Some days are easier than others, some days it takes longer than others – but it always looks different.
Every Monday evening after work – for the past 8 years or so now, I walk up Lion’s Head. I have had a number of good friends accompany me along the way – some walked with me for years before moving to Vienna or Dubai. Others come along once, maybe twice, and then you never see them (there) again.
Either way, every Monday in summer and in winter, we take a stroll up the lion.
It’s become a kind of therapy for all of us, something special – so much so that when we tried to move the routine to a Tuesday it just plain felt wrong. We’ve been through a number of job changes, relationships, children, almost-children and other life dramas. It’s a wonderful walk-and-talk to sort-it-out session with good friends and visitors.
And it’s never quite the same as any other. When the wind is blowing a gale in the city bowl, it’s calm and wind-free up there. When it’s cold in the suburbs, there’s a warm breeze up there. In low hanging clouds it’s just plain magical.
Today was no exception, apart from the fact that we noticed a lot of graffiti on the way up. Places where people had taken stones and carved their names into the rocks. I know that when it’s full moon and the mountain resembles a train station packed with hundreds of walkers, rather than a mountain-side, and people need to be patient to wait for others to climb the ladders or metal hoops. I know – because that’s why we avoid those days when our mountain is invaded.
But why do you need to fill your time carving your name into a rock, when you could just as well turn around to admire the view, or have a conversation with your fellow walkers?
When we got to the top tonight, and saw again the black and white beacons with all the signatures and names scrawled on them, we started discussing this again – how people feel the need to write something profound like, “Caleb wuz here” or similarly inane.
Tam recounted a story of being in the West Bank near a famous wall, and being asked for a pen by a young man. Ever the friendly one, she happily lent him one. Her friendliness changed fairly rapidly though when she saw him move towards the wall, nib of the tool poised to make his mark.
She swiftly stopped him and told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be using her pen for his devious act.
And, in the mysterious way that the universe works – not two minutes later (I kid you not!) we overhead a young chap ask a young woman for a pen, replying to her positive response with a, “you’ll find anything in a lady’s handbag!”
I was gob-smacked: could it actually be true? I got up and watched the guy, and as true as bob – there he was all ready to write his words of wisdom onto my mountain! (Well, as soon as he found a spot between all the other names and love declarations on the white paint of the beacon…).
I moved forward to stop him.
Then I thought better of it, thinking it’s not my job, let’s not cause a scene.
But then I did turn around again, because it IS my responsibility. I was having none of this, and from about 10 metres I asked him, as nicely as I could, to please not write on our mountain. That yes, many others have, but that doesn’t make it right.
“Pregnant pause” is what might be used to describe the next moment.
It was his turn to be gob-smacked. He just stood there – no doubt contemplating what to say or do in front of his friends and the other mountain users.
I initially took this frozen-to-the-spot act as some sort of defiance – kind of like a good old stare-down. So I mentioned that I wouldn’t be leaving until he gave the pen back to the woman he had borrowed it from, and stood my ground.
I can’t remember his exact words, but I got the message that he wouldn’t be defacing our mountain, and I went back to my friends in a state of disbelief at what had just transpired – both his acts, but also that it had happened immediately after we were discussing the very same thing!
He eventually did give the pen back, and shot a comment at me (visibly fired up), “I am the mountain, that isn’t!” which took me a while to figure out. I think he meant that the beacon is an artificial attachment to Lion’s Head (and presumably therefore OK to scribble on?). I didn’t engage with him any further, and left it at that, my job done.
What struck me as very sad though, is that the other folk on the mountain – the other 20 or so Capetonians and visitors that had walked up our mountain because it is so beautiful – didn’t say a word. Hell, they even laughed and thought the whole thing humorous. The pen-lender didn’t dare even move her head: she was desperate to be invisible!
Only one person said Thank You. And that was right after The Scribe had surprisingly wished me an, “enjoy the sunset” and then sauntered off the mountain in that over-exaggerated walk that the embarrassed have.
I was very sad that no-one else seemed to think that this was a problem.
But I am glad that I stood up for what I believe in, because as hard as it was, it is easier to live with yourself if you live a life of integrity. Especially when I’m trying to preserve my beautiful mountain 🙂