how this might have happened.
The mountain answers, “It can’t be otherwise.”
The erosion of my beloved’s identity shifts my notion of what a ‘self’ might be. Through his loss of his ability to express language, and know his history, he is not reduced. His senses are alive and unnamed, as they often are inside a trauma. What I simply observe is not a man holding a concept about himself, and enacting it, but instead a self that is coming into the flow of time. How like a mountain this is.
Sonya Lea’s memoir, Wondering Who You Are has garnered praise in a number of publications including Oprah Magazine, People, NPR, and the BBC, who named it a “top ten book.” Her essays have appeared in Salon, The Southern Review, Brevity, Guernica, The Prentice Hall College Reader, The Rumpus and The Butter.
Lea teaches at Hugo House in Seattle, and she’s leading a pilot project to teach writing to women veterans through the Red Badge Project. Her film, EVERY BEAUTIFUL THING, is receiving awards around the USA. She lives in Seattle. Find her at www.wonderingwhoyouare.com.
Happy Solstice, my friends! Read all of the Roar Sessions posts.