Walking Through Glasgow

DSC03883The name of the city of Glasgow comes from the Gaelic words “Glas Cu,” which mean “dear green place,” and it certainly is that. In California, there is currently a drought, and when I mentioned this to my Scottish hosts, they laughed, suggesting that we arrange some sort of weather exchange between our two countries. There is more than enough moisture falling from the sky in Glasgow, and the green surroundings bear testament to this fact, just as California’s golden hills and empty resivoirs bear testament to its current dry spell.

DSC03749I stayed with my cousin Amanda and her husband Andy, who were kind enough to put me up in their flat during the time I was in Glasgow. Their place is in a neighborhood on the south side of the River Clyde called Strathbungo. Strathbungo was incorporated into Glasgow in 1892, before which it was an independent village. It still feels like a village in some ways. There is a town council that enforces rules governing local architecture, ensuring that the neighborhood buildings retain their stylistic integrity.  On the streets people know one another and exchange greetings.  Amanda and Andy tell me that Peter Mullan, the actor and director of such Scottish film masterpieces as Orphans and NEDs,  is a regular around here, often seen on the streets or in the pubs.

One of the neighborhoods adjoining Strathbungo is the infamous Gorbals, which features prominently in the 1935 novel No Mean City, a story chronicling the rise and fall of Johnnie Stark, a gangster who slashes his enemies with straight razors, thus earning him the honor of being called the “razor king.” I was eager to see the Gorbals, since it plays such a key role in Glasgow’s popular image as a rough place; and yet I was also eager to avoid having my ears sliced off and handed to me as a gift. My cousin assured me that it is no longer the dangerous place that it once was and that I should not hesitate to wander around and see what there is to see. So I set out on foot toward my destination, eyes open, alert to my surroundings and prepared to flee if I met any razor kings. As I approached Gorbals Street, I did hear someone coming up behind me, so I turned to see who it was. My heart skipped a couple of beats. There was a Glaswegian skinhead in all of his gear: cherry red Docs, a black flight jacket, suspenders hanging down from his pants. A sense of relief overcame me when I realized that he was completely uninterested in me and solely concerned with taking his grocery shopping home. Just a Gorbals skinhead running his daily errands!

DSC03909To me, the Gorbals looks like many other neglected and destitute locations. There are a lot of crumbling buildings, housing projects, litter in the streets and signs for charity services. But there are also signs of renewal. There are new buildings being constructed, operating businesses and a highly visible and established Citizen’s Theatre that stages regular productions and that engages in education and community work. The place didn’t feel particularly unsafe or unfriendly, and there were plenty of school kids and prosperous looking adults wandering about. A banner adorning one of the new, very nice and upscale apartment buildings made reference to the “New Gorbals,” demonstrating that this is still, however, a place aware of its lingering reputation.

DSC03786I left the Gorbals, crossing the Glasgow Bridge and making my way downtown to George Square. This is the location where the beginning scenes of World War Z were filmed. In that film, Glasgow acts as a stand-in for Philadelphia, but Glasgow has also stood in for San Francisco (in Cloud Atlas) and for New York City (in The House of Mirth), suggesting something interesting about the nature of Glasgow. While it is a metropolis with its own unique culture and style, its urban atmosphere is also similar to, and in some ways perhaps even indistinguishable from, other world cities.  The streets form mazes of shops, restaurants and clubs that play host to hundreds of shoppers and tourists. Many of the usual corporate DSC03780store names are there: Starbucks, McDonalds, Apple, Dr. Martens. But there are also variations: instead of TJ Max, there is a TK Max, and the most popular pharmacy is called Boots, which somehow seems like an appropriate name for a Scottish store. The downtown shopping district is buzzing with consumers buying things and overindulging, just like in any other prosperous city. It is the perfect place for a zombie invasion!

