I look at him as he sleeps. The sun breaks through the blinds, his cherubic face in the morning light, like an angel painted by Michelangelo and plastered onto the Sistine Chapel.
“Wake up Sol.” I shake him slightly, breaking that painting into a nine year old boy rolling from side to side, contorted by the multi coloured doona over his face, as it stretches and squeezes around his slight body.
His eyes finally light up, eyes not quiet green but hazel, interchanging in the light, looking up at me.
He closes his eyes again. “Come on mate, we’re going climbing,” I say, shaking him again.
He gingerly gets up. “Ok, Daddy,” he says as he walks into the bathroom.
I can hear water splashing about. “Which mountain are we climbing Daddy?” his voice echoing through the rooms of the house.
“Mountain Ngungun at the Glasshouse Mountains,” I reply.
“Is that the place near the Sunshine Coast, where that ape mountain is?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
He comes back into the room. He packs his small bag neatly and meticulously – a bottle of water, his camera, and ample room, as he tells me, for the rocks he will collect.
We’re on our way, his sister on the balcony as we drive away, waving at us.
He settles into the drive by playing his Ipod. Like many kids his age, this small electronic device hypnotises him into a minuscule world, an interaction of a child’s imagination and a machine.
Nimbus clouds build in the distance. And as we approach them it starts to rain, bringing a metallic colour to the road and the urban sprawl that surrounds us.
As we enter the Gateway Motorway it starts to pour. “Maybe we should cancel our climb Sol, it may get slippery and dangerous up the mountain?”
“No Daddy, you promised me,” he replies, not looking up from his Ipod.
As we journey ahead, the rain pelting on the windscreen, I reflect on my parenting of Sol and his sister. I reflect upon my separation from their mother, how disconcerting the whole process was; how it may have scared Sol and his sister deeply. How the two people they love the most, their mother and father are no longer together. And how, with my intensity, I may have unsettled them on their journey ahead. I try and assimilate these thoughts into a point of view – that when you are pursuing a journey of truth nothing is easy, and in that pursuit it includes, at times, those you most love. With that in mind, I remember their mother’s positive words, “they’ll be ok.” I truly hope so.
“There’s no sign of this rain easing Sol,” I say, looking into more threatening clouds in the distance.
“It will Daddy,” he replies confidently, his eyes finally detaching from the Ipod and looking at me in the rear view mirror.
We come through the towns that lead us to the Glass House Mountains, small and compact with a mixture of buildings of the colonial era, cottages and modern homes.
We arrive at the foot of Ngungun and park the car. The rain has eased to a sprinkle.
“Come on mate stop playing on the ipod, we’re here. Let’s do this climb. The rain has almost stopped.”
“Awesome Daddy! This is beautiful,” he says, exiting the vehicle and looking up at the ceiling of the forest, the wonder of a child.
We grab our backpacks and make our way up the track, a small incline surrounded by luscious vegetation. A group of young men descending the mountain acknowledge us with friendly smiles. “Cool hat man, Sea Shepherd,” says one with an American accent, pointing at my hat.
“What’s Sea Sheperd Daddy?”
“They’re a group that protects whales and other animals of the sea”.
“Are there people that kill whales?”
“Humans can cause a lot of damage to a lot of things, including living animals.”
“But why? Whales are so beautiful!”
“I know but men can be awfully stupid and reckless.”
“Will I be stupid when I become a man Daddy?”
“Just make sure that you know that this magical world was gifted to us and we must respect it, its natural environment and all living creatures in it.”
“I will Daddy,” he says.
We continue our ascent in silence, listening to the chirping birds and the whistling wind that sways the branches from side to side, until we reach our first major climb.
“Can you climb that Sol?” I say, looking up at the steep hill.
“Of course Daddy,” he says, shooting off in front of me.
I observe his dexterity and the easiness in which he makes his way up.
“He’s like a mountain goat,” says a lady travelling in the opposite direction.
“Come on Daddy,” he yells from some 10 metres up.
“Maybe I’m getting old,” I say, taking a breather after a short climb.
“You’re not old Daddy,” he says, racing up the hill once again.
The rain commences to come down hard as he reaches an intersection in the climb leading into a cave. “Should I go in here Daddy,” his voice swallowed by the cave and spat out as an echo.
“Just wait for me,” I say, breathing hard.
He watches me as I make the climb towards him. He has collected a stick which he holds upright. Leaves slowly fall around him from the forest ceiling. A faint light dances around him amongst the green of the forest that engulfs him.
I sit with him as I reach the top. We sip water.
“Look at these rocks I’ve collected Daddy,” he says, opening his hand to reveal an array of volcanic rocks of different shapes and colours, which he then places in his bag.
“Are you ok Daddy?” he says, putting an arm around me.
“I’m good Sol, if a little tired. What about you?”
“I’m great Daddy.”
“Look at that Daddy,” he says, pointing to the mouth of the cave. “Do you think there are bats in there?”
“I doubt it,” I reply.“I’ll go up first Daddy.”
“We’ll climb this one close to each other. Leave your backpack here because it’ll weigh you down.”
“Ok,” he says, as we drop our backpacks and make our way up, he slightly ahead of me.
After a couple of steps and losing his grip, he is sliding down the rock face towards me. I hold him with my left hand to stem his slide and push him slightly upwards. He finally gets the required grip and is now comfortable in his ascent. He reaches the top and enters the guts of the cave, out of my sight.
