From these depths depart towards heaven,
you have escaped from the city full of fear and trembling [17]

Then, as the sun rose, I continued to lie there, completely relaxed. Never before had I slept so peacefully… except for possibly the night before down in the ravine when it felt as though I had slept for days. While lying on my back, I stared up at the bright pink clouds and reflected on all the strange events I experienced yesterday.

 Everything was coming back to me now in a big swoosh, as did my curiosity about my new friends and where they had gone. If they were still here, I would make it my business to learn as much as I could about them. I was more curious now than ever. These were most unusual characters!

I remembered how I was often blown at how adept they were in everything they did, as if this was their natural element. Though these mountains were very harsh environs, nothing seemed to concern them. In some ways they seemed a little too in control of everything… including me. Still my big question remained, what were they doing up here on such a remote mountain and how did they get here? There's no way they could have gotten this far, especially with all these provisions, unless…

Yes, of course, that's it! Likely they had been dropped in by helicopter; probably with some eco-tour company. Probably they’ll spend a few days here then get airlifted out to return to wherever they came from. That certainly would explain their large stash of food and drinks. Why didn't I think of that last night? Amazing how much clearer things become after a good night's sleep! The only problem was, there was no outfitter or eco-tour operator doing anything like that in these parts. But then, if they had the resources, they could have hired both a copter and an outfitter. Yes, that was the most probable answer if Ockham’s razor[1] had anything to do with it.

And yet for some reason, I wasn’t completely buying it. Notwithstanding this venerable law, that would be too simple and logical when nothing else here was simple or logical. Though my new friends seemed to be reasonable and well-tempered, still there was something about their demeanor that was too mysterious for me to comprehend. It made me wonder, though, if this chance meeting was about more than just chance.

Had the gods driven me to climb this remote mountain, or was it fate? My rational mind never believed in gods or fate; but then what else might it be? Divine providence was completely out of the question since I didn’t believe in providence either. Worse yet here I was, a philosopher, entertaining these irrational thoughts to find a rational answer.

Once again I recalled my strange dream last fall. I wondered, was it insane or was it there to drive me insane? I could still hear the haunting voices calling to me that night; was it to this mountain I was called? The more I thought about it, the more the dream seemed to merge with the reality I was experiencing here. If so, was there something going on behind the scenes that my new friends were complicit in? But why… was there something they wanted from me?

Every time I was confronted with a new inexplicable phenomenon yesterday made it just that much more difficult to explain things away… beginning with the shimmering orbs I thought I saw. And then, there were also the voices in the air from a very long way off. Obviously, no sound waves from that distance could have reached my ears. So something else must be communicating directly to my mind.[2] And how could I deny the soft and sensual voice of the enchanting mountain nymph directing me to find my way up the summit. I could still hear her, as it brought a smile to me face

I thought it was considerate of Zeus to arrange for the champagne just as I requested, but what about the goddess who was to serve? I smiled at the thought; if only I could make my phantom as real as the one in my imagination!

Then my thoughts returned to my new companions. I wanted to believe there was no reason for them to be implicated in any psychic mischief but perhaps I was in denial. On the surface they appeared no different than me; two mountaineers who just happened to be on the same mountain. Guess I’d wait until later to find how they knew my name and all the other things they seemed to know. I’m sure there must a logical explanation, perhaps some mutual acquaintance in London. Yes, that must be it… friar Ockham would agree, I had nothing to be concerned about. As for everything else going on with the voices and orbs, I wasn’t able to explain any of this away except I was delusional from oxygen deprivation, even if it didn’t seem I was. In any case, I didn’t want to think about it.

Enough paranoia, I told myself, time to get up and start a new day. Hopefully my friends hadn't departed yet. I still needed to ask them if they knew of a less precipitous route down. Unless, of course, there was a copter coming by to airlift them out, in which case, I may catch a ride to Santiago if that’s where they were headed.

I noticed dark clouds beginning to sweep in from the west. The early morning sun shone brightly in the clear eastern horizon, but likely it wouldn't last; I realized how quickly things can turn nasty at this altitude. With all my brooding, perhaps my thoughts had attracted a storm. If this was superstitious, at least I didn't take it seriously like many do. I certainly wasn’t given to such foolishness in linking mind with matter, weather conditions or anything else.

And yet many of my assumptions about what may be possible were being challenged with all the telepathic tricks being played on me while I was approaching the summit yesterday. Still, I didn’t believe that any of this was actually possible. It only seemed that way.

I sprang to my feet, again amazed at my agility and how easily I got up. My muscles weren’t in the least sore as they generally were after a day of climbing these steep precipices. I stuffed my bed roll into my backpack, slung it over my shoulder, and made my way along the ridge to find shelter, hoping to avoid the rain and wind that was about to gust over the summit ridge. In spite of all the confusion last evening, I was feeling great, ready to take on whatever new wonders and challenges the day may bring.