DSC03885I wandered down Sauchiehall Street through the West End and toward Kelvingrove Museum, which was to be my destination for the day. The West End neighborhood is quite nice; there are pubs and cafes and even a restaurant named after the Big Lebowski. The whole neighborhood has a really good feel to it; there is a sense of vibrancy and signs that various sorts of cultures are now making contributions to Glaswegian life. The streets are lined with more than just a bunch of drinking establishments; there are Hindu and Buddhist temples and Italian, Japanese and French restaurants.

DSC03803All of the museums in Glasgow are free of any entrance charge –  something that should be the case everywhere in my opinion – but Kelvingrove Museum would still be a bargain even if you had to pay San Francisco-sized admission prices.  Upon entering this museum, my ears were filled with the deep, ominous sounds of a pipe organ. The instrument occupies an entire wall of the central hall, and it dwarfs and engulfs the organist, who sits perched up on high as DSC03862he plays. It is an awe-inspiring sight, and coupled with the organ’s sonic effects, I felt like I was entering a solemn place – until I saw the Spitfire airplane hanging from the ceiling! This vehicle swoops down from above, creating a quirky and rather humorous atmosphere, giving the sense that this place is both serious and weird; and that’s a good thing in my mind! A grotesque Elvis statue helps to reinforce the feeling.

There were a few exhibits at Kelvingrove that I especially enjoyed during my visit. First of all was the exhibit on Scottish myths; a topic directly related to my sabbatical research. It is quite apt that alongside the current push for independence there is a renewed sense of the distinctiveness of RobbieBScottish culture and a heightened urgency on the part of the country’s cultural institutions to debunk many common stereotypes about Scotland. In the “Scottish Identity in Art” exhibit at Kelvingrove, ideas about the origins of tartantry, the use of weapons, and the real lives of Mary, Queen of Scots and Robbie Burns are called into question. My favorite image from the exhibit is one of Robbie Burns reimagined in the style of the revolutionary Che Guevara! (I’ll have more to say about Burns in another posting.) Overall, this exhibit conveyed the sense that Scotland is an underdog of a country that still has to fight in order to gain respect on the world stage.

DSC03824In the gallery right next to the exhibit on Scotland’s depiction in art is a truly stunning painting: Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross. The piece occupies a room all to itself, which serves to highlight the dramatic nature of the image. Apparently, after the museum acquired this painting in 1952, a visitor to the exhibit tore the canvas in two and tried to destroy it. You might think that this was the result of religious outrage or something of that nature, but in fact the vandalism was motivated by the fact that the patron considered it was a very bad likeness of Christ. He should know, since  he claimed to be Jesus, and the painting looked nothing like him!

DSC03830I mentioned in an earlier posting that there are aspects of Glasgow that remind me of Buffalo. Well, I found yet another reminder of Western New York in the Kelvingrove Museum: a statue depicting two women in bed with one another. This is a casting of a piece of marble funerary art that adorns the plot owned by a lesbian couple in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. It was installed before gay marriage was legalized there. The artist, Patricia Cronin, writes that “In death, I make official my ‘marriage,’ which was not legal for most of our relationship.” It’s a great quote, and it made me think back to when I lived in Buffalo and would spend hours wandering around Forest Lawn, reflecting on death and how stupid life can be sometimes.

I’m sure that I’ll be doing more of that kind of reflecting in the days to come when I make my way over to the spectacular Glasgow Necropolis. But on this day I still had to walk back across the city to get ready for a Burns Night Supper. I’ll be posting the sordid details of that event soon.

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Sabbatical in Glasgow

Glasgow-City-CrestCircling in the air above the city of Glasgow, Scotland before landing, I was surprised at how much the surrounding countryside reminded me of Western New York.  Clusters of houses sit here and there against a background of gently rolling, green hills. From the air, the landscape outside of the city looks mostly like farmland; just like the areas surrounding Buffalo, New York. As it was winter, there was a low cloud deck and a constant drizzle was falling. Everything looked cold, wet and not the least bit exotic.

