I will not get to the mountains. I’ve been told as much, but you can’t swallow this kind of knowledge until you have some perspective.

I am in the center of a great salt flat. I don’t know how I got here, but I’ve been walking for 50 years. Behind me I see my tracks. I see my campsites fading into the distance. If I squint, I can even recognize a certain rock I passed when I was five years old. The trail I’ve left behind seems so small, now that I look at it. I started in the center of this unfathomable expanse, and I’m pretty much still in the center, as far as I can tell.

Looking forward I perceive a distant range of mountains, shimmering mirage-like on the horizon. They look no closer now than they did 20 years ago. If I had another 50 years and ran as fast as I could, I wouldn’t make any appreciable progress. I will die in the center of this flat land. I see that now. I see it, and I know it, and I believe it, and I feel it.

But those mountains. In my dreams I have climbed their peaks and looked back over this landscape with a god-like understanding. The mountains own me. They own my soul as human souls are often owned by music or art or love or desire or knowledge.

So lately I’ve been wondering about stopping and taking a closer look at the salt beneath my feet. Maybe draw little pictures in it with a stick while I smile at the pilgrims trudging by. If you can’t reach the mountains, you might as well get to know the trail.

I assume I will discover if this new insight will bring me peace or despair, if this knowledge will break me or finally make me graceful.

Gordon Atkinson

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