Yet as confident as I was feeling, nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me this day… my life would never be the same.

Before I could find shelter, the rain and sleet had swooped over the summit. I trudged along just below the ridge, searching to find a rock protrusion where I could go under to take refuge. I hadn’t gone very far when I suddenly caught a whiff of smoke wafting up from somewhere below. I scrambled down a short way where I saw what appeared to be a shelter nestled on a small plateau beside a granite slope. As I got closer to it, I could see it was log cabin, complete with a stone chimney where smoke was billowing out.

‘How in bloody hell could this have been built here?’ I asked aloud. I had a hard enough time making it up here. Hauling logs up such precipitous escarpments from below would have been impossible without a zeppelin or military helicopter.

By now the squall passed as quickly as it arrived; which is normal enough at this altitude. In the distance below, I could see someone sitting on a chair outside with feet propped up on the railing. As I got closer, I saw Eli with a fag hanging out the side of his mouth as he strummed on a guitar. With the sun brightly shining between the storm clouds, the scene reminding me of one of those over-embellished mountain scene paintings, except this was very alive and vibrant. It appeared the lodging was conveniently sheltered far enough down from the Summit ridge to avoid the howling winds arching over the ridge.

‘It’s about time,’ Mo shouted from the doorway. ‘Eli ate most of the sausages, but I can fry a few more for you if you like. What else would you like?’

‘Anything,’ I said, as I stepped onto the plank deck. ‘So, this is where you two hang out! You didn't tell me about this last night. What a great view this has over the chasm. Most impressive! How much do your outfitters charge you to stay here?’

‘Glad you like it,’ Eli said, taking the fag out of his mouth and flicking it over the railing while he got up to survey the front gable end. ‘It's solid alright, designed it myself. A real gem, wouldn't you say? We built and outfitted everything just the way we thought you would like it.’

I just nodded, not taking him seriously. The cabin had obviously been built here a very long time ago, perhaps a hundred years or more.

‘There's a loft and bed if you care to stay,’ Mo said.

‘How much? I only have a few pesos with me, unless you take credit cards.’

‘If you don’t have any rowdy parties, you may remain here as long as you like. No cost!’

‘That's rather generous of you. I suppose I could stay an extra day or two, but are you sure you want to do this. I’m sure I could get some money later.’

‘Where we’re from, there’s no need for money,’ Eli said with a chuckle; ‘yours or anyone else’s.’

I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but I wasn't about to argue with him. I had just enough cash for food, lodging and transportation to make it back to Santiago before catching my flight home.

I looked around inside as Mo cooked breakfast on what appeared to be an ancient wood-burning stove, reminding me of one I had seen somewhere else that was very similar. Yes, now I remembered, it was the old rustic alpine lodge where I stayed with a girlfriend for a few days deep in the Canadian Rockies. Not only was this cabin fully furnished, it also has three well-worn leather chairs by the fireplace just as I remembered at that alpine lodge. I wasn't sure whether to consider this a large cabin or small lodge. It seemed like both.[3]

The interior was completely open except for a couple of small rooms at the rear. Eli took me upstairs to show me the loft area which had a window on the gable end facing northeast where the morning sun rays were shining in. The old hand-hewn logs and mud caulking created a warm atmosphere, as though the place had been occupied for over a century. Though considerably smaller than the Canadian lodge I stayed at before, it had the same warm log atmosphere about it. Obviously Eli was spoofing me in saying he designed the cabin for me, but had he; it would have been perfect.

Downstairs in the lounging area, there were a number of woven wool rugs covering the old plank floor; a large bin filled with split wood, and, interestingly, several old books on the mantel over the large fireplace. They all appeared to be hardcover copies from a bygone era, although I didn't examine the titles just then. My breakfast was ready on the old table with fresh fruit, a couple of scones and a few slightly burned sausages with coffee. Most satisfying!

The clouds had completely blown off now as I stepped outside to survey the magnificent view. It appeared this sierra extended well into Argentina. The sun's warm rays on my face evoked fond memories from past climbing expeditions. I certainly didn’t anticipate having such good fortune when I planned this venture to Chili. It hardly seemed real. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if it was.

Not much seemed to make sense: the food, the drink and neither was this cabin. This was not a reasonable location for a mountain retreat since it was far too remote for anyone to access in earlier days. In fact, it was close to impossible; yet here it was, as were they. Most improbable!

Which made me further question what they were doing here – and what about and that largess Eli inferred he had; where did that come from? Did they have it stashed under some rock out here? How did I know they weren't on the lam, holding out up here from the law? It made me wonder whether I had good cause to be concerned, considering how little they had been forthcoming when I asked them to tell me about themselves.

But I suppose if they didn't want me to know, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I thought, however, if I told them some interesting things about me, they would also become a bit more transparent. And so I rambled on, talking about myself, presuming they’d be interested in knowing more about my life and what I had accomplished. I also mentioned some of the more important people I knew in society. I don’t know, perhaps I was looking for some validation from them as to who I was, or at least thought I was.

