Picture the scene.
A wide valley sits within and is completely surrounded by tall mountains.
During spring, when the air is often clean and clear, and when the sunny days outnumber the rest, the valley is lush and green. Those who live in this valley love that time of year. Yes, the sun doesn’t rise as early as in other places. Yes, the sun does set behind the tall peaks too soon for their liking. Yet the valley is their home and they do love it…in spring.
In summer, the humidity hangs in the air. Too often, the haze or fog settles into the valley…and can last for days. Given the heat, it can be a bit hard to breathe. Most years, those that live in the valley push through the summers knowing that they don’t last too long.
The winters are the harshest. During those months, no direct sunlight shines in the valley, and thus the cold penetrates. It is hard to keep water from freezing. It is important to keep the fires burning. However the winter smoke acts like the summer fog and lingers in the valley. It can’t rise high enough to scale the peaks all around.
In the autumn, the weather is much like it is in the spring, but the villagers don’t get to enjoy it as much. They spend much of this time laboring as they prepare for winter. Since they are never sure what kind of winter they’ll have, they keep their focus.
The mountains that surround this valley contain many peaks. Each is a little different than the others. From any peak, one can see all of the others. In winter, these peaks receive the most sunlight. In summer, the air is mild and the breeze is pleasant and abundant.
In the spring and fall, those that live on the mountaintops can see the villagers down below. Well, they can’t see them individually, but they can see the buildings and the groups when they gather. They can see the farms growing vegetables and the ranches raising the livestock. They can hear the music from their celebrations.
The rest of the year, they see much less evidence. Having once lived down there, each peak dweller knows or rather remembers what it was like.
Those that live on the mountaintops are called Hermits. Some in the valley believe them to be the wise elders. Many, however, don’t believe they exist since they cannot see any evidence of them whatsoever. No one who sought counsel from a “wise elder” has ever returned to the valley below. Most assumed they didn’t survive the climb.
And yet, every year and even every month of the year, some small number of villagers pack their bags and head out of the valley. Some seek new lands beyond the peaks. Others want simply to get high enough to see something more. And a minority, the ones who trust the old tales, seek the wise elders specifically.
These backpackers are not held in high regard as they depart the valley. Their mothers worry for them. Their friends doubt they’ll ever see them again. Others may even ridicule these brave young men and women, calling them fools. The seniors in the valley, however, silently cheer them on. Grandparents often hide notes and treats in their backpacks, a gesture of love that later affects the hikers more than they will ever know.
Once the hikers ascend the first fifth of the journey, their excitement grows. This part of the journey is the easiest. The views achieved are already worth the trip. As their muscles tone, their load grows lighter. Of course, since they are eating some of their supplies, it is also actually getting lighter.
Some hikers feel so refreshed at this point, they linger a while and then return the valley. However, they never forget the experiences they have had or the sights they have seen. Often, these hikers later become the grandparents encouraging the next generation.
But many, even if not the majority, continue on.
With each mile climbed, the journey gets tougher. The air gets thinner. The terrain gets rougher. The slope gets steeper.
As their food supplies wane, each must learn to find other sources. Some feel strong fear. Some don’t survive. Too often, there isn’t enough time, energy, or food to return to the valley.
But most of the men and women who survive the first half of the journey, find a source of inspiration that can sustain them for the rest. Even if they don’t reach the top, nearly all of these men and women never contemplate returning to the valley.
Now there is one thing that no one knows until they’ve ascended past a certain point. Once they have, they learn of it because their eyes and ears tell them. No one from above has given them any information, but they come to know the truth of this thing.
The thing is what may refer to as the way it is on the slope.
The hikers that ascend past a certain point, spontaneously begin to sing. Those that hike in groups sing songs they all know. Those that hike alone just find themselves singing aloud for no apparent reason. They sing to pass the time. They sing to hear their own voice. They sing for the sheer joy of singing. With each mile climbed, they sing louder.
Most of the melody rises. The elders on the tops of the peaks thus hear it all. It tickles the joy they have already discovered long ago. But it also tells them when new hikers draw near. They thus prepare the beds and the tables so they can provide rest and feast for the hikers.
A small bit of each tune travels downward. The coolness of the air allows and provides for this. And so, once a hiker passes a certain point on his or her way up, they begin to hear these songs.
Sometimes they recognize the tunes, and can then hear them more clearly than otherwise. Sometimes, the song or sound is nothing they recognize. In these cases, they question if they are actually hearing anything at all. But after enough days, the foreign songs become familiar. These hikers thus trust their ears and are further inspired in their effort and focus.
And so this is as it is. This is as it has been for a long time. The village in the valley changes: grows and evolves over time, as is natural. So do all those who leave it. But in all of time, there are those who live on the mountaintops and those who venture upward. The number of hikers may increase or dwindle from one year to the next, but there are always those who are climbing the mountain. There are always those who are singing as they climb. There are always those grandparents who hide notes and treats in the backpacks of the young adventurous ones.
Chances are, it will be like this for a long time to come.