Friday, August 3, 2018

The Top of the Mountain, Pt. 1: The Lovely Views

Mountain tops are surreal places. You are practically in the sky. Sometimes you can see the tops of clouds and definitely you can see the tops of trees. Places that seem vast and huge when you are in the middle of them seem tiny as they sprawl out in front of you from the mountain top view.

When I was in San Jose last, I went to the top of a mountain. The world looked pretty interesting from way up there.

Mountain tops are mysterious and interesting places. They are places where people go to seek comfort and refuage and peace and meaning. Even when people aren't specifically traveling to a legendary 'wise man on the mountain top,' people do go to mountain tops to seek wisdom and answers.

There are lots of interesting mountains in the world, but one of the most interesting is called Brennender Berg in Germany. The name of the mountain translates to burning mountain. It is known this way because it has been burning since 1688.

Legend has it that a cold and weary traveler of the mountain set up camp. In order to warm himself up for the night, he started a campfire on top of an old tree trunk. The fire reached down to all of the trees roots to a coal seam. The fire has been burning ever since.

When I first heard of this burning mountain, I was imagining a whole mountain blazing with an angry fire. But the fire burns underneath the mountain and it is more of a glow. When the fire began, you could see the glow of it in the cracks of the mountain. As the centuries have gone by, the fire has weakened, but it still simmers with it's fiery glow.

 The mountain that we went to in San Jose is called Mount Umunhum. It's a fun word to say! When I was growing up in San Jose, I never really thought of where I lived to be at the base of mountains. I thought all the land forms around me were just tall hill. But the word 'mountains' covers more than just the traditional towering peaks of novels like 'Heidi.' Mountains aren't just the snow capped wonder worlds where Yeti's roam. It seems like there is no universally agreed upon height that a land form must be to be considered a mountain, but one source I found said an elevation higher than 1968 feet. Mount Umunhum is  3489 feet, a true blue mountain!

There was a mountain in Kentucky that was home to a family of blue skinned people known as the Blue Fugates. They lived in an area called Troublesome Creek. Maybe strangers sometimes climbed the mountain and came across the clan of blue skinned people just living their daily lives- hanging clothes on the clothes line, telling stories on the patio, milking their goats or cows. The stranger must of thought they came to a part of the mountain that was truly magical and truly mysterious. The stranger probably thought, people really are different in mountain top communities, people really can transform into something beyond the ordinary when surrounded by enough fresh air and high elevation.

But the Blue Fugates were blue not so much due to the transformation brought on by the magic of mountains, but instead by isolation and genetics. The Fugates had a inherited blood disorder called methemogloinemia which turns the skin blue. Luckily, the Blue Fugates suffered no symptoms besides their blue skin. But their blue skin did make them suffer due to prejudice from the surrounding community. They were shunned and treated as outcasts. They were ashamed of their blue skin.

It would be nice to live in a world where we could embrace the things that make us unique. B the world is cruel and when you are antagonized enough for what makes you different, it's hard to embrace the differences within yourself. The Blue Fugates did finally get to experience normality though. A scientist gave them pills that diminished their blue skin. It brought the family peace because they were able to feel normal and not ostracized by their community, which is what the family deserves. But of course, their shift into that which was deemed 'normal' also reinforced that with enough badgering and bullying, the hateful amongst us can subdue the unique into just another ordinary being.

From standing in San Jose looking up at the Mount Umunhum, you can see a huge building up there. When I was little, we always wondered about it. I finally got to see the building up close and find out what it is. Not an experimentation center where secret government experiments on humans or aliens were conducted....Not a secret prison where only the most hardened and dangerous of criminals are whisked away too....Not a mad house where the patients conditions were so severe they must be confined on top of a none of these but rather an air force surveillance center. Sometimes finding the answer to a mystery is a bit of a let down. But in this case, the intrigue isn't quite over. 'Surveillance' could easily be code for 'spy head quarters!' Mysteries can never be quite squared away when the mystery is set upon a mountain top! 

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