Monday, November 25, 2013

In search of the sacred

Forty-four years ago, I was camping with my young family (wife, three kids, Tom not with us yet) in our VW camper with the pop-up roof at the base of a solitary mountain in Finland, somewhere north of the Arctic Circle. The mountain was described in the guidebook as "the sacred mountain of the Lapps."

Even then, I was searching for the scared, for some whiff of the transcendent. How could I resist the "sacred mountain of the Lapps." Leaving the family snug in the VW, I set off up the mountain in a cold mist. It wasn't a high mountain and didn't take long to reach the top. As I recall, there was a big cairn at the summit, and what appeared to be an alignment of stones, enough to satisfy my sense of having discovered something holy. I sat there until my fingers and toes went numb with cold, then brimming with pantheistic conceits, turned back down the track.

Half-way to the base, I met a family of Lapps -- a middle-aged couple and their pre-teen child -- climbing the mountain in Sunday clothes and dress shoes. They wore no sign of traditional dress except for a multicolored woven ribbon in the child's cap. They were up from Helsinki, the man told me, for a visit to the ancestral homeland. We chatted for a few minutes. The couple spoke perfect English.

"How much farther to the top?" asked the gentleman.

"You're only half-way up," I replied.

Tottering in her high heels on the loose stones, the woman gave her husband of look of perfect pain. "Oh, shit," she said. "I told you we should have gone to the Riviera."