Last night, following a dinner at the local haunt, the topic of mountains was broached. It was observed that there is a trend among men (it would seem) to reach a certain milestone age and suddenly develop the need to climb Mr. Kilimanjaro. We each postulated our own rationale for this: a need to mark, a need to set oneself apart, a need to overcome a fear, to face a challenge…
The question was then raised: up to this point in your life, what has been your Kilimanjaro?
We went around the table and attempted to answer the question for ourselves: Having a child, buying a house, overcoming an injury, living in a foreign country… all inspiring answers to a challenging question and all distinctly personal to the individual to whom it is posed.
This past year I’d spent ten days without seeing another human being, alone on an isolated farm on Prince Edward Island. I went into the experience knowing full well that this was going to be a challenge. I had never spent so much time alone. Perhaps two - maybe three days at most….
Alone on the farm, I had more than enough food. I had my computer and phone - though I tended to spend my time reading and painting. i was amazed at how quickly a routine emerged. Up early. Start a fire. Get the place warmed up. Go for a walk in the woods, set up the easel, get to work… the days melted away for the most part.
The hardest part was being alone. My brain would race. It was a huge challenge. It seemed (and seems) like such a romantic notion: so much time alone, and yet in the midst of it was the boredom to be overcome. That was a major part of the challenge.
As the days went on, I watched as nature erupted into spring. In the course of my solitude it seemed that every bug imaginable decided to hatch. The Junebugs made a startling appearance one night while I was sitting in the living room. They burst forth from the woodpile in front of the window and attempted to penetrate the house. At first I thought it was rain, and then the distinct sound of flapping wings assaulting the pane sent my spine into paralysis. I could not determine the size or make-up of the marauder, but the aural interlude made my skin crawl.
The next morning I arose to find a few bodies of the fallen littering the front porch. Getting a close look at a June Bug is not something I'd ever recommend.
Prehistoric looking things.
I’d seen too many horror films and have far to active an imagination for late night noises in seclusion.
That was terrifying, and yet the experience brought about a major change in my perspective. I had spent most of my life believing that I would forever be dependant on others. As a visually impaired person it was my belief that I could not survive on my own. I would perpetually be at the mercy of public transit, friends and family….being on my own was not an option. The time on the farm changed that belief. I could suddenly see myself living away from the city.
I began to dream of having a house of my own in some small town somewhere. A yard and a dog. A studio where I could paint.
A walk to the grocery store and the post office.
It started to feel manageable - and that time on the mountain set that dream in motion.
Perhaps that’s why we do it.
What has been your Kilimanjaro?
Perhaps there has been more than one.
Perhaps you are on it right now.
What will be your next one?
Special thanks to the Kilimanjaro Club for a lovely evening of contemplation.