I had only been in France a few weeks when he said we should climb the mountain. The Sainte Victoire. It was Cezanne’s mountain. I was a painter. Why not? Sure, why not start with a mountain?!!! Being from Minnesota, I did not have my mountain legs yet. But nothing about this trip, this adventure, would have occurred if I had been stuck on “maybe,” so I said yes – of course I said yes! In my head though, I had visions of a long stroll, with lovely views…almost a picnic for the senses really. Reality unpacked it’s bags within the first few steps and I knew this was nothing like I had imagined. My heart was pumping faster. I could feel every rock beneath my Vans. My lungs hit my ribs with every breath. I had never climbed a mountain. I had my doubts that I would finish this one.
The last big hill I had climbed was in the 3rd grade. Pike’s Peak. We had gone on a field trip from Washington Elementary. I had a sack lunch – a peanut butter sandwich and a warm Orange Crush soda. “It will be beautiful,” our teacher said. And we believed her. We raced down the steep hill. Never had we moved faster. Dirt flying everywhere. Screams of delight. But then we had to get back up. Straight up. We made brown clouds as we raced – pumping arms and legs, pumping, breathing, pumping, sucking last bits of air, and grabbing the blades of grass just at the top edge,pulling ourselves up.
Muscle memory…that’s it – that’s what would save me. I had heard of this – yes, muscle memory. Soon now my legs would remember how I made it up Pike’s Peak. My muscle memory would kick in and I would climb the Sainte Victoire with ease. Nothing. My thighs remembered nothing. I struggled with each step. Each lesson must be learned, first, still, and again.
“It will be beautiful,” he said, “at the top.” For some reason I believed him and kept climbing. My nose ran, my lungs were exploding, my thighs were pulsing and my feet – my poor Van covered feet. At one point he said, “those berries are poisonous…” My first thought was “give me a handful.” I kept climbing. Pumping, breathing. I followed him step for step. I trusted him. I had no muscle memory of that. I loved him. I had no muscle memory of that. Yet, I knew that every thigh-burning, brown-clouded, peanut butter fueled step had led me here. Here. Summit. Beautiful. I must remember this — the view from gratitude is pretty spectacular.