“Are you ok Sol?”
“Yes Daddy. Come up, check this out.”
When I reach the top he is hardly visible, a silhouette in the corner. My eyes adjust to the darkness as he moves around the cave.
“Do you think cavemen lived here once Daddy?” he asks.
“That’s a possibility Sol, but we can trace the Aboriginal people of this region and they may have used this cave as shelter or even as a home.”
“The white man didn’t treat the Aboriginal people very well, did he?”
“You’re right. In the pursuit of wealth, the white man killed many Aboriginal people, and destroyed their communities and culture.”
We move away from the depth of the cave and back into the light. We look at a group of young people making their way up the hill. One wears a T shirt that says, “Jesus Loves You”, whilst another wears a hat backwards that says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
“Do you believe in Jesus Daddy?”
“I believe that a man called Jesus once existed, yes.”
“And is he the Son of God?”
“We’re all Sons of God. We’re all sharing this universe together.”
“And what about his miracles, like the one where he walks on water.”
“The Bible has some great stories Sol. It’s impossible for any man to walk on water though.”
“So why do they say that, that he did this?”
“The Bible is like an advertisement. It’s about making events and Jesus, grander than what they actually are. You project the illusion in a dreamlike way and people start to believe that it’s true.”
“It’s like the story in which Jesus feeds five thousand men with a couple fish. That can’t be true Daddy!”
“Make up your own mind in the long run Sol about what the Bible actually means to you. I see it as a beautiful book to read with some great lessons in it, but that’s about it.”
“Like ‘love thy neighbour’.”
We make our way down from the cave and grab our backpacks. We follow Jesus’ young followers up the mountain. A small bird flies low and perches on a branch. He is small with a blue tinge and red stripes on its wings. He seems to be staring at us as we come past, sharing his spirit fleetingly, before he flies off again.
“What a beautiful bird Daddy.”
“Yes he is. He’s one of God’s creatures.”
“I wish I could fly like a bird.”
The path towards the top is snake-like with loose rocks. I suddenly slip on one. Sol comes to my aid.
“Are you hurt Daddy?”
“I’m fine,” I say, as I wipe the dirt from my knees. “Let’s go we’re nearly there.”
We exit the forest canopy and onto our last climb. Fog has set in and visibility is poor.
“Be careful Sol, it’ll be slippery,” I tell him, as he commences his ascent. I watch him again, a natural dexterity to his movements.
“Look Daddy, I’m in the cloud. I’m eating the cloud,” he says as he reaches the top, his mouth wide open, swallowing the cloud. “I can feel little bits of water on my tongue.”
I stop and laugh at this scene, the wonderment of a child’s mind, the beauty of it.
I finally make it to the top. I look over the valley with dense cloud cover it, which travels upwards and towards us with the wind. I see Mount Tibrogargan to the south, the ape face surrounded by cloud.
“Well Daddy, what a beautiful view.”
“It certainly is.”
“Can I take a photo?”
“Sure, you can,” I say, handing him my Iphone.
He takes a couple of photos into the distance and then turns the camera on himself. “What do you think Daddy?” he asks, showing me the image.
“Awesome,” I say, as I stare at his picture, his old wisdom eyes, his hair moving in the wind.
“Do you think I’ll be a good actor?” he asks me, giving me his best golden smile. His idea of being an actor implanted in his psyche for some years.
“Sure. Work hard at it. Make it your purpose in life, and you’ll be successful. Keep in mind that it’s about the process, the process of getting there not about the goal itself.”
“It’s like when someone says, ‘it’s about the journey not the destination’.”
“That’s right Sol.”
As we turn to face the valley, the cloud cover has slowly disappeared and we’re able to see houses, roads, and farms below. Mount Tibrogargan is now in full sight, majestic and powerful in its presence, watching over the valley. I post one of Sol’s pictures on Facebook, modern technology allowing others instant integration with our journey.
“I assume we should head back? You should be getting hungry by now.”
“Yes, I am Daddy.”
“Be very careful on your way down. Some climbers once they reach their goal become too excited, lose focus and fall when coming down. Remember: it’s about the process, being in the moment.”
He comes towards me and holds my hand. “I love you Daddy,” he says.
“I love you too Sol,” I say, crouching down and planting a kiss on his forehead.
We retrace our steps back and reach the end of the path leading to the car park. As we near our vehicle we see the bird we had seen earlier, or at least one belonging to his family. He sits and as we commence driving away, he flies off into the forest and up the mountain where we had just come from, his spirit intertwined with us for one last time.
As we drive home, he looks up and smiles in the rear vision mirror between plays on his Ipod. I smile back. He is content and happy, and that makes me equally happy. We had embraced our mutual love that day, we had connected as one. We had lived in the moment together. A song by The Shins comes on the radio. “I’ve been down this very road, you’re walking now”, it goes,
It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome
Takes a while till we can figure this thing out
And turn it back around…..
“Nice song Daddy.”
The sun has come out again. It shines on his face. The Michelangelo painting re-appears as I observe this wonderful human being in the mirror.
“Life is good. Life is beautiful,” they’re my thoughts as I drive into the heart of the flame before us and into our own very special place once again.
John Castanho (copyright 2011)