There wasn’t a whole lot to do while I was growing up in Elko, Nevada. On Friday and Saturday nights, most of the town’s major players would drive to the Alberton’s parking lot and then stand in it. Sometimes someone would break a bottle and the pleasant, destructive tinkling would get everyone all revved up for a second.
After a while, everyone would go home. If you’re wondering , Epic, Grandiose Adventure, and The Secret Of Everlasting Life are all spelled E-L-K-O.
I spent a lot of time wondering if there might not be more to life than the asphalt bordering a local grocery store.
The town was nothing special at street level. In fact, sometimes it was hard to walk around at street level without getting something thrown on you from the cars on State street.
I often went hiking. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. One afternoon, I decided to attempt a solo ascent of Elko Mountain. It was a big ugly hill with a whitewashed E up top and was the opposite of a treacherous climb.
Eventually, I flopped down at the top and looked at the town. The altitude greatly improved the appearance. From up here, the whorehouses and casinos just looked like more buildings. The roads even shimmered a little bit, and I couldn’t see any of the potholes.
It was actually pretty. I watched the cars snaking in and out of the hills. So many people. Each car on the highway with someone behind the wheel. And in that person’s head dwelt a history, memories, dreams of tomorrow, worries of today. More life in the town than the census could ever account for.
Every brain contained a universe. Every body contained a beating heart.
Here, up above it all, I had nothing but fond feelings for the place. I felt like a fly on a massive wall, privy to things that are trod underfoot and ignored at street level.
If everyone could get up here, maybe they’d stop complaining, I thought. But who’s brave enough to climb all the way up here? Only I would dare. Only I–
A bird cried out above me. I looked up and shielded my eyes. Far, far above me, a tiny dark V wheeled in the air. And suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was up so high anymore. For all I could tell, that bird was a mile away.
I got out my journal and started writing.
I wondered what a bird with a human mind might think of the scene I had been observing. Then I wondered how much higher a bird could fly. Then I wondered if a bird could still fly if it had to support the weight of a human head. An ostrich could, but they don’t fly.
I saw a tic on my leg and wondered if Lyme disease would be painful. Then I wondered if an ant was dropped from a great height, would it die, or are ants light enough to float down safely from any altitude? And then I wondered if I’d ever get to see Haley’s Comet, and I have no idea where that one came from, but it’s in my journal.
And these are apparently the sorts of thoughts a person has on top of Elko Mountain.
But I never forgot that bird. I’m not sure what the point of this is, except that there is always someone higher, and someone lower, and high and low are terms that can be as abstract or concrete as you want them to be.
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