Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

The Mountain

Each year for the last twenty-five years Don and his old friends Bruce and Kevin meet in the small town of North Conway, New Hampshire, to climb Mount Washington. Don is a corporate lawyer in Toronto, Bruce a political advisor who now lives in Ottawa and Kevin a financial analyst in Montreal. The three buddies met when they were students at Queen’s University in Kingston a quarter of a century ago.





Mount Washington


This year Don is alone. Bruce has a bad cold and Kevin had to fly to Atlanta to attend a conference. His wife tried to talk him out of it when he told her that he was going to climb Mount Washington alone. He told her not to worry, that he would probably meet other hikers on the trail. She told him to be careful of bears. He had been looking forward for that weekend for so long, not only to see his old friends, but also to get away from the pressure at work and to be in contact with nature.


Don slept at the usual motel in North Conway Friday night and headed for the trail early in the morning. The end of October air was cool but the sun was shining when he got to the trail. The weather network had called for mostly sunshine and a few clouds in the morning and a slight possibility of scattered flurries in the afternoon. As he was about to start hiking, he saw another car coming to the parking lot with a couple of guys in it. He didn’t wait for them. He preferred to be alone to enjoy the scenery. There were only a few leaves left on the trees but it was still beautiful.


Don had walked for nearly three hours when he decided to find a place to eat his lunch. He found a clearing a few meters off the trail. He sat on a rock to eat. He tried not to think of the bears when he opened his lunch bag. He said to himself, “If a bear comes, I’ll just throw him my roast beef sandwich and run like hell.” That’s when the wind picked up and it started to snow. At first it was only flurries but within a few minutes it turned into thick and heavy snow that made it impossible for Don to find his way back to the trail. He started getting panicky. After a few hours of seemingly walking in circles, he found a small hut, a refuge for hikers.


He could not make a fire because there was no wood but it wasn’t that cold inside the hut. Don was too tired to be cold anyway. He sat on the floor and fell asleep. When he awoke in the middle of the night, he felt very sad, as if he were alone in the world. He was oppressed by the solitude, the silence and the darkness. He started to think. Nothing made sense any more: his career, his marriage, his success, his BMW, the cottage that he had just bought near Huntsville. He thought of his brother to whom he had not talked for nearly ten years because both of them were too busy, his brother who had become a stranger to him. He thought of his sister fighting a drug addiction alone in Vancouver. He started to cry and cry and cry, until the tears of sadness mysteriously became tears of joy. It was a joy like he had never experienced before. It came from a place inside of him that he didn’t know even existed.


Don came out of the hut. It had stopped snowing. The sky was full of stars that seemed so close that he could almost touch them. The thick and heavy snow that had fallen on the pine trees was sparkling under the moon and the stars. Don felt on his knees and started to laugh. Everything was so clear and simple now. Love is everything. That’s how he felt. He couldn’t explain where that feeling came from. It was beyond comprehension. It seemed even futile to try to comprehend what was happening to him. It was just there, like a gift. He doesn’t know how long he stayed there, under the stars, laughing and crying at the same time. He found some wood outside and went back inside the hut, made a fire in the old and rusty wood stove, and slept for a few more hours before heading back to the parking lot.


The memory of what happened to him on that mountain will fade away but it will never completely disappear. No matter what he is going to think or believe in the future, it will always be there to remind him of something. He will never be able to look at the world the same way. His values, what he considers right and wrong, his relationship with his wife and family, everything was transformed in a few hours. As so many human beings before him, who found peace and some sort of revelation in the solitude of the desert or a mountain, Don came back from that hiking trip a different man. He came back with a vision and a purpose.


Don is now driving back to Toronto. He’s thinking of his court case tomorrow. He has to defend the interests of a big corporation against a poor woman who is trying to get back what was legally stolen from her. Maybe he should change his career and become a public defender. He’s also thinking of how he could get back in touch with his brother and sister. He doesn’t know what he’s going to tell Bruce and Kevin when they’ll ask him about his hiking trip.

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