This next is a complex shelf. And what titles here! Works of Carl Marx, Toni Morrison, C.S. Lewis, J.D. Salinger, and Kazuo Ishiguro.
In the right corner, a replica of a Russian Orthodox Madonna and Child that I picked up second-hand a year or so ago. While my husband and I were still living together, and he yet to become disabled, we actively sought out religious art for our home. During that short time I acquired a 9th century bust of Buddha, a 20th century lithograph of a Shinto shrine, and a Hindi 19th century oil lamp icon of Lakshmi. My husband wanted Christian orthodox artwork. Wouldn’t it so happen that we were separated when I found this little gem, richly ornamented in gold overlay, just small enough to be both important and unobtrusive. Meek. I suppose the art on this bookcase is largely Christian, although my house is filled with pieces from a variety of religious traditions. It seems right to keep the symbolism of Jesus of Nazareth a prominent fixture in this room. I am a cherry-picker, and some of the sweetest fruit in my bowl of ethics comes out of my Christian upbringing. Not all. But some.
And then sometimes I forget where a found thing comes from. Take the gnarled length of a dead tree branch laid across a makeshift cairn in the left corner of this shelf. If memory serves me correctly, I picked it up on a recent hike up Slate Canyon, believing that it might be bone. Instead, the wood, particularly the tapered tip of the branch, is covered in what looks to be a dried fungus. The effect is eerie, giving the stick the appearance of a witch’s or demon finger bone. It reminded me of the story of Hansel and Gretel, which was a childhood favorite, gruesome as it is. Of course, the bone Hansel passed through the bars of his cage so that the witch could inspect his fattening was chicken rather than witch or demon, but my mind made the connection nonetheless. Curious, curious tale to love as a child.
The stones beneath this boney twig came from the summit of Provo Peak. Each embedded with a fossil that can only be ancient sea life. Mollusk. The peak’s elevation is 11,068 ft. It’s prominence is only 3,442 ft, but it proved one of the most grueling ascents I’ve attempted. From the mountain’s base to summit is a 2,700 ft elevation gain in 1.5 miles. In preparation I’d set a treadmill at its steepest incline and push for 3,500 ft in an hour. The problem is the thinning of oxygen around 10,000 ft. I can train all I want in a gym at 4,500 ft; it simply could not prepare me for those last 1,000 ft, most of which I climbed on hands and knees because of the radical incline. The entirety of that hike was ten miles; three to the foot of the peak, 1.5 up and 1.5 down, and four on the return trip as I circled Maple Mountain below Provo Peak to descend Y Mountain. From there the trail meets up with Bonneville Shoreline and returns to the Slate Canyon parking lot where I’d started the hike. By the time I reached the popular Y Mountain trail my feet and knees ached, I ran out of water for the last ½ hour, and I knew the soreness in my legs would continue for the next 2-3 days.
However, I confronted demons and God on that hike that needed confrontation. I was in the last six-month stretch of caregiving for my hemiplegic-stricken husband—I was angry, exhausted, feeling abandoned by anyone who could truly help. I needed the privacy of that summit to scream at heaven, to acknowledge and openly announce my fragility and aloneness. I needed crawling on hands and knees, cells in lungs crying out for thicker air, the moment some 50 ft from the top when I had to stop and admit to myself that I might not make it. In all the mountains I’ve scaled, I’ve only ever cried on reaching the top of Provo Peak. Wept. Great heaving sobs that eventually turned into a quiet reverence for myself and what I’d accomplished. I was reaching for God, and found myself alone, surrounded by the remnants of marine life at 11,000 ft. I could have brought home an ancient seashore, but instead settled on seven small landlocked fragments of creatures found in unlikely places. At the top of Provo Peak you can find the bottom of the sea. This is when you begin to piece together that God is all.