Sunday, September 03, 2006
Sage Climbs a Mountain: Part I
The Emetic Sage stood amongst the steep foothills of the mountain. Enormous humps of granite like the exposed backbone of the world interspersed with towering pines filled his vision as he gazed up and upwards at the mountaintop plunging into thick white cloud cover. He meant to climb this mountain, and as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, he took that step and crossed over into the tree line.
Just ahead, however, and in a clearing off to the right, stood a small one-room house, gabled and clapboarded, with a stone chimney that pierced its moss roof and sent white plumes of smoke into the dawn air. It looked very inviting to the Sage -- very warm and very cozy -- so much so that he crossed the clearing and knocked on the door.
It was almost instantaneously thrown wide, and in the opening stood a rather small yet zaftig middle-aged woman. Her dress was simple and plain, and a gingham apron covered her ample bosom. Her face was ruddy and pleasant, her eyes kind, and her smile wide. "Welcome!" she greeted, and ushered Sage in. "You're just in time for breakfast."
"Look, Dad," she said, speaking to a middle-aged man who sat at the table, "we've got us some comp'ny for breakfast."
The man looked up and grunted. "Hrmmph. Sit down boy -- sit yourself down."
Sage went obediently over to the table and sat down, shaking hands with the man first. He had a good solid grip, large calloused hands than felt like they could straight-arm an anvil by the horn.
"Thank you for the hospitality, Sir," Sage said.
"Oh, 'tweren't nothin', my boy, nothin' at all. You've got the looks of a climber in you, and a body's got to have fuel for a climb, that's for darn sure. Mother, you bring this boy a plate and some utensils, and Boy? You just dig right in."
The table, a homespun affair of rough-sawn pine boards, was covered in a red and white checked tablecloth, and laden with deliciously aromatic victuals. There was a heaping platter of flapjacks, and a large platter of scrambled eggs, and buttermilk biscuits, and bacon and sausage, and marmalade and jelly, and a pitcher of home-made maple syrup, and honeydew melon, and coffee and enormous glasses of orange juice.
Sage piled his plate high, and commenced to eating. He started with the eggs and bacon and sausage and biscuits, and when he finished that he loaded up himself a short-stack of those deliciously light but crisp flapjacks, and smothered them with rich real butter and marmalade and syrup.
"Mother," the man said, "it sure does me good to see a body eat like that. That's enthusiasm there, I tell you. Enthusiasm!"
Mother rolled her eyes and said to the Sage, "What's your name, Son?"
Sage swallowed a mouthful of flapjack and said, "Most people call me 'Sage'."
"Maybe most people call you 'Sage', Son, but what's your name?"
Sage sat there for a bit, thinking. It had been so long. Then he smiled.
"Thefarie. My name is 'Thefarie'."
"Teh-far-ee-uh? Now, Son, that there's a mighty strange name. What be your surname?"
"Lands sakes alive!" Dad interrupted. "Mother, let the boy eat in peace without you yammerin' and pesterin' 'im with pointless questions."
"Alright, Dad, don't go gettin' your overalls in a bunch," Mother replied, miffed. "I'm just trying to show the boy some polite conversation."
"More like polite interrogation, sounds to me."
The couple continued to good-naturedly bicker as Sage went back to contentedly stuffing forkfull after forkfull of breakfast into his gob. The bickering made him faintly uneasy, but he could see that it was the their way, and that deep down the couple loved and cherished each other.
After finally finishing eating, Sage leaned back in his chair, placed his hands over his abdomen, and groaned contentedly.
Father beamed, and said, "C'mon, Boy, let's us sit a spell on the porch." They rose up slowly from the table, their joints creaking, while Mother commenced to clear the table for the washing up.
"May I help you with that, Ma'am?" Sage asked.
"Oh, get along with you, Son! I'm much obliged, but the day I can't handle the warshing up in my own kitchen is the day they lay me out for the final judgment."
Sage nodded his head and, truth be told, felt fairly relieved that Mother didn't take him up on his offer. He followed Dad out onto the porch and set himself down into a large wood chair, solid as the earth. He settled himself comfortably and gazed out over the valley below. The sun was rising higher into the clear blue sky now, leaving only wispy white clouds to scud high overhead. A slight breeze carried the scent of pine and jasmine and goldenrod. The only sound was that of birds cawing in the distance while they soared on thermals.
Dad pulled a small pipe out the bib of his overalls and started fiddling with it: tapping it upside down on the arm of his chair to clear the lees, then filling the bowl with a pinch of tobacco, and tamping it down a bit. He took a long-stemmed Diamond wooden lucifer and gave it a brief but strong flick with his horny thumbnail, and it flamed into life. He then applied the flame to the bowl, puffing all the while, till the tobacco caught sufficiently to stay smoldering on its own.
"You care for a smoke, Boy?"
"No thank you, Sir," Sage replied, "I don't smoke." At least not tobacco, Sage thought to himself. But he didn't want to burden the man with that knowledge. They settled into a companionable silence, appreciating the morning, Sage lost in his own thoughts, Dad smoking and rocking in his chair. Eventually the silence and fresh air and plumes of sweet-smelling tobacco lulled Sage into a gentle nap.
And he didn't wake until a strong but gentle hand nudged him and the sun was high and directly overhead. "Rise and shine, Boy. If you're going t'go, now's a good a time as any."
Sage rose and stretched, yawned and blinked. "My, that was nice. Yes, you're right, Sir, it's time I took up my journey."
Mother handed him a heavy rucksack. "Now you take these viands, and I won't brook 'no' for an answer." Sage looked into the sack, and there was some dried and salted meats, and a couple wheels of good strong cheese, and biscuits left over from breakfast, and several apples red and ripe.
"I'm much obliged, Ma'am, and I thank you very kindly for the gifts and hospitality."
"Oh, you don't be so formal now, and just call me Mother like old Dad does." And she gave Sage a big bearhug and pressed his head into her ample bosom. She smelled of cooking and home and hearth, and Sage breathed deep as he hugged her back.
"Now you go, Son, and don't look back. 'The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.'"
Sage smiled at her, and nodded, and turned to old Dad. They looked each other square in the eye and shook hands again. And then Dad pulled him close and hugged him and slapped him on the back as men are wont to do in times of emotion not easily expressed through words.
"You look out for yourself, Boy, and don't take any wooden nickels. Remember, 'the woods are lovely, dark and deep, and you've got miles to go before you sleep.'"
"Yes, Sir, that I do. Goodbye, then," and he turned and walked out of the clearing onto his path up the mountain and, true to Mother's advice, did not look back.