Though they remained attentive, there was no visible response to anything I said. No commentaries, compliments, nods, smiles, or request for an autograph. Nothing! The more I put myself out there, the more I felt I was flapping in the wind. This was most uncomfortable, since I normally present a confident persona of understated achievement… except when I overplay my hand after having a few too many pints at the pub.

From what I could tell, it seemed they really didn’t give a damn about any of this. Rather than show a little deference for all my scholarship awards and various accomplishments, Eli continued to stare blankly at me, making me want to get up and throw a pint of bitter in his face just to get a reaction. And Mo, what can I say? He just sat there staring into the sky, thinking about God knows what.

It wasn’t until later in the day it occurred to me that perhaps they already knew everything about me. Maybe that’s why they appeared so indifferent; I hadn't thought of that before. But then, how could they know? And yet it seemed they did. In any case, after I finished what had been an unintentional soliloquy, Eli picked up his guitar, played a few improvised licks and then offered to go down the cellar to get a couple of pints of bitter for us to share.

‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘but I think I’m going to take a short walkabout on the ridge. I’ll be back in a short while.’

Midway to the summit ridge, I changed my mind and decided instead to go down towards the chasm’s opening, not that far below the cabin. I was still feeling a bit churlish for shutting me out of their world. Though I was open and transparent with them, they gave me almost nothing about themselves. Clearly, this was not a level playing field: everything was tilted against me where it seemed they got to change the rules to suit themselves as they preferred. 

In particular, I was most annoyed with Eli for not taking me seriously. At least it seemed that way to me. Most of my students in his age range regarded me as their intellectual superior; but not him. In fact, at times he seemed to act as though he was my teacher whereas Mo was much older, and obviously very astute, and so I didn’t expect the same deference from him. 

Still I had to admire Eli, albeit grudgingly. He was very bright, perhaps too bright for his own good, or mine, for that matter. I associated him as being a mild mannered flower-child from a bygone era: a sixties counter-culture type who may have had the good fortune of inheriting a large estate. And yet it seemed to me he would be just as content living an aimless bohemian life, loitered in old second hand bookstores, Turkish hookah lounges and grungy coffee shops. Maybe he cavorted with insouciant Goth girls wearing black clothing, bright red lipstick and high army boots. All in all, he probably had a good life.

Likely he was caught up with the latest trends of fashionable social issues. Or perhaps he couldn’t be bothered, just living out his life as a free spirit in a Kerouac novel. I knew several students like him who dropped out after fashioning themselves as revolutionary savants, having read just enough Marcuse or Sartre to ridicule the aspirations of bourgeoisie culture. It’s what you do to remain radically respectable when being disrespectable.

Not that I actually knew any of this about him; he just seemed to fit this mould. I envied his life, as I projected on him my vicarious images of idealism and wanderlust. In painful contradistinction, I had spent most of my adult life struggling to earn the respect of people I didn't even care about. What had I given up to prove something to myself? For all my trouble, all I had to show were a few fancy certificates hanging on my wall, purchased with a student debt higher than this mountain. I'd be indentured to the bank for years to come unless I received the tenure I deserved for all my time, effort and money.

As I stewed on this, my thoughts spiraled downward in the chasm of self-pity. As I stood overlooking the gaping abyss, I felt both fascinated and eerily troubled. There was something about this place that remained unresolved in my mind. It seemed I had crossed over this precipice; yet I wasn’t sure how that would have been possible. Possibly I had, at least in that weird dream last October.

From where I stood I could hardly see all the way to the bottom. For whatever reason, a strange déjà vu was haunting me. I didn’t know why, I just knew I made it to the summit by scaling up a fissure on the other side of the chasm. I still remembered being directed by that enchanting voice still echoing through my mind.

I stared up towards the cabin. How could I have not seen it when I was on the other side of the chasm? It should have been in plain sight, but it wasn’t. So what am I supposed to make of that? Like everything else here, it didn’t have to make sense; that seemingly was my new reality here. I sat on top of the precipice thinking about the all the inscrutable mysteries that had mocked my rational mind. Finally, I made my way back to the cabin, having given up trying to understand what was going on here. 

I sat down on a chair outside beside Mo, hoping he would tip his hand about what this was about. We chatted for a moment about the topographical challenges in approaching the summit; as he asked me why I had selected the most difficult route possible. I didn’t have an answer, except to say it was an adventure, knowing I would eventually find a way. I always did.   

He looked at me quizzically for a moment but didn’t say anything. Perhaps he thought I was crazy; certainly he wouldn’t have been the first. Then after a few minutes of silence, he finally said, ‘I have an important question for you James.’

‘Of course; what would you like to know?’

‘I’ve wondering,’ he said, ‘do you think it’s what people do in life that makes them who they are?’

