I have spent many a word over the past couple of weeks, both online and off, discussing and dissecting the fact that I feel stuck, that I’m feeling uninspired, that I can’t think of anything to write about. As I started to stare down this week’s deadline, the same thoughts and feelings started swirling again, and I was so very tempted to just throw in the towel and give up on the blog, give up on my writing habit, succumb to the inertia. However. I am a stubborn, headstrong, determined sort of a person, and it takes a lot for me to give up on something, which led to a lot of conflicting thoughts. I started dissecting my thoughts and options in my brain dump file and stumbled across what I first thought of as a throwaway thought: What if I do a writing exercise as a blog post. At first, it sounded ridiculous, but the farther I got in writing out that thought, the more interesting it became. The question then became what sort of exercise should I do, which was fairly quickly answered. I’ve had the “back of my mind” idea for some time now to use the idiom “a picture’s worth a thousand words” as a writing exercise: find an interesting photo/picture and write 1,000 words about what I see and what I imagine the context could be, what I imagine the story behind the picture could be. As this is intended as a writing exercise, not a final piece, I haven’t taken time to edit, polish and refine, aside from the editing, polishing, and so on that I generally do as I write my first draft, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I need to at least like my first drafts. Enough rambling! Without further ado, here we go!
This beautiful, mountain scene, with forests, a trail, and snowy mountainside in the distance could be one of any number of locations: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Canada. Really, nearly anywhere with the right climate and mountainous landscape, but, according to the minimal information provided, it is from Mittersill, Austria. There is such possibility in this photograph. These three people all look fit, and there’s the suggestion of a fresh start, since the person in the middle is still putting on his pack. You can’t tell age, and you can’t really tell sex, but based on physique, there’s a decent chance that they’re all men, likely in their 20s or 30s, though that’s purely a guess. Based on their apparel, one would guess that it’s chilly, but not overly cold, since they’re able to hike in shorts, rather than needing anything warmer or heavier as you’d expect if there was snow or a deep freeze in the forecast. Though they’re wearing shorts, I wouldn’t assume that it’s overly warm, either, since they all seem to need some sort of sweatshirt or hoodie, plus there’s the drifts of snow in the background. These tenacious drifts of snow, along with the evergreen trees lining both the path and the farther mountainside suggest that our hikers are not at an extremely high altitude, since they are still below the tree line. They don’t seem to be planning a long, multi-day trek or pilgrimage, since their packs are fairly small and not full at all. You can nearly hear the crunch of the roughly paved path under their footfalls, nearly smell the combination of cold air, moss, and pine sap that likely fills the crisp, cool air, mingled with the faintest of floral scents from the occasional wildflower strong enough to bloom on the mountainside. In fact, you can see several yellow flowers that almost look like dandelions, as well as some clusters of even smaller white flowers. The path doesn’t seem to be too steep or challenging, at least not where the picture was captured. Despite this, the path ahead of these three seems to go through a narrow path between two steeper mountainsides, or perhaps it’s carved in, or part of a ravine or narrow canyon. The mountainsides ahead likewise appear rather steep. The stage is set; let’s imagine deeper, shall we?
Here, we have three friends, close enough to be brothers, who have saved for over a year for this trip that they have been waiting for over the course of several years. Ever since they heard of Mittersill, and the many alpine and mountain trails surrounding this tiny Salzburg town back in high school, they were determined to someday visit, hike, ski, and otherwise explore the area. It was a bucket list item, one they always felt was distantly within their reach. They had made several smaller trips throughout North America, finding remote trails, exploring the wilderness, but Mittersill had always haunted them. Though they went to separate universities, they stayed in touch, the goal of Austria, and, in fact, global travel to hike and explore acting as another of countless threads that connected them. They all returned to the Western Washington area after college, resuming their habit of hiking and planning, sharing a house to help save up for their plane tickets and lodging.
Yet, without seeing all of that, still we see them. Eagerly setting of on their first hike in the area, they are ready to go, no sign of jet lag that we can see even though they spent nearly one full day in travel to get to where they are now. In fact, the flight alone was over 13 hours, including layovers. This was preceded by nearly 2 hours of train and light rail travel from Everett, WA to SeaTac, ad followed by an adventurous 4 hour trek via multiple buses from Salzburg Airport to the relatively small town of Mittersill. From the back, you cannot see the bags under their eyes or the crusts of sleep still clinging stubbornly to the corners of their eyes, nor can you see the mix of excitement, joy and awe that enlivens their eyes. Also hidden from view is the blush of blood flow to their cheeks, brought on by a combination of exertion and the brisk sting of the chilled air hitting their cheeks as the breeze is channeled between the mountains, which intensifies both the chill and the impact of the once gentle wind. They’ve decided to start with the shortest hike in the area, only a couple of kilometers in length, and arranged in a loop. It should be easy enough to handle with their current level of jet lag, yet enough exertion to sufficiently tire them out enough to get a full night’s sleep, and hopefully start realigning their clocks to local time.
Here we see these three setting off, so eager to make their hike, so used to the sight of greenery along their way, that they don’t seem too focused on stopping to examine any of the plant life, at least not at this point on their trail. It all still looks familiar, and the adrenaline pumping through their veins from the excitement of finally being here distracts them. Their eyes are so busy taking in the broader landscape that they cannot see the details, the slightly different local flora and fauna. They will, eventually; they’ve got another 13 days after this until they head back home. Today, though, their hike is not in silence, as they talk about the adventure it took to get here, and their grand plans for their time in Mittensill, their talk distracting from, but not entirely overriding, the birdsong from the trees around them.
Here we see these three lifelong friends, starting off on a long-awaited adventure. For all appearances, they are lighthearted and carefree. What we do not see, what we cannot see yet, is the heartbreak that will color the second half of their trip, after a long postponed revelation is made, changing their future, or at least their view of their future, immediately and irreversibly.