Columnist Paula Morris: In Honor of the Four Lost on The Mountain

by Paula Morris 

It’s been nearly three weeks now since four climbers ventured up Mt. Rainier and were lost.

My hope and that of their families and friends is that by some miracle they found a way to survive and we will see them coming down the mountain alive and well.

After reading the Mountain News article of February 2 about these still missing climbers, my thoughts went to a poem, one of my favorite, by Adrienne Rich from a book of poetry entitled:  “The Dream of a Common Language.”

I think what made me love this poem in the first place was the fact that it testified to the driving passion that some exhibit in pursuing their dreams despite the risk to themselves.

I offer this as a testimony and to honor the four who risked everything and hope above hope that I am wrong, and they are found.

Elvira Shatayev was the leader of a women’s climbing team, all of whom died in a storm on Lenin Peak, in August of 1974.  Her husband found and later buried the bodies.  Here is the poem:

PHANTASIA FOR ELVIRA SHATAYEV

The cold felt cold until our blood

grew colder    then the wind

died down and we slept

If in this sleep I speak

it’s with a voice no longer personal

(I want to say    “with voices”)

When the wind tore our breath from us at last

we had no need of words

For months   for years   each one of us

had felt her own “yes”   growing in her

slowly forming    as she stood at windows   waited

for trains   mended her rucksack   combed her hair

What we were to learn   was simply   what we had

up here   as out of all words   that “yes”   gathered

its forces   fused itself   and only just in time

to meet a No of no degrees

the black hole   sucking the world in

I feel you climbing toward me

your cleated bootsoles leaving   their geometric bite

colossally embossed   on microscopic crystals

as when I trailed you in the Caucasus

Now I am further

ahead   than either of us dreamed   anyone would be

I have become

the white snow packed like asphalt by the wind

the women I love   lightly flung   against the mountain

that blue sky

our frozen eyes unribboned   through the storm

we could have stitched that blueness   together   like a quilt

You come (I know this)   with your love   your loss

strapped to your body   with your tape-recorder   camera

ice-pick   against advisement

to give us burial in the snow   and in your mind

While my body lies out here

flashing like a prism   into your eyes

how could you sleep   You climbed here for yourself

we climbed for ourselves

When you have buried us   told your story

ours does not end   we stream

into the unfinished   the unbegun

the possible

Every cell’s core of heat   pulsed out of us

into the thin air   of the universe

the armature of rock beneath these snows

this mountain   which has taken   the imprint of our minds

through changes elemental and minute

as those we underwent

to bring each other here

choosing ourselves   each other   and this life

whose every breath   and grasp   and further foothold

is somewhere   still enacted   and continuing

In the diary I wrote:  Now we are ready

and each of us  knows it   I have never loved

like this   I have never seen

my own forces so taken up and shared

and given back

After the long training   the early sieges

we are moving almost effortlessly in our love

In the diary as the wind began to tear

at the tents over us   I wrote:

We know now we have always been in danger

down in our separateness

and now up here together   but till now

we had not touched our strength

In the diary torn from my fingers I had written:

What does love mean

what does it mean  “to survive”

A cable of blue fire ropes our bodies

burning together in the snow   We will not live

to settle for less   We have dreamed of this

all of our lives.

 1974

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6 Responses to Columnist Paula Morris: In Honor of the Four Lost on The Mountain

  1. gkcclc says:

    I shared this with our Happy Wanderers and Susan Menger replied: This poem is stunning, Thanks for sharing

  2. gkcclc says:

    We were on snow shoes in Paradise Monday with high winds but it was a day with beautiful clear skies. Every time I saw a bump in the snow I wondered where they were.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      I can imagine. Every time I look at the Mountain I say to myself – They’re four people up there, somewhere. Whew.

      • Farold says:

        Thanks, Daniel and Victor! We found snow up at Paradise on Mt Rainier. There’s several feet there (and a few more inechs fell while we were shooting!). The deer were also in the park

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    I hope the families hold a ceremony at Paradise for the four missing climbers, soon. Not a “goodbye,” per se because they may want to hope against all hope – continuing to pray for a remarkable outcome – but perhaps some acknowledgment of grief and mourning – some way to set the Mountain straight so that visitors and snow shoers can play and hike and not think that every bump in the snow contains a body. I think the public needs some kind of ritual to balance the doubts, wonderings and sadness.

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