We summited in darkness and at dawn
began the descent, skidding and sliding,
glare-blinded, snow a slurry of wet pearls,
thin air strafing our throats, arms outspread.
Wind snapped our jackets and clouds parted
below us. The snow smelled of metal, of stone.
Gradually it softened and thinned over talus.
Scree rattled loose in the sun's heat
as we balanced across shifting boulders
splotched with lichens in rust and lime.
A crusty soil appeared with delicate grasses and forbs,
then low shrubs with a sharp resin scent
and stunted pines, their branches sprawling south
along the ground. The wind was suddenly buffered,
damp and pungent with humus, as alders
and birches grew up along a widening stream bed
where moss covered tumbled stones and leafy
earth sponged underfoot. Our minds and bodies
grew curiously light. The world was emerging
on all sides, new and immeasurable
as we plunged, exhausted, deeper and deeper
into the intricately textured realm of fragrance,
color, and sound. There was a path
that became a lane, there was a pasture
with white-faced cows, there was a farmhouse
and faint music drifting across a field,
and a small boy hurrying home.
Soon our boots sounded against pavement.
Shopkeepers drew down their rattling grilles.
There were tables on sidewalks, filling with people.
There was talk and laughter and the smell of food,
and we sat to eat and drink as if in a dream.
High overhead the peaks flamed and went out.
We took our place on a bus crowded with bodies,
rejoining the familiar human fray as darkness
consumed the landscape. What seemed to be a swath
of night sky was instead the mountain's vast black flank,
a remnant of light far overhead where stars finally began.
The bus lurched and turned, winding down-valley.
Love was still to come. Marriage and houses and children.
Together we held onto the swaying straps as on all sides
the immense, invisible landscape rose up around us.