Nine Lessons Gained On Mountaintop


I’m eight years old standing outside tent
When I was six years old, I remember sleeping on a cot under a sky illuminated with constellations in our galaxy. Shooting stars raced across the heavens above. I realized I was embarking on the start of a grand adventure.

My parents homesteaded on a mountaintop in New York State. We started our adventure in a surplus Army Hospital Tent. We placed household goods on a bare platform before it arrived. This exposed us to the whims of weather and forest inhabitants.                                       

We lived like pioneers long ago.  I can only imagine the hardship on my mother, raising three young children in such conditions. My father worked during the day. My mother worked at night. Day Care facilities didn’t exist.

household goods on tent platform
my little brothers at the time
our tent in a New York winter

Our family spent two years in that tent. An outhouse was nearby. “I dreaded using it in winter.” An icebox kept our food cold. Eight milk cans held our water supply before we drilled a well. We had stray cats and two mongrel dogs.

Afterwards, we moved into a cement block dwelling we built ourselves. Water flowed by gravity from a 250 gallon tank anchored outside. We filled it with pails of water from the pump. A coal stove barely warmed the interior. There was no heat upstairs. We were warmer in that tent. 

We were the only family living on our dirt road. Summer residents had cabins behind us. My brothers and I endured bullying at school. Our living situation and secondhand clothes didn’t affect them. I became feisty in order to cope. We had no friends. 

1. Everyone needs a safe friend and confidant.

My mother suffered from migraines, arthritis, and moodiness. We learned to leave the house when she was cranky. My favorite refuge was high up in the boughs of a dogwood tree. I would hunker down with a peanut and jelly sandwich, read a book and tell it my problems. It did not judge me.

2. It’s Important to remember special occasions & express gratitude.

Our car would create ruts as we drove to town & back. After a generous rain storm they would fill with water. Sometimes leopard frogs hid in the murky water and leap for safety at the sound of the motor.

One day after the water evaporated to mud, a geometric yellow and black pattern caught my eye. “What a pretty rock,” I thought and bent down to retrieve it. Using a stick I managed to pry it loose. I rejoiced to have unearthed a box turtle.  

My mother was driving to town for groceries. I had to put my treasure in the tent. Afterwards I moped all day because my turtle was gone.

The following spring, while sitting on a downed tree, I heard rustling. A box turtle made a slow advance. It stopped, cocked its head, and looked right at me. “Are you the turtle I saved?”  I felt it had come to thank me. After a while it reversed direction and ambled off. I was grateful for its gesture.

3.  Variety adds wonder and delight to our days.

Due to our isolation, my brothers and I explored our woods for entertainment. Each day revealed fascinating wonders. Every spring a wild array of wildflowers and blossoming trees greeted us. There were colorful birds to identify. Salamanders crawled around the base of cedar trees. Frogs laid eggs in green gelatinous masses which hatched into tadpoles. Elusive wildlife would reveal their presence. Abandoned stone walls were fun to climb on. Wild grape vines were perfect for playing Tarzan. A brook provided a perfect swimming hole. Nature was our playground.

4. Music uplifts your spirit and makes you sing.

My mountain broadcast music everywhere. As soon as the sun’s rays heralded a new day, the birds sang nonstop. Winds rustled leaves in passing. Tree trunks creaked and groaned upon contact. Tree squirrels chattered their warning. Geese flew in V-formation, honking on their way south. Rain snare drummed on the canvas tent. Thunder rumbled bass notes during a storm. Lightning cracked and sizzled as it rent the sky. Owls hooted at dusk. Nature presents its own symphony, free to anyone who will take the time to listen.

5. Creative art appears in surprising & unexpected places.

During a cold winter, frost created pictures on my window. They reminded me of prehistoric scenes of huge fern trees and jungle vegetation. Our homes  are so well insulated now that many don’t know what Jackfrost is. My mountain created beautiful impressions everywhere. 

A sunrise casts slanting rays through a forest or bathes an ocean in serene colors. A spectacular rainbow dominates a sky after a storm. Who can resist the pastel hues of a purplish sunset. Marvel at the designs of sand dollars and starfish. The markings on different animals boggles my mind. The infinite variety of flowers astounds me. 

6.  Water can soothe your tears and dispel sadness.

If the world upset me, I would flee to our brook, sit on the bank and cry my heart out.  The burbling sounds flowing around obstacles soothed my injured spirit and comforted me. I felt calmer, able to gain a new perspective of the situation. 

A thundering waterfall as it cascades down a mountainside has the same effect. The scene attracts you like a magnet. It is raw nature shouting its glory. You feel serene around a huge fountain as it casts water arches into a park pool.

7. Find a special place to vent your feelings before you act.

There was a huge boulder left by a retreating glacier, that was out of place in the midst of my forest. It beckoned me when I would entertain thoughts of running away from home. It accepted my rantings as I sat on the granite edifice. That outcrop gave me  perspective and prevented me from doing something rash.

Being practical, I would consider all aspects of taking off on my own. How would I survive? I was too young to get a job to support myself. I had a home and food and a place to sleep. No, better to stick it out until I finished school and got a marketable skill. The risks were too great for a lone female teenager on the road. 

8. Be sure to make time for play.

A huge white pine dominated our property. Dry needles carpeted the ground beneath spreading branches. I spent hours making up stories as I played with lifelike toys. We devised our own schemes with sticks and stones. Fallen limbs were a horse or gun. Our imagination ran wild with possibilities. 

We need to play as a buffer to our current negative worldview. That’s why we go on vacation. To get away from chaos and instability. To return refreshed to live another day.

9.  A pet comforts and gives unconditional love.

I enticed stray cats home that people abandoned and we had two dogs. They were so loving. The cats would purr in my arms. The dogs would follow me on my explorations. They protected our family, alerting us to any danger. Animals preserve our sanity and make us more human. They balance our energies and calm us in stressful circumstances. If we were more like them, this earth would be a better place.

I am grateful for that mountaintop. It sustained and nourished me. I suspect the lessons I absorbed have made me a better person. I am able to empathize with others for having survived my childhood. It has made me resilient and accepting of change. If I stay close to nature’s free offerings, I can stay positive in an insane world. 

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