The question felt more like a reproach, and so I wasn't sure what to say. I thought it may have something to do with how I had earlier been blathering on about myself and my academic career. Perhaps it seemed to him I was defining myself by what I did rather than what I was. So was this his way of making me feel shallow? I hoped not. As I considered the question, it seemed he may have only intended it to be a rhetorical question, although it still made me feel defensive.

‘I think,’ I said, ‘whatever we do provides us with our sense of identity. And yet I’m sure there are many things we may have done in the past that don’t change the essential character of who we are. I was a sailor for a short time and now am a professor of philosophy. Yet I’m the same person.’

‘So how shall we judge you, as a philosopher or a sailor?’

‘I would hope you wouldn’t judge me at all, but rather look beyond the outward appearances of my vocations and see only my inward qualities.

He nodded, as though in agreement. I then realized his question had been a ploy so I would hear the answer coming from my own mouth. So now he had me in a corner of my own creation, or should I say his. In any case it caused me to ask myself why I always seemed to need to know what others did in life. Was this because I was evaluating them in relation to myself? Perhaps, like many in my profession, I was in the habit of leverage my outward credentials so that I may gain some advantage with those less educated and accomplished? Inward qualities often seemed incidental to the more obvious reality of appearances.

Perhaps this is why I was so determined to have Mo and Eli tell me about their selves so that I may know where I stood in relationship to them. Based on my initial impressions, I thought I already had Eli figured out, but Mo was still an enigma.

From what I learned later, it was most fortunate for me he didn't feel it necessary to flaunt his credentials or I may have had to re-assign myself a place much further down the pecking order.

Eli stepped outside with a loaf of freshly baked bread and placed it on a table with an assortment of what appeared to be homemade jams. He then cut me a big slice and poured each of us a coffee from a full pot he just brewed. It was hard for me to remain upset with them when they were so gracious and hospitable. For now, at least, I would swallow my pride along with the bread and try to let things go. Solving all the inexplicable mysteries up here could wait a little longer. They hadn't said anything to humiliate me, not in the least. I did that to myself and realized my initial umbrage mostly had to do with my inflated ego’s need to be recognized and affirmed.

I wished to believe that I really didn’t give a rip what others thought about me since I had no need to impress anyone. Yet that’s precisely what I had been trying to do. Apparently my ego wasn’t detached from what other’s thought about me after all. I was chagrined to realize how fear of being judged could cause me to act irrationally, quite the opposite of what I intended. And so, that’s probably why I became so reactive when I felt I wasn’t being sufficiently affirmed by them. How disillusioning… I was no different than anyone else.

Strange as this place was at times, at least I was learning a few things about myself; things I didn’t necessarily wish to know. But as I was soon to find, this was only the beginning. There was still much for me to discover about myself before I would know who I was rather than just what I did. Finding my inward identity was to become a major objective for me while I was on the Summit, as I supposed it should be for everyone, wherever we are.

Dark clouds billow over the ridge again as rain began to pour all around us. But it didn’t matter with us sheltered outside under the covered pergola. There was much on my mind that I needed to come to terms with. Perhaps sensing this, Mo went inside, with Eli following shortly after, leaving me to contemplate my situation and what I should do next. I was greatly conflicted. Perhaps it was time for me to leave. I would swing from placid contentment, or was it denial, to near panic whenever I considered the bizarre circumstances here.

Outwardly, things seemed normal, but in reality they weren’t. So who were these men and what would happen if I remained here for much longer? And yet they seemed so damned oblivious to my concerns, with little or no interest in providing me rational explanations for all the weird things I had witnessed here.

Whenever I was around them, playing chess by the fireplace, everything was so calm and serene. It was only when I stepped back from the situation that I could see how queer things were. Things just seemed to appear whenever they needed them and they still had this tendency to answer my questions even before they were formulated in my mind. You’re not supposed to be able to do that. I had to ask myself if I had somehow been caught up in some friggin’ warp in the space/time continuum.

Sure, I may have rationalized away the voices I imagined hearing yesterday; it seemed reasonable to assume it was just the wind’s swirling gyrations sweeping over the rocky slopes. And of course my twisted perceptions were nothing more than the confusion of my oxygen deprived brain. As for the vision I had of the fissure route to the summit, probably just a lucky hunch I had in my mind’s eye. All made sense to me at the time, and yet I no longer was sure about any of these rationalizations.

Besides all that, it still bothered me what the bloody hell they were doing up here in the first place? That didn’t make sense. And of course, there was the other mystery of how and why an old cabin like this would be built here in the first place, especially when it seemed it didn’t belong to anyone. Who would live on top of an inaccessible Mountain in such uninhabitable conditions.

And yet, here they were with every provision that one could possibly want to be comfortable, including kegs of the Czech Pilsner stashed in the back of the stone cellar. In fact, Mo even showed me several cases of fine Mediterranean and European wines he had displayed on shelves down there… ‘in case I got thirsty,’ he said.

