In his book, Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane writes about the role of imagination in a person’s approach to space and place. The mountains that people climb, he writes, must first exist and be conquered in their minds.
When he actually climbed mountains, Macfarlane discovered “that the mountains one gazes at, reads about, dreams of and desires are not the mountains one climbs.” The real mountains are “matters of hard, steep rock and freezing snow…of vertigo…of hypertension, nausea and frostbite.”
But is it true that in order to experience something… like summer… I have to imagine it first? At the beginning of August, the question seems absurd. Why should I try to imagine what is right here all around me?
In the gray and cold of February, the question is less frivolous. Then, my anticipation creates a different Summer Mountain in which the weather is perfect, the heat and humidity are not oppressive, in which the garden is always beautiful and productive, and all the good summers of the past join in memory.
Then, I climb the mountain, and August becomes not only all the things I perceive and feel in August days, but also my reaction to the way I had imagined things might be, the way I wished things might have been, and how I feel and how I thought I might feel or wanted to feel finally reaching the summit of the highest tide of the year.
If I am disappointed, no matter. The next Summer Mountain lies before me, just a few seasons away. If I let my mind soar, I might imagine the perfect climb and the stunning view at the top.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the first week of Late Summer. In the meantime, climb August’s mountain, try for the peak.