The Subtleties of Mountain Goats
Have you ever stared at a mountain goat for a significant amount of time? I have.
The funny thing about mountain goats is that they’re not funny at all. At a first glance they look somewhat amusing with their almost mythical-like appearance. And yet, after a few moments something breaks through the surface. A sadness in them, a deep, deep languid state of non-being that seems to reside within their pitifully small black eyes.
I sat watching it for what seemed like a decade. I watched as it placed its thick woollen legs on the side of a cliff and began to climb. Up and up it went, unfaltering, unnerved, for climbing was what it lived for. Half way I thought I saw signs of second thoughts. It glanced down, hesitated for a moment. Then it returned its gaze upwards and began to ascend once again, stronger than ever.
Finally, it reached the top. With a decisive swing of its head it looked down. And then as if instructed to do so, turned around and vanished.
I felt sad. Sad that I could no longer see it climb. Sad that I couldn’t know how it felt for reaching the top. So, I just sat there, I waited for it to come back. For it to start descending the cliff. Then I would walk over and ask it: How something of its seemingly unfit size could achieve such a feat, with such apparent ease.
I don’t know how long I waited, but I never saw the goat again.
Instead I made it my mission to find the goat for myself. I stood at the bottom of the cliff, looking up at the top, over a hundred feet away. Slowly I raised a foot and pulled myself onto the first outcrop, then the second, and the third. I thought to myself that this wasn’t so bad, that I would be at the top in no time at all.
My climbing grew slower, not even a quarter of the way up. My legs felt heavy, my arms ached, and my mind began to weaken. The outcrops where I placed my feet no longer looked small, they looked infinite. Above me the cliff seemed to stretch far into the clouds, into places where no goats’ eyes had ever been. It terrified me. The knowledge that I had been trying so hard, so valiantly. And yet, I was nowhere at all.
Looking down, the ground seemed so close I could almost touch it. All I could do was descend, and hope that one day, maybe the goat might return. Then I would make him tell me the secrets to climbing the cliff, to scaling its surface effortlessly.
It was not because he was a mountain goat that he could climb the cliff – he knew something I didn’t. Of that, I was certain.