I still suspected the only viable answer for this was that they hired a copter to airlift everything up here. But why would they do that? I confronted Eli about this earlier and all he would say is that they didn’t need a helicopter. And that’s all he would say.

And then, there was also the question of those damned light orbs that seemed to be darting about on the summit. Did I dream that? Of course I did… about three months ago, but this was different, this time I was awake… wasn’t I? I wasn’t sure, but then I wasn’t sure about anything else here. If the orbs actually were real, then Mo and Eli should have known since they were already on the Summit. And yet they wouldn’t say. The more I thought about these unsolved mysteries, the more determined I became to pester them until I got some straight answers. Before leaving, I needed to know.

However, as it turned out, I wouldn't have to bother; I was soon to find out, in fact, far more than I wished. Apparently, this wasn’t to be so much about what was happening out there, but what was happening within me. And furthermore, how by some strange quirk of fate, I was implicated; embroiled in the very questions I was seeking answers to… far beyond anything I could have imagined.

‘James,’ Mo said, as he came to the door, ‘looks like the rain's not going to let up for a while, so why not join us by the blazing fire Eli just stoked up. We have a few things we need to discuss with you.’

I was completely caught off guard by this; and frankly, a little concerned where it may lead. Just when I was planning my offensive, they had me on the defensive again. Anytime someone says they wish to discuss something with you, you already know it's most likely not going to be good. 

‘So what’s on your mind?’ I said somewhat cavalierly as I went inside.

‘Please take your favourite lounge seat by the fire and make yourself comfortable,’ Eli said; ‘this may take a while. And here, have a slice of Mo's banana bread. It's best when it's fresh.’

‘Yes, of course,’ I said, ‘and I'm sure the bananas in the bread are fresh too, picked off the trees growing in our glaciers. So what's this about’ I asked, now somewhat restless. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘No, no, not at all,’ Mo said. ‘At least not unless you wish to see it as a problem, but we hope you won't. What we wish to discuss with you is something we think you will find to be very significant. In fact, so significant it could change everything in your life. But before we get into that, if you don’t mind, we’d like to review the last several years of your time on earth.’

‘That's what this is about, the story of my life?’ I said with a mocking laugh. ‘No disrespect, but you hardly know me, even though you may think you do. And now you think you’re going to tell me all about my life. So what kind of game are we playing here?

Ignoring my comment, Mo got down to what he had to say. ‘James, not long ago you had a dream. Do you remember? It was a very vivid dream about living in a dreadful swamp in the Lowlands. But later you escaped to climb a very high Mountain to free yourself from the ruts you had been stuck in below. Perhaps it was to this Mountain you escaped. The dream was so vivid that upon waking you immediately wrote everything down that you were able to remember. You were fascinated and intrigued with its stark realism; yet it frightened you at the very end, feeling more like a nightmare, although you weren't sure why.’

That was astounding, I thought. In fact, it was rather shocking. I hadn’t told anyone about my dream. So how could he know all that? It was true; I did wake up in a panic from my dream as if from a nightmare. My first reaction was to deny having any such dream. But obviously he already knew too much. If I denied it, he would know I was lying; and, if he called me on it, he'd really have me.

‘What are you Mo, psychic or something? I’ve never told anyone about this dream. So how do you know?’

He ignored the question as he started to recount from the beginning my entire dream, right to the very end, scene by scene, all in sequential order. This was hardly what I was expecting when he said they had something to discuss with me. It was also peculiar how Eli would take over certain segments at times as if this was one same scripted narration. Between them, they wove the tale of my dream most impressively, describing it in even greater detail than what I remembered with its phantasms of miasmic swamps, bogs and thistles.

Next, they went on to describe how I stole away from my hovel in search of an elusive Mountain I envisioned far away. Eventually, they said, I discovered it after drudging and slogging through the marshy Lowlands. They were also right about how it felt in the dream, as though I had struggled for years to ascend this Mountain.

As I indicated before, I had written all I remembered immediately after the dream, but then I continued to write more for several days when other new scenes began to appear to me in great detail. And so, now as I listened to them, many of these images flashed onto the screen of my consciousness like a movie I had seen several times before. Though I tried to remain aloof, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. They were even able to conjure impressions I had forgotten about, such as the condors swooping at me like cacodemons out of hell, which as it turns out really did happen. I remember how I once had to swing my rope wildly to keep them at bay while crossing over a narrow ridge.

That’s another thing that surprised me; even while climbing, it never occurred to me I already had experienced all this months prior in my dream. It was all there, and now I was being reminded of what was portended in my dream and what I recently experienced in space and time.

When they both finished with their story, there was a long silence as I continued to stare into the flames. After a minute or two, I got up without saying anything. Although I was careful not to show my reaction, I felt stunned! This was disconcerting! Not only had they intruded into my inward life, they were telling me what happened there while I slept. If they knew this much about me, what else did they know?

