This is the story about a single woman, a book and a range of mountains. The woman is myself, Molly Turner, fresh out of a women’s hostel where I’d spent almost two years getting over a bad marriage to a man who was a victim of drink and drugs.
To my amazement, one morning in 1996, I woke up in the hostel, battered and bruised, again. That much was familiar. But I only learned later that my good friend, Michelle James and her man had pulled me out of being a punch bag for the last time. The hostel had taken me in, thank God, and there I lived until I was able to get some kind of perspective back into my life, pretty much for the first time ever. So that’s a sketch of my life. More later.
Before I tell you about the book that helped me so much, you have to understand that living and loving a man who beats on you every day of your life is so exhausting. Mentally, physically and emotionally, I was shattered and broken in so many ways. For hours on end, I’d sit and stare, until someone would come up to me and talk. To describe this in another way, there were no words in my thoughts, just a dumb numbing blank. A complete nothingness.
Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to explain it. But it always hurts, like the deepest loss imaginable, but you never know quite what it is that’s gone.
So when my friend Michelle gave me a book on Sacred Mountains, I was pleased to get it. It looked great, but why? Why mountains? I don’t climb. Never have. And I don’t plan to. Even now.
“Just read it”, Michelle told me, with the smile I’ve learned to recognize as deep wisdom. Michelle has a habit of doing just the right thing at the right time. “Read it, and let it move you.”
So I looked at the pictures, and then began to read a book that literally lifted me away from blank voids and numbing wordlessness, onto a pathway that’s given me great things in my life. The book is “Sacred Mountains: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Meanings”. The man I have to thank is the author, Adrian Cooper.
Slowly I began to read about these beautiful peaks and summits that I’d never visited, but which formed new scenes in my mind – in a mind more used to being kicked and punched and shouted at, at any time of the day or night. Even being woken up and finding myself used as a punch bag, to this. Breathtaking ice walls. Glistening, golden rock and hill sides with pure air
and green grass.
And poetry. Poetry, a subject I loved at school, but which I’d never studied since I was too small to be of interest to any one. But now I was reading the translated words of Chinese poets telling me about journeys through the clouds. Native Americans telling me about places which are a precious refuge. Africans too, loving their high pathways.
I was beginning to see why Michelle had bought the book for me. I was facing up to some huge mountains in my life. All kinds of recovery. And physical healing was only a part of it. There was a lot of emotional healing I needed too. And Adrian Cooper’s book was the guide manual that Michelle wanted me to study to get me through it. Like a ‘Life Skills 101’ course!
But there is more than poetry in Sacred Mountains. There are women, and men too, from the 1990s, who have been through grief and anxiety and pain, but who also went out to their local mountains and watched and listened, patiently. Patiently learning from these beautiful places. Learning to be patiently at one with the wild. Patiently wild.
So I followed their example. When I was half way through the book, and unable to put it down, and unable to stop thinking about it, Michelle and Ken drove me out to the Sierra Nevada’s, a four hour drive away from the city (San Francisco). My feet and legs were still aching from the past, so walking wasn’t the best idea. But we drove up toward the Mariposa Grove so I could get out and look down the Yosemite Valley. Learning my first lesson on watching the summits patiently.
To my shame, I broke down and cried. I cried and cried, while Michelle held me like the good friend she is. It was so over- whelmingly beautiful. It was soul-changingly beautiful. It was huge and ancient. And forgotten. But it had to be watched patiently. Nothing there could be rushed. To rush is an insult to the mountains. So always be patient. It’s worth it in the end.
How can we possibly be cruel to anyone when there is beauty of this kind on the same planet we share? How could anyone ignore children when there is the need to show them mountains, and rare pathways, and glaciers, and glorious skies. Skies that change so fast toward the end of day you can’t imagine the designs you’ll see next. Patiently learning to act as a humble, blessed
witness to the greatest show on earth. Thousands of feet high, clouds arching above mountain peaks that warm to their touch. And all the time, even when you don’t know it, they’re lighting fires in your mind.
And yes, I cried again on the way back too. Like a child on the back seat, leaning my head on Michelle’s shoulder, sobbing for the beauty I had been shown – by a good friend and a truly great author.
Over the next weeks I finished Adrian Cooper’s book and started on his next. And Michelle and Ken took me out to the Sierras every weekend. When my feet and legs got better, our hikes got longer. And what discoveries we made! Don’t expect this story to turn into a geography lesson, because I don’t remember all the place names. But I also don’t think the names matter too
much. It’s their mystery that left their mark the most. Pure beauty. Honesty. Honest places – rugged, broken with the millennia, but proud to share what they have. Ready to risk being seen in their broken but mighty grandeur.
We discovered water falls that seemed to come down at us from heaven. And the people we met. Smiling hikers from all over the world led to this place by the power of these ancient mountains. Travelers who’d saved for years on end to be here, some of them on once-in-a-life-time visits. Golden Wedding Anniversaries. A need to be here, all of which I can understand now.
If I’d been shown this story before I’d read Adrian Cooper’s book, I’m not sure it would have interested me. At that time, mountains, and so much else, had next to no meaning in any part of my life. Punch bags don’t often take an interest in their environment, believe me! But now things are different.
We all have our mountains to climb. And that’s what the book proved to me. Some of the women who tell their stories in “Sacred Mountains: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Meanings,” have lived in situations beyond despair. Men have lived with grief too. So many reasons to travel to these peaks, but they all found healing when they got themselves out to the mountains,
learning to watch and listen to their teaching patiently. Always, the secret is patience. So now I understand mountains aren’t the exclusive preserve of mountaineers. Mountains are ours. They can be teachers to us all. Everyone. Especially the battered and bruised. All the victims of life can come to these mighty masters of time and find what they need.
So this is the story I wanted to share, about one woman, a miraculous book, and some equally miraculous mountains. And Michelle. As you may have guessed, I’ve had a lot of help to put this story together. So thank you again Michelle, Ken, Matthew, Gwen, Artie and Laura, you were there when I needed you most.
Lots of love to you all,