There’s a man-made, disappointing irony in this.
I pop a little, blue pill from my purse into my mouth, reminiscing on how difficult to open those orange, cylindrical prescriptions are while navigating a sedan up a winding mountainside. My legs swing over the rocky cliff, the hazy blue city is indiscernible hundreds of feet below. I’ve ignored the disdainful curiosity of the other tourists, as I’ve just made the same trek they did in a frilly, patterned sundress and heeled sandals. I didn’t even need an aerodynamic windbreaker or super-grip, brand name climbing shoes. I didn’t even need a water bottle.
I have an intense dislike for tourists – and not only am I one, but I’m a tour guide back home. Hence the little, blue pills. There’s something about spending weeks and weeks worth of pay on a destination vacation at a wildlife refuge, or national landmark, park or nature reserve. It feels wrong. I mean, even the terms “refuge” for wildlife and a “reserve” for nature unnerves something deep in me. What feels even worse is watching tourists trying to cram the history, the beauty, the philosophy of an entire city into one convenient afternoon that disgusts me. They don’t seem to care but to otherwise be able to say, “You really should see Savannah; it’s lovely. Oh, and you must visit Leopold’s Ice Cream! It’s the one thing you don’t want to miss,” or “Go hiking on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN! Here are directions to the parking lot fifty feet from the best vantage point. It’s by the Starbucks.” Man misunderstands his purpose, and that is his great folly.
Trying not to dismiss the majesty of this place with hoards of baseball caps and backpacks snapping photos they’ll post to Facebook with their iPhones behind me, I force myself to focus on the raw, untouched power here. I plead with myself to feel the grandiosity of the mound of soil rising from the ground, to feel the age of the rock beneath me, to feel the call of the soul of the land which once belonged to tribes of Native Americans. I urged my imagination to see the land as it was then – empty of brick buildings, the Moccasin Bend coiled and flowing around the curves of Mother Nature herself, no roads or businesses to scar her complexion.
This becomes an impossible task. Man cannot will inspiration anymore than he is able to purposefully inspire someone else’s will. I knead the pliable notebook in my grasp and chew on my pen in frustration. I feel nothing. I feel nothing but resentment. I am just one more writer flirting with the idea of having a purpose, with having a voice and producing no more than a product. Poetry spawned from boredom, and art made for recognition. This is why every writer I know speaks more about himself than anything else, and has absolutely nothing to say. Man cannot force himself into a simpler form, a more loveable form. He cannot force himself to unknow that which he has come to know. He cannot ignore that which he has already seen, and he cannot dream that which he has not. This is man’s great contradiction.
My concentration is broken as a young woman in a tracksuit steadily and loudly goads her boyfriend, “What would you do if I slipped off this rock? Huh? Would you miss me? What would you shout as I tumbled all the way down? What would you do?” She keeps taking reckless hops closer and closer to the edge, leaning over the side and looking back at him, a devious smirk plastered on her face. “Cut it out, Lilly. Stop screwing around,” her boyfriend’s voice sounding mostly cool except for the slight undertones of panic. Lilly. It’s always the girls named after flowers that are the assholes. Another couple disregards the “Please No Littering” sign and flicks their cigarette butts over the side. They read aloud the metal and iron plaque that has been concreted into the ancient, earthen mountain explaining the importance of this landmark spot. They remark, “1968? That’s so old.”
And I feel old, wondering if wisdom really does come with age or if that is a legendary misconception. Deep breaths. If all men are created equal, why are some of us that much more certain of our worth? This must be ego, and not an earned right of passage. Coming to this place to feel something grander than just myself, I thought the purpose of meditating at places such as Lookout Mountain was to be alone. Man seeks out these world wonders to find the lowest loneliness in humanity so that he may sit and mourn it properly. We revel in it. Even though a great flaw in humanity is to be able to be in the midst of thousands of people and feel deeply and utterly alone, we flock in said teeming masses to prove it to ourselves. I heard a song once that said, “Nothing is sadder than a glass of wine alone.” Whoever wrote it never sipped from nips of Jack Daniels from off the side of a mountain with droves of the plugged-in, twenty-first century iPod pioneers behind them.
But then again, the irony in this place may be overshadowing my own hypocrisy enough to get me through. Maybe I, too, am missing the point of moments like these, of natural carved-out niches, of the innate need to experience something pure, unprocessed, uncultivated. I shoved my orange container back into my purse and leaned it against the sign reading, “Area Closed: Stay on Trails!” Leaning over a bit too far just to taunt my own mortality, I close my eyes and hope that years from now I can come back to my perch on this rock and see it in a way it deserves, in a way that the poets of an era before global positioning devices intended. These days, my vantage point is that of a bitter filter, and a jaded point of view. How cumbersome to be of an age one does not belong, and to be longing for a past one has never known. So much time is wasted mourning that which we did not want, and mourning that which we never truly had. And this, this will always be man’s greatest burden.
It doesn’t matter much now, really. This rock closes at sunset, anyway.