I felt in shock. I got up and walked to the stove and poured a cup of coffee, then stood by the window vacantly gazing outward, but seeing nothing except that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly again. After a few minutes, I returned to sit in my chair and stared at them blankly. I didn’t know what to say since I didn't have a rational answer for any of this except it shouldn’t have been possible. It was as astounding as it was disturbing.

Initially I was taken by what Mo had said, but when I realized they knew all the details of my dream from what was being reflected back to me, I felt confused, exposed and resentful for them probing the inward sanctum of my mind. Considering everything else I was grappling with here, this was one more layer of intrigue to complicate my world: a world which was becoming queerer by the minute.

After completing their narrative of my dream, they didn’t say a word, but just gazed at me. At last I spoke, as I attempted to remain detached from what I felt at the moment. I may have been a bit rude and dismissive, but I hadn't exactly given them permission to intrude into my head so that they may analyze my dream… which of course, was impossible, even if it seemed they did.

Though I was aware of how effective allegories can be used as literary devices to communicate universal concepts, still I remained sceptical because I didn’t know how else to deal with this improbability.

‘In a swamp you say? That's most hilarious! Sorry chaps, I'm not Pogo[4] and I don't live anywhere near a swamp. So I guess you must have the wrong opossum. Actually, this sounds like some wild parallel universe you dreamed up; I don't get what all the swamps, bogs and ruts are supposed to mean.’

I’m sure my cavalier attitude wasn’t very convincing, but I wasn't going to just blithely accept everything they had to say. It was my life, not theirs. So rather than admit to the merits of their story, I became increasingly flippant while challenging their interpretations. If I was being obnoxious, likely it was because I feared that my personal shortcomings might be being laid bare. I'd rather have a certified shrink psycho-analyze me rather than have these amateurs meddle with my brain.

I also questioned why they were doing this, and what might be in it for them. Was it to show how smart they were? The more I thought about it, the more preposterous this felt, which caused me to be even more frustrated. I was a rationalist, but nothing here was rational… especially them.

In any case, they weren’t about to be deterred as they carried on with their interpretations. According to them, my dream had come to me as an allegory to illustrate how I would be led to pursue a higher purpose in life as was symbolized by the Mountain. But to make it real within space and time, I had to physically ascend it, which explains why I felt so compelled to fly to Chile. 

I had to admit to myself, although not to them, how much these allegorical images paralleled many of the challenges I had encountered over the last few years. Obviously, there was more to this dream than I yet understood. Perhaps it prefigured a desire I harboured to journey to another realm of existence. And now here was, hearing this story, my story, being told by two mysterious blokes I hardly knew. Were they here to awaken something within me, perhaps some hidden message I didn’t wish to hear?

I wasn't sure how to interpret the symbolic significance of the fogs, snakes, bogs and ruts that had supposedly become entwined in my life. Were these representations of suppressed fears and frustrations I wasn't consciously aware of having? If so, then perhaps I needed to pay attention to what they were saying, even though I didn’t want to. But there seemed to be something more that was missing in the story… something crucial.

The panic at the end; yes, that was it. What was it supposed to mean? They hadn’t said. Whenever I had reviewed my notes on the dream, I didn't wish to think about how things may have ended, still remembering the trauma I felt when I awoke. That would hardly presage anything good, especially for my future. Yet it seemed everything prior to the ending was to be understood as a preamble to something. But what, remained enshrouded in mystery.

Maybe that’s what concerned me, and so I contrived a clever and intellectually plausible rationalization. Hopefully they would agree with me on this so we may finally resolve the dream’s meaning. Possibly then we could move on to more important questions such as what was going on here.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘I very well may have had a dream like this, but I think in many ways it's also everyone's dream… a splendid archetypal dream, don’t you think? Consider humanity’s universal struggle that takes him from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy; from the Lowland swamps to the Mountain peaks. On another level, perhaps it could even be understood as a statement of evolution from the primordial swamps towards our upward ascent into higher realms of human consciousness.’

That last point, I thought, was most astute and even anthropologically plausible. I mean, who wouldn't agree with that?

‘So I think it’s most evident, I said, the Swamp/Mountain allegory isn’t just about me; it’s really the universal archetypal experience that applies to all of us.  Furthermore, I'm sure everyone has a dream like this at one time or another with whatever unique symbols may illustrate the visceral struggles of life. Take for example, Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the Mountain, or Prometheus chained to a rock to have his liver eaten each day by an eagle, only to have it restored so it may be eaten again the next day.[5] Don’t we all feel that enervation and fatigue as the struggles of life eat away at us?

‘As for me, I’ve visited various cosmopolitan centres throughout the world and wouldn’t consider any of these to be swamps, bogs and marshes, even figuratively. And though the flat I rent isn’t particularly elegant, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a hovel. In fact it’s rather comfortable, conveniently located over a coffee and delicatessen shop not far from the Thames, where I often enjoy having pleasant strolls. Further to that, I have a library of hundreds of quality books that insulated my walls against the damp drafts of winter.