From the sky I could see tiny cars racing down streets between the various clusters of buildings below, and something about this particular detail was a sure the tip-off that I was not in the US. First of all, round-a-bouts punctuate the roadways. This is something quite rare in the US where they would probably be considered an impediment to our freedom to get from point A to point B in the shortest, most efficient period of time. Secondly, the cars were all traveling on left side of the street; the “wrong” side from an American perspective.

I was not in the US. I was touching down in Glasgow, Scotland. This was the birthplace of my mother. It was where my mother met and married my father. It was where my sister was born. It was a place that I visited regularly as a child, but which always felt foreign, exotic and somewhat antiquated to me. It was a place that my parents referred to as “the old country.” Now that my parents are both dead and gone I have, bit by bit, developed a desire to understand this place better. This “old country” is now something new to me.

When I was a kid, I did not understand the fascination that some of my peers had with foreign countries and cultures. It struck me as weird and even a bit embarrassing. We were Americans, after all. We lived in a “melting pot” where our differences were supposed to be distilled away and we were meant to focus on how we were similar, not different from others. Perhaps this was an attitude encouraged by the fact that my parents were immigrants who were chronically aware of how much they stood out and were different from those that we lived alongside.

My mother spoke with an accent that marked her as Scottish, and my father spoke with a heavy Polish accent. As a kid, I was aware of the discomfort some people had around my father. I often got the feeling that they were scared of him, and that they thought he was an unrefined brute . My father was a gardener, and when we moved into a nice, upper-middle class California neighborhood when I was about 7 years old, some of our neighbors were quite puzzled as to how a manual laborer could afford to live side-by-side doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals. I presume that this arrogance bothered my dad, but it was my mother who was most vocal about her annoyance.

My mother got along well with most of the neighbors, but the veneer of civility was thin. During the first Gulf War, when I was serving in the Army and my mother was afraid I might be mobilized, she got into a verbal altercation with a pro-war neighbor in the supermarket who finally yelled at her, “Go back to wherever it is you came from!” Even after spending the largest part of her life in America, her accent gave her away. She was different, and that meant she couldn’t fully be trusted.

So maybe it was this type of experience, and the fact that my parents left the “old country,” thus rejecting it, that encouraged me to avoid too much fascination with non-American places and people. I’m sure it is more complicated than just that; but I’m just as certain this describes at least part of the dynamic that played a role in the development of my psychology. Nonetheless, up to the present day, lying behind all of this manifest indifference to other cultures there has also always been something else lurking: a longing to understand how I came to be me, and to understand how far back I can trace the influences that have contributed to my own obsessions, quirks and preoccupations.

My first inkling that Scotland was a good starting point for exploration of this sort occurred to me when, about 6 years ago, I traveled with my mother back to Glasgow. It was her last trip home before her death a few years later, and as we wandered the city, she pointed out the places where significant events in her life had occured. She showed me where she attended the “School of Domestic Sciences” and where she held her first job after graduating. We saw the hall where she went dancing on the weekends, and the movie theatre where my father took her to see Polish films that she could not understand. She showed me where my father lived before they met and we drove past “Rottenrow,” the hospital where my sister was born. (To this day my sister can’t stand the name of that hospital!) We went to my grandfather’s old neighborhood in Possilpark, now a veritable slum populated by rival gangs and drug addicts. We also scrutinized the inscriptions on a monument dedicated to WWI war casualties, looking for my grandfather’s name. Family mythology had it that my grandfather had been mistaken for dead after being hit with mustard gas and that his name had ended up here. As it turns out, like so many family tales, this was not true. My grandfather was hit with mustard gas, his face horribly burned and disfigured, but his name does not appear inscribed on the memorial.

DSC03901The experience of traveling with my mother sparked a realization in me. This “old country” was still a part of my mother, and thus it was also a part of me. There was too much family history here for me to make a clean break. So when my sabbatical leave was granted this year, I proposed a line of research that would not only be academically interesting, but one that would afford me the opportunity to spend some time in Scotland – and Glasgow in particular – in order to get in touch with the culture of the place, and hopefully to understand myself a bit better in the process.

