Thirty Miles of Air
Friday, June 20, 1997 by Dave Winer.
On Saturday I went for a hike on Mount St. Helena, the same mountain I wrote about in Huge Wingspans, 7/18/95.
The mountain is in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, just north of "Calistoga", at the north end of the spectacularly beautiful Napa Valley.
Morning fog, blazing hot afternoons, cooool evenings and geology you can experience, geysers and hot springs, I think there might even be active volcanoes in the area.
Tourists (like me) come to Napa from all over the world to breathe and drink the wine, air, water, and views; and to hike on Mount St. Helena.
I like to walk, and I especially like going up. One foot in front of the other. I feel my strength. Over and over, the legs lift, my mind wanders. Up up up I go. My mind relaxes, my heart and lungs go into overdrive. Even my arms and hands are in motion when the trail gets steep. Reaching, grabbing, holding, supporting. At times, I connect to the mountain on four points.
The trail winds up the mountain. At lower elevations there's water and ferns, lots of trees and shade. Wild flowers are still in bloom. The creeks, raging torrents in rainy season, probably stopped running just a couple of weeks ago. As you go up, the trees thin, the trail turns into a dirt road that spirals the peak. And then, this time it was no surprise, the view of the valley opens. No surprise, but it's just as sudden. Whoooosh, you're in space. In front of you is thirty miles of air!
The view is enormous. Infinite structure and detail. My lenses zoom in and out. A river. A town. Roads and cars. More mountains. Then the air. A light haze. To the right fog. To the left it's clear. In the middle, over the town of Calistoga, it's hazy...
Zoom in -- the air is filled with birds and sound. They float and circle. They show me how the air is moving. Some birds hug the earth, floating at treetop level. Other birds (they must have great vision) soar at mountaintop level, scouring the landscape for movement.
They must see me. What must they think?
Other people climb the mountain. Some have bright eyes. What a day. Such a beautiful mountain! Glad to be here.
I round a corner, come to a turnoff, a bunch of people are gathered, breathing heavily, resting after a strenuous climb. A woman yawns. I say Don't fall asleep! We laugh -- sleep will come later... (It's even funnier than I know in that moment.)
This place is so alive. A beautiful woman with shocking white hair, seated on a rock. I stare. My feet keep working. Up down up down.
The earth gives way. I slide! Down the mountain. Down down down.
Stop! It doesn't work. Stop! It doesn't work. Stop! I stop.
Whew. I look down, it's a long long trip. I look up. The people are astounded. I look at my body. Pain and blood. I breathe. I laugh!
I'm OK. What a relief.
In a moment of survival, all your senses engage. All that your body has learned becomes motion. I know how to slide with maximum comfort. I know how to use friction to defeat gravity. I know how to shake the dust off, clean my wounds, and continue the trip.
As I continue my trip down the mountain my legs are shaky, my footing is unsure. I breathe. I laugh at my good fortune.
My shirt is ripped in two places. I stopped to wash the wounds on my elbow and shoulder. I must look like a real mercenary! A survivor. The fantasies of childhood kick in. GI Joe and the astronauts.
Round a bend in the trail. I hear footsteps and voices in front of me. A child's voice rings out. Hello! I smile a big Texas smile. Hello! I say. Two boys, seven and five, and a father. Everyone's happy.
I point out the cuts and the blood. Look, I fell down the mountain! I smile happily. I'm OK! Everyone laughs.
Boys dig this (I'm a boy too). In our best moments, this is what being a man is about -- taking risks, falling down, getting up and laughing at our good fortune.
We say goodbye and go on our way. I stop and look back, I want to hear what they say. Dad, that man fell down the mountain! No he didn't. But his arm was all bloody! Let's get going.
As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just by watching.
What a long and winding road! (Who said that?)
PS: Yesterday in Anyone But Microsoft I said that Mac OS 8 had a native file system. Apparently I got this wrong. And Rich Siegel, a leading Mac developer says it is not hot... See "Rich Siegel on Mac OS 8".
PPS: In I Love Acronyms I said "Many of the people at [some company] are young, but they have incredibly excellent manners." Ooops. Sorry! I know that many young people are polite, and older people can be rude. It was a condescending statement. Yuck! I totally apologize for that (TAFT).