And then there’s my wonderful career… the one I hope to consolidate someday. As for friends, I have several. Although a bit unconventional, they can be most charming and engaging if they wish. Then of course, there are always few flighty young women in my life to keep things interesting. Some of them seem to really like me, at least when I get paid. Considering my life, relatively speaking, I think it’s important we don’t get too carried away looking for dream symbols and metaphors where they don’t exist.’

Though I suspected I wouldn't be able to bluff them about my life, at least they may be less confident in presuming to know everything about me, since I found that to be most annoying, if not unsettling. Still, it seemed they were always a few steps ahead of me.

As I said before, Eli was my junior, appearing much younger with a youthful exuberance. It was therefore rather humiliating when I found I couldn’t always match his depth of knowledge and understanding on a variety of subjects. It wasn't just about him being clever, that's common enough with certain students in my more advanced classes, rather, there was a certain sage quality he evinced along with a quiet confidence that I both admired and envied. And now, to make this even more apparent, he had just described some of my dream with an air of confident authority, as if it was his dream, not mine.

Again I asked myself, how could he and Mo even begin to know all this? As much as I wanted to dismiss what they described as a joke, I couldn't deny what they said. Their interpretations were compelling, if not troubling. I had no rational box to explain how they managed to know all this. And besides that, it was most annoying that I couldn’t pry any information out of them as to who they were and why they were here.

Finally, after feeling increasingly exasperated, I stood to my feet and raised my voice. ‘You know gentleman, I think you realize I've been very forthright about myself, apparently I’ve even allowed you into my dream. So I think it's now time you come clean and reciprocate the favour: so will you finally tell me, once and for all, WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’

‘Oh, don't let that concern you, James,’ Eli said, with a mischievous and disarming smirk, ‘we already know who we are; we don't even have to think about it. But we think it's more important that you find who you are, and then you'll know who we are too.’

‘So what in bloody hell is that supposed to mean?’ I asked.

‘We understand why you may feel a little uncomfortable with how we seem to know so much about you,’ Mo said. ‘We sympathize completely… that's really got to be unnerving. So just be patient with us ol’ chap, we're coming to that part. For now, let us assure you we're harmless. As much as we know about you, we’re definitely not associated with INTERPOL, Mi6, CIA, or worse yet, the British Internal Revenue Service. So don't be concerned, we're your friends wishing to help you along your way.’

‘But I didn't ask for your help along the way or anywhere else,’ I responded churlishly, as I headed towards the door. ‘I found my way up here, and if you please, I’ll soon be finding my way down.’

With that I stormed out the cabin to walk along the summit ridge. With all they had thrown at me, I needed time to consider what to do next. I wondered if, just maybe, my companions might be from somewhere other than earth. Admittedly, that was a most irrational thought, but perhaps there was a reason for the heebie-jeebies I felt yesterday as I was meeting them. That was no ordinary encounter. And now on top of that, they just interpreted my dream… without me even telling them my dream. It made me wonder if I had somehow fallen into the Twilight Zone.[6]

The longer I was here, the more obvious these quirks were with the odd things they would say and do. Things would magically appear whenever there was a fancy for them; food, drink, firewood and even books. Certainly, from what I could tell, there wasn’t any smoke or mirrors to explain this. These manifestations had now gone far beyond trickery to something much more serious.

The more I thought about this, the more I felt I needed to leave before it was too late. I didn’t want to get caught in something I couldn't find my way out. As much as I would have loved to stay longer in this idyllic lodge, at least under normal circumstances, I decided I would begin my descent tomorrow morning sometime soon after sunrise.

For the remainder of the day, I explored the summit ridge to determine the most direct and least precarious route down. It was important the slopes not be slippery, but for now, it appeared the current weather pattern may hold. You can never really tell from day to day in the mountains, or even hour to hour.

When I returned by late afternoon, I found them inside preparing something that appeared to be an elegant dining event. Indeed, these were really likeable chaps, at least when they weren’t flummoxing me with their stunts. Apparently it was Italian night on the summit with pasta along with the finest Sicilian wine in the neighbourhood.

I wasn't hungry; not until I smelled and saw the cheese baked penne primavera in the oven. Eating on the summit was more like having a ravenous appetite for delicious food without actually having hunger pangs. Funny, I thought, I couldn't even recall feeling hunger when I first arrived half starved!

In spite of their levity and good cheer, I still witnessed more weird and dodgy things going on. As an example, we went outside after dinner to sit by a roaring fire Eli had started in the fire-pit, not too far from the cabin. Twilight faded into darkness as the stars began to poke through the indigo sky. After more talk, laughter and whiskey, Mo got up and took a long stick out of the fire that was enflamed on one end.

