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No. 30 | Meet me at the mountain lodge
You can get away from it all, but you can never escape yourself.
Meet yourself at the mountain lodge, high above the valley.
Where not a single stick of furniture, fiber of comfort—from the heavy woollen djellabas hanging in each room, to the woven rugs cushioning cold bare floors—or grain of rice has arrived here by accident, only by choice and by mule.
Where the frigid night air, thinned by mountain heights, heated by glowing embers, sipped in shallow breaths, is sweeter than any wine and more intoxicating than any spirit. out
Where high stone walls, adorned with scrolls of iron and and shutters of wood, crown the head of an ageless monarch, impassive and immovable, eternally watchful over its kingdom below.
Meet yourself at the mountain lodge, where all your life’s paths converge as travelers round an evening fire.
In faces aglow in the candlelight by which you break your bread, see the journeys you have taken, the roads left behind you, the paths left unchosen, and the unexplored horizons that stretch ahead.
In voices that echo off gleaming tables laid with red clay cups of salt and spice, with painted jugs of fresh spring water, hear the stories you might have told and the stories you have lived.
In the curly-haired child tugging on the fringes of its mother’s scarf and basking in the warm glow of its father’s delight, begging for one more game or one more story, squealing in victory and pouting in defeat.
In the young lovers with hands entwined under the table, gripping each other with the urgency of those about to tumble into the abyss of love.
In the new bride and groom, their gazes sweet as honey, their futures as radiant as the moon that rises over the mountain peaks and fills the valley with silver.
In the young mother with the weary smile, the grace of her shoulders sloped by care, her eyes full of the desires of her children but that flick about the room, searching the shadows for the solitude that the mountain promised but that she cannot find.
In the couple with the lined faces and gray temples, sensible clothing and sturdy shoes, gentle in their manner and comfortable in their silence, who look upon the children with the mist of loss in their eyes, remembering.
In the wealthy pair with the booming voice and jangling bracelets, who lived other lives and loved other loves one other, delirious with the delight of starting over and paralyzed by the fear of failing once more.
Smile at them in recognition. Nod towards them in greeting. For in each of them is the traveler you once were, could have been, and may still yet become.
Then turn towards the face of your companion, and think back to the peaks and valleys you have traversed together.
And be at ease in the knowledge that for the rest of the unknown paths of your life, this is the face you wish to always be by your side.
The idea for this came to me at the Kasbah du Toubkal, a trekking lodge-turned-boutique eco hotel in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, which we booked as an anniversary treat, and a magical place to start the New Year.
I didn’t anticipate that the Kasbah would be 1,800 meters above sea level, that the only way up was by foot, or that I would be recovering from an acute lung infection. So, wheezing and burning with embarrassment, I was loaded onto a mule along with our suitcases, and that was a very interesting way to start 2023 indeed.
Upon arriving at the Kasbah, I looked out onto Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, I dissolved into tears and couldn’t stop. Relief? Release? A difficult season? A heavy year? I don’t know. The last time I remember doing something like that was crying into the sea in Lefkada, our first overseas trip after all the lockdowns.
Maybe I had to be emptied, before I could receive what the mountain had to give.
Now that our daughter is old enough to linger in the solitary pleasure of reading in a hot bath, Marlon and I were free to share a sneaky smoke on the balcony as the sun dipped behind the highest peak—talking, just talking, going deep in a way domestic routine rarely allows.
In those moments of intimacy, we found the grace to acknowledge that we had let other things take us away from each other in the past year. He his work, I my other relationship. I am proud of the work we have both done, individually and as a unit, to be able to have conversations like these without resentment or rancor.
It was good to know that we always find our way back to each other—and that after 15 years, we still want to.
Our last day in the mountain lodge was the 38th anniversary of my father’s death.
That night, I dreamt of a blackbird perched on a branch of the walnut tree in front of our wooden balcony. It hopped up on my finger, resting a moment before flying away.
The next morning, a quick search yielded a multitude of meanings for the symbol of a blackbird. But the one that appealed to me most was from African culture. To ancient Egyptians, the blackbird represented rebirth and regeneration, its migrational patterns symbolic of death and birth. Its yearly return was a comfort that death was not the end of life, and that the cycle of life was eternal and self-renewing.
I thought to myself: How short our time together, before you flew away. But also: A good omen for the start of a new year.
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Here in Amsterdam, close-to-freezing temperatures make us hopeful for snow, but the humid North Sea air flings us slushy wet clumps instead. Hope is eternal; thankfully, slush is not.
Take care, see you soon. At the mountain lodge, in dreams, or anywhere you like.