More to come…

Why I Am Not a Feminist

feminismI once overheard my wife, as she was talking with a friend, refer to me as a feminist. In calling me this, she meant to emphasize the fact that I support the rights of women and that I believe them to be the intellectual equals of men. Later I revealed to her that I actually don’t consider myself a feminist; not because I think “feminism” is a dirty word, but precisely because I was not born a woman. To me, to be a feminist means to see the world through a woman’s eyes, and there is no way that I can authentically do that.

There are many women who I admire and hold up as personal ideals for emulation. I continue to gain incredible insights by reading the books of Simone DeBeauvoir, Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt, Babette Babich and Susan Bordo. In fact, all of the advisors I have worked with most closely throughout graduate school have been women; and this despite the fact that the philosophical topics I am obsessed with are often thought of as quite “masculine.” On top of this, among the most important people in my life are my wife, my sister and my mother: all women. They are the ones who, probably more than anyone else, have contributed to the type of human being I have turned out to be. I have been shaped by their presence, and yet despite all of this, I still cannot truly say that I understand what it means to see the world as they see it. As humans, I feel a kinship and a sense of solidarity with women, and yet I cannot authentically claim to understand that aspect of their experience tied specifically to womanhood, any more than I can understand what it is like to exist in this world as rich, black, asian, gay, European or a genius.

I may be fooling myself, but the closest that I have come to feeling like I understand the female perspective – and thus to taking on the perspective of feminism – is through reading books or watching movies that involve the dramatic struggles of female protagonists. With this, I am not referring to philosophical works of the sort alluded to above. With those types of  works I’m more apt to identify with the non-gendered arguments and ideas than with the embodied experiences of the authors themselves. Rather, I am thinking of historical or fictional works that dramatize events and narratives in which women play central roles.  Many of the books and movies that I have in mind, it is true, are written or directed by men. But this may be the bridge that has allowed me to resonate so much with, for instance, characters like Fran in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Susy Banion in Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Perhaps by watching females as they appear filtered through the perspectives of male writers and directors I am able to resonate with them while also finding something of my own familiar, male-centered perspective reflected back to me.

400065All of this comes to mind because I recently finished reading two books and watching a movie, all of which feature females as the central characters. The first book is a historical study titled Hypatia of Alexandria, which attempts to set the record straight about the ancient philosopher and mathematician. This is a book written by a woman, and it is interesting that while I really did enjoy it, I also found myself a bit deflated and disappointed by the sorts of historical realities that the author, Maria Dzielska, brings to light. I am a big fan of the movie Agora, in which Hypatia is depicted as a pure martyr for philosophy on par with Socrates, and while I know that the truth is no doubt more complicated than depicted in the film, I still can’t deny that the myth attracts me more than the reality. In her book, Dzielska emphasizes how Hypatia was probably entangled in political as well as philosophical struggles (as was also probably the case with Socrates), and that when she was killed she was old, not a young woman as those who idealize her tend to suggest. Perhaps it takes a woman to cast a realistic and non-romantic eye on the life and struggles of another woman. And yet, from my male perspective, I felt let down. I want Hypthia to be pure and perfect, like the character in Agora who, when accused of believing in “nothing” retorts, “I believe in philosophy,” or who tells another character, “You cannot question; but I must question everything!” This is the image I find inspirational; but that’s my own fault, not Dzielska’s or Hypatia’s.

damned-chuck-palahniukThe other book that I recently finished reading is Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk. This is the first in a two-part series involving a 13 year-old girl named Madison who is strangled by her step-brother and ends up in Hell. Here we have a female lead as conceptualized by a man, and while she does not represent anything like the philosophical ideal of Hypatia, she does embody strength and courage coupled with a kind of honesty, which seems to be the sort of mixture I resonate with in female characters. Madison’s dispassionate and detached descriptions of the landscape of Hell (filled with mountains of toenail clippings, seas of wasted sperm and deserts of dandruff)  are disgusting and hilarious, supplying a surreal backdrop to her own existential adventure as she resolves to take hold of her situation and confront Satan himself. This is good stuff from the author of Fight Club, but I’m not sure if it represents anything true about young girls and their way of seeing the world. It all comes across as very male and adolescent, and not really what I would describe as distinctively feminist.