Standing near by the leaping flames, he held the fiery stick up towards the night sky, as though it was a staff with which he would perform some ancient Celtic ritual. Perhaps it was the flames, but to me it appeared he had suddenly grown much taller, perhaps even eight feet tall or more, much like Gandalf hovering over the dwarfs… with me being the dwarf. I remarked that he looked like a wizard against the glow of these towering flames.

‘Oh really,’ he said, ‘then this stick I'm holding must be my wand; every wizard must have a slat an draoichta. Then he cried out: oscail geata Flaithhis Délig an tsoilse mhór amach,[7] as he tossed the flaming stick into the night sky. Amazingly, it began to spiral rapidly as it shot into the darkness like a blazing star. I never did see it come down again, maybe it went over the chasm, or maybe over the sierras, but that would have been a very long way for it to fly. What I witnessed was impossible, unless....

Then he turned to me and said, ‘I have a much deeper wizardry for you James. It has to do with the alchemy of your soul. It starts with knowing who you are. You still don’t know that, but when you do, heaven’s light will glow brighter within you than the flames of a wizard's wand tossed into the night sky.’

By now I was dazzled and much confounded. ‘Fine, I said, I'll see what I can do to find the answer you're looking for.’

‘Or more correctly,’ he said, ‘the answer you're looking for. It’s a very simple question with a rather difficult answer. Think about it tonight very deeply and every night; you may find that it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to receive an answer.’

There was a long silence; then before I knew it, he got up and slowly walked away into the darkness. Eli stared at me for a moment with a curious look, then after a few moments, he too got up and walked off into the night without saying a word. Suddenly, I began to feel very alone and wondered if I’d ever see them again. If I left at sunrise as planned, likely I never would.

Now that I was alone, Mo’s question began to haunt me. Who was I? Such a basic question, and yet I had never given it a lot of thought, even though I understood how essential such ontological considerations were to philosophical enquiry in the ancient past. Am I more than my body; such that my inner awareness makes me, me, rather than being just a function of my biological constitution? If I don’t know who I was, how would anyone else?

I struggled to find a meaningful answer as I perturbed myself with even more introspective questions that seemingly had no answer. Where did I come from, where am I going and would I ever get there, wherever that may be? Or, would I remain stuck in the bogs and ruts along a journey that led to nowhere? Whatever the case, I asked myself why life was such a struggle; why did I always have to strive for more, even going to extremes such as scaling this treacherous mountain? What was I trying to prove? But then, why should I bother with these insane questions? And even if they’re not insane, they may soon drive me insane if I don’t get away from here by tomorrow.

It occurred to me, that if I was actually serious about finding the meaning to life, I needed to reread Viktor Frankel.[8] At least he knew about meaning after his years in a Nazi concentration camp, even though he may not have been a philosopher per se. More likely he was beyond that. Digging trenches in prison is much different than sitting in an ivory tower in academia.

In my early years, I never asked myself the meaning and purpose of life. Perhaps I was too comfortable or distracted with more frivolous back then. And yet, now being a professional philosopher, it seemed I should be able to at least provide some understanding to life's basic questions, not just more questions. Unfortunately, many philosophers today no longer seem very interested in these existential concerns… but that's not to say they no longer are important.

As I attempted to think things through, I become increasingly confused. But then, I thought, what if all these questions were to have answers in my dream and there wasn’t anything more to think about, only to know. Was it possible this dream had come from somewhere much bigger than me and that if I paid attention, it would provide me all the answers I had ignored? And were these alien, or whatever they were, sent here to reveal to me a message implicitly hidden within that dream?

But sent by whom… and why?


[1] The is also known as the Principle of Parsimony, named after Franciscan friar William of Ockham (1285-1347), who postulated that where there are competing answers to a problem, the one with the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct answer.
[2] Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time I had experienced something like this. In Chapter 7 I tell of a similar incident while camping in the mountains.
[3] Since I couldn’t decide whether to call it a cabin or lodge, I called it both. At times Mo and Eli would refer to it as a chalet. 
[4] Pogo was a popular and insightful American comic strip, published several decades ago, full of political satire and allegory with swamp animals in southeastern USA.  Pogo, the lead character, was an opossum who often said such astute things as: “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.”
[5]Hesiod, the Greek poet, wrote about Prometheus as a mythological character in his epic Theogony approximately eighth century B.C.  Percy Bysshe Shelley popularized this myth in the early nineteenth century with his poem Prometheus Unbound.
[6] The Twilight Zone was a weekly television series in the late 1950s and early 1960’s that dealt with unexplainable events, often being paranormal encounters with beings outside the Earth’s dimensions.
[7] Open God's heavenly gate. Let the great light out. From the medieval Gaelic poem An Phaidir Gheal
[8] This is in reference to a famous book I read several years ago called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl M.D, PhD. (1905 – 1997). Frankl was an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II where he conceived of an existential analysis for the meaning in life he later called Logotherapy.


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