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“Hi, my name is Mary Hickson and this is a reading from my travel memoir, ‘Almost Annapurna’; the chapter is called ‘Holy Mountain’
Late afternoon, the temperature cooling rapidly, I struggled up the last couple of hundred feet of elevation to Machhupuchhre Base Camp. The past two hours had been especially grueling not just because of the elevation, but more from the effort of pulling myself endlessly up steep uneven boulders.
At some point I realised that it was my will getting me up the mountain, rather than my body. I felt strangely disconnected, a plodding beast moving mindlessly, beyond thought, beyond feeling. And beyond control: when my guide asked, “how are you going?” the tears started to flow. These were involuntary tears, with no thought or emotion attached, springing from a body that had reached a point of exhaustion. For two more hours I put one foot in front of the other by absolute force of will, tears streaming, to reach base camp.
There they were, my trekking team, smiling and relaxing in the remnants of the day’s sunshine, calling out words of encouragement and welcome. I wished they would just look the other way; I wished I could just disappear and sneak quietly by some back way, not struggle so publicly, still climbing uphill to an audience of trekkers with their boots off and cameras in hand.
Oh well, it was my hill and I had to climb it.
Sometime later with a cup of spicy sweet tea feeding my frayed sense of pride as well as the depleted cells of my body, I could finally lift my attention and look beyond myself here, on what they call the roof of the world. Rimmed by white mountain peaks gleaming orange in the last rays of the sunlight as all below lay in shadow, human foibles were both minimised and heightened – no hiding here, no excuses, no relent.
I looked down the steep misty valley from where we had come and looked up at the rocky and snowy pass and the three hour climb ahead, and wondered if I had reached my summit. It was such a silent place – well, a sort of silence – it’s more that a potential for sound existed: the possibility of an eagle’s call piercing into the flesh, the soft call of a thrush or the bleat of a mountain sheep, or just the ocean echo in the vestibule of the human ear. My silence was my own, my inner voice singing “om mane padme hum” seeking its resting place.”
ABOUT MARY HICKSON:
Mary lives between Sydney and mid-north coast NSW. A graduate of Macquarie University and NIDA, Mary worked for many years as a theatre director and artistic director, during which time she commissioned and/or dramaturged several new Australian plays and conducted playwriting workshops. She was also active in the Australian National Playwright’s Centre as committee member then chairperson. Her own play, White Paper Flowers, was produced in Adelaide and Sydney. After a break of some years, Mary is now turning her attention to developing her writing.
“I spent an inspiring first week at Varuna in October 2011 and know I will return here again and again.” Mary Hickson
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