DownloadedFileAs a birthday gift, my wife gave me the DVD of  Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural. This film occupies a strangely central place in my psychology, due as much to the circumstances under which I first viewed it when I was a kid as to the imagery it contains. I must have been about 13 – the age of Madison in Damned – when Lemora was shown late night on the television show Creature Features. I do not know where I was while watching it. It was somewhere unfamiliar and I was alone in the living room. For some reason I have no recollection of why I was staying in this particular house or why no one else seems to have been with me at the time. (Maybe that’s an issue for future therapy!) I do recall a scene involving bizarre, horrifying faces pressed up against the windows of a bus and a little girl recoiling from them. Upon recently watching the DVD, I recognized that particular segment, but otherwise it was like watching the movie for the first time. I did not recall the narrative arc or the strongly Freudian themes that permeate this story of a young girl in search of her father just as she is starting to realize the power of her emerging sexuality. Of course as a 13 year old I could not have articulated these themes, but as I grew into adulthood, the impact left on me was permanent. Shortly after meeting my wife, in fact, this film was one of our early topics of discussion. Neither of us could remember the movie’s name, although both of us vividly remembered the images and the atmosphere it contained. In this, I suppose, male and female perspectives converged somewhat, but again I wouldn’t say that there was anything particularly “feminist” either in my sympathy for the film’s young protagonist or with the fascination my wife and I shared for this movie. It was just an absorbing, creepy experience.

I admire feminists, just as I admire anyone who intelligently and vigorously argues for their own ideas about the Truth. Such people make important contributions to the world by articulating and voicing their beliefs, helping the rest of us to learn, grow and see the world differently. I’m not under the illusion, however, that I can understand all perspectives. There are points of view I am unable to comprehend simply by virtue of who I am.  But, in many ways, those are precisely the ones that are the most interesting to me. The perspectives I am unable to adopt as my own (like feminism) are the ones that will always be there to provoke, challenge and push me to question myself and my own fragmented and limited perception of reality.

Bagging a Fourteener

image001(With the new year, I’m taking a bit of time to reflect on the past. Here’s an essay I wrote sometime back in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.)

Mount Shasta is a dormant volcano located in Siskyou County in Northern California. At over 14,000 feet, this centerpiece of the Shasta National Forest attracts a huge number of hikers and mountaineers, as would be expected. But in addition to outdoorsmen and adventure seekers it is also attracts an enormous cult of New Age worshippers who believe that inside this mountain live the last survivors from the lost continent of “Lemuria.” The mystique of Shasta is only bolstered by this supernatural element.

My friend Matt had become obsessed with Mt. Shasta and had committed himself to the task of reaching its summit. It was to be his journey of inner discovery. His pursuit of spritiual strength would culminate in scaling and mastering this snow covered mass of volcanic rock, and I was going along for the trip. Now, Im not best described as an experienced mountaineer or outdoorsman. I’ve climbed Half-Dome in Yosemite (along with a number of overweight tourists), and I’ve hiked to the top of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County (“The Sleeping Lady” – a mere 2,500 feet in altitude). The decision to accompany my pal on his quest was based upon a number of factors. First of all, I was unemployed for the summer, so I had the time. Second, living in San Francisco had started to wear on my nerves and getting away from the city sounded like a relaxing prospect. Finally, conquering a mountain appealed to my masculine sense of power. I liked the idea of ascending into the severe heights where the air was thin and cold. I wanted to defy gravity and laugh at nature in her attempt to restrict my movements. I wanted to be a conquering god. I wanted to “spank that bad boy” and, as mountaineers say, “bag a fourteener.”

