On the Mountain

Golden Silence and Peace of Mind are Found In the Tranquility and Vastness of the Alpine Heights

On The Town | Michelle Falkenbach | September 2008

View of Obertilliach in Lesachtal, Austria (Photo: Michelle Falkenbach)

I find myself at over 2,500 meters, surrounded by nothing but sky, in one of East Tirol’s most beautiful mountain ranges.  It is at this point, here, in the midst of the Karnischen Alps boardering Eastern Austria and Northern Italy that I find peace.

It is the first time in the nine years since I began coming to Obertilliach in Leasachtal that I have been able to silence the voices in my head.

In this overly busy and pre-occupied age, there are precious few moments where you can honestly say – and usually only after the fact – that you have found peace of mind, that your thoughts have been stilled.

Very rarely are any of us able to fully surrender to our surroundings and be aware only of the here and now. The past is always brewing in the background, events standing in a line waiting to be analyzed and re-analyzed, puzzling through the "why" and "how come" of everything.

What a concept! - being free of future worries tornado-ing out of control, careening at full speed in the wrong direction, creating useless stressors and tangibly fabricated fears…

At a height of almost 2,800 meters, I find myself present, perhaps for the first time.

All around me silence, an unusual sensation. I begin to notice the Things. I become aware of the warm skin on my hands rubbing against the grips of my walking sticks. I feel the give of the earth as my feet contact with the rocks, sand and grass. The airs freshness tickles my nose, and my lungs expand in a rush of pure surprise. Everything seems exciting, the smell of dirt, of flowers and grass, goat and sheep droppings, all mixing together hitting me full on with every step.

I listen to the rhythm of my walking – stick, foot, stick, foot – in a constant pattern, blending with the humming of crickets and the occasional groundhog cries.

The wind rushes past by my ears, as if in a hurry to deliver some essential message.  Rocks are crumbling, sliding beneath my feet as we make our way forward

I wipe my mouth and taste the sweat on my tongue, leaving a salty flavor lingering on my lips.  I long for something wet, and listened for the sound of a stream I think may be nearby. Then I come upon it, and kneel down on the soft bank, cupping my hands to drink from the pristine water that flows down the mountain side from a spring just above, slipping and gliding over the outcroppings below me.

My eyes follow the narrow road, made of dirt or sometimes pure rock, twisting and turning in front of me, leading me to an unknown destination farther on, through the everyday wonders of this high altitude. The Italian Dolomites stand proud, and seem to be stretching up, head back, as if awaiting a kiss from heaven.

As I begin my decent and approach the closest settlements, the clean, fresh air thickenes with the heat, and my lungs feel the weight. My mind begins to wander again, thinking about evening plans, what will be served for dinner, what I will wear.

The future is seeping back in, as I go over the week’s schedule, the lightness of the last hours already feeling far away.

The further I get from the the high meadows, the more the old toxins jam their way back in; natural things are replaced by created needs and perceived obligations.

Peace, it seems, has stayed behind on the mountain, along with the wind and the grass, waiting for a day when I am able to carry it back inside me, into my life below.

Other articles from this issue