I dont know if Zeus ever stood at the base of Mt. Olympus and wondered how he was going to get to the top, but when I first viewed Mt. Shasta from the valley floor, I seriously questioned my godly potential. This white, wrinkled tower rises past even the clouds as it juts violently towards the sky. I felt every foot a mortal as Matt pointed out the route we would follow. Our hike would take us from 8,000 to 14,000 feet up the ominously named “Avalanche Gulch,” through the “Red Banks,” over “Misery Hill” and to the summit. From our base camp, the ascent would take an estimated 10 hours. On a scale of 1 to 3, this route was classified a 1. In other words, it was considered an easy route. Looking up from my perspective, I realized just how relative the term “easy” is.

While waiting for our climbing partner Craig to arrive, Matt and I took a hike up a closed road in order to explore our surroundings and to get used to exercising in this altitude. About a mile up we discovered the reason for the road closure. An avalanche had swept across the pavement like a tidal wave of very stiff whipped cream. Along its trip down the mountain, it had snapped and uprooted a number of huge trees and carried them along like chocolate sprinkles. The icy torrent had cut a swath through the growth on the slope and left a path about as wide as a four lane freeway. Standing in the midst of this now stationary flow, we had a direct view of the path we were going to take to the top of the mountain. “Avalanche Gulch” had been appropriately named.

Despite the threat of being engulfed by an avalanche, our chosen approach to Mt. Shasta was by far the safest one. All other paths required crossing one or more of the many glaciers that adorn the slopes. Apparently, a number of bodies remain entombed on Mt. Shasta, each lodged in one of these glaciers. In fact, the last person to die in a mountaineering accident fell into one of these openings just two weeks before we arrived. Retrieving the bodies is impossible, so the glacier becomes a cemetary, and the mountain a headstone for such unlucky climbers. The bodies remain in a deep freeze for eternity, perfectly preserved between enormous blocks of ice. I wonder, as with the ancient Ice Man discovered frozen in the Austrian Alps, if some future explorer or scientist will discover these bodies when the glaciers recede and hypothesize about their purpose for being on the mountain and about the composition of their primitive tools. “Perhaps they were holy men on a spiritual quest. Their odd, purple and black clothing seems to attest to the uniqueness of these climbers. …And what of these strange markings on their equipment? What is the significance of the words North Face or the letters REI?”

We hooked up with Craig and hiked in to our base camp. Horse Camp was covered in a layer of snow that you could tell was about six feet in depth by the basins that had formed around the trees in the area. It seemed a little bit crazy, to me, to set up a tent in the snow, but it was also obvious that there was nowhere else to do so. The snow acts as an insulator, I was assured by my comrades, though I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they shared the same misgivings about this sleeping arangement as I did. On the plus side, the camp was equiped with an outhouse and a natural spring. I hoped that the reputed magical healing qualities of Mt. Shasta’s water would do something for a rash I had developed on my forearm, and I expected the liquid gushing forth from the spring to taste as sweet as a can of Shasta Cola. Perhaps it would give me second sight as well, or tune me in to the wisom of the ancients. These hopes became confused with other concerns upon meeting the camp caretaker. He was a man of about 40 who was friendly, in a goofy kind of way. He was prone to giggling for no apparent reason when he spoke and he acted like he possessed some kind of big secret. “You hear and see a lot of wierd things up here,” he confided in us, and I didnt doubt for an instant that someone who lives a good portion of the year out in the woods alone, drinking magical water, probably does hear and see plenty of strange things. It was then that I wished I had a water filter.

We spent the following day practicing some climbing and glissading techniques at “Giddy Giddy Gultch.” It was here that I learned a few lessons which made me feel anything but giddy; and certainly not giddy times two. I found that when faced with vast expanses of white, distances become very difficult to judge. You can easily be fooled into believing that large objects very far away are actually very small objects close to you. The glare and even expanse of the snow plays tricks on your eyes, robbing you of depth perception and placing you in a bright, white 2-D world. At one point in our acsent of the Giddy Giddy Gultch I was convinced that we were about to be attacked by a pine martin (a member of the weasel family) that was quickly approaching us. My sense of danger was magically transformed into one of boredom when Matt pointed out that what I was seeing was another hiker, moving away from us, much farther up the slope. Right after that, as if to compensate, I mistook a pair of trees that were growing out of a rock ledge for a pair of fellow hikers.

The lessons of the first days hike under our belts, we went to bed early that night in preparation for the next morning and the really big challenge.

We left our basecamp at 4:30 in the morning to begin our ascent up the mountain. Our first goal was to reach Lake Helen at the 10,000 ft. mark. As we began the hike up Avalanche Gultch, I followed the lead of my partners and switched back and forth across the face of the slope, zig-zagging upwards slowly and steadily. This process took too much time so, being the impatient novice that I am, I switched to the “French method” and began sidestepping straight up the slope. This was too awkward. I ended up snagging my crampon on my pant leg, tripping and sliding a short distance down the face of the mountain. I avoided a big setback only by stopping myself with my ice axe. Next I adoped the “German method.” This very inelegant procedure proved to be most to my liking. I would scamble, pidgeon toed, straight upwards a number of steps and then plant my ice axe in the snow, heaving for breath in the thin air. Once I caught my breath I would identify a landmark, like a rock or unusual design in the snow, grit my teeth and then make another mad dash towards that goal, where once again I would rest. I was never able to travel more than a few yards at a time, but the sensation of going straight up the grade as fast as I could gave me more of a feeling of satisfaction and short term accomplishment than any other strategy.

The climb just seemed to go on and on.

At each plateau that we reached, another slope appeared and our hopes of reaching the top were frustrated. Towards 11 AM, we had still not reached The Red Banks – a formation of volcanic rock that looks like a row of rotten teeth at the 13,000 ft. mark. Many people had said that if we made it to that point, the hardest part of the climb would be done and the rest would be a piece of cake. In a way they were right. When I finally did reach that row of red, smiling teeth I realized that with each heaving breath on the way up, I had expelled all my thoughts and feelings. I no longer was frustrated or dissapointed or tired or cold. I no longer felt like a conquerer or an adventurer or a god. I was simply a pathetic little creature that was moving from one rock to the next, incapable of any kind of higher order thought or reflection.

It took 3 more hours to reach the actual summit of Mt. Shasta. The same blankness of mind prevailed all the way up, except for a short pause before the final 200 ft. rise when I questioned whether or not I had the physical strength to actually make it to the top. Sitting on the rocky summit, wedged into a natural seat that surveyed a 360 degree view of the Shasta Valley, I realized that my goal was now ironically reversed. Now I had to get to the bottom of the mountain.

After signing the register that is kept in a metal box bolted into the rock, we began the decsent. It took 12 hours to get to the top, but with gravity as our ally, only 1 1/2 hours to get to the bottom. Once back at Horse Camp, all of us fell asleep for 10 hours.

No one conquers a really tall mountain. In order to be conquered, a mountain would have to submit to the domination of another being. But a mountain doesnt care about anything since its just a big hunk of rock. It can’t engage in a battle of will. It is incapable of withdrawing, yeilding or becoming obedient. It just sits, indifferent, while hundreds of little people attack it in an attempt to confirm something about themselves. I didnt experience a sense of power or enlightenment, of excitement or pleasure from scaling Mt. Shasta. The physical exertion, the altitude and the tendancy towards perceptual illusion all combined to lead me into a state of unthinking, unfeeling inertia.

I think that all philosophizing must take place below the 12,000 ft. level. Above that height all abstract thought ceases. Only below 12,000 ft. does any reflection take place and it is only at sea level that really clear thinking kicks in. Philosophy at 14,000 ft. is nonexistant.