This time, the trail looked familiar. The distance from one turn to the other seemed closer after several trips in the past ten months. He felt once again the surge of distinct cool air from all directions. He breathed deeply to capture the rare freshness of the mountain. His body started to heat up after fifteen minutes of walking and his flesh-colored cotton shirt was soaked with flowing sweat.
The protruding roots of the old tinikaran trees along the trail bothered him no more. His footsteps were perfectly released and he trusted the grip of his old rubber shoes as he continued to walk briskly towards the base of the stiff mountain side trail.
Jose made the decision to climb this mountain only three days ago. He wanted to spend time again in his favorite spot near the lake just below the famous peak. This secluded place had become his hideaway recently. He needed the quietness and serenity of the place. With so many lingering thoughts in his mind in the past few weeks, Jose decided finally to climb. The thought of being back once again in the heart of this living mountain made Jose smile as he reached the base of the stiff hillside.
He looked up and surveyed the route that slowly vanished on the alternating tree lines near the hilltop. He checked his heart beat, his normal ritual before making a major uphill ascend. The heart beat was normal although he heard the strong pounding in his chest. Jose stretched his legs twice and moved upward for the ascend. After few hard and long strides, his thoughts wandered again to the place by the lakeside.
The heat of the afternoon sun increased every minute but with the thick clouds hanging over the trees and cold mountain breeze hugging the ground, the sun’s glow lost its scourging heat. Jose observed the breath-taking scene around. The eight-year old tinikaran trees were growing fast and ten years from now this place will be a real forestland. Footprints of wild animals were already observed by forest guards, a promising sign of animal life returning back after a big forest fire ten years ago which destroyed most of the original tinikaran trees. At 2,410 meters above sea level, Jose noticed an unfolding heavenly refuge.
On the far edge of the western cliff just before the rolling slopes of wild trimmed bushes and millions of golden brown tops of tinikaran trees, the medium built body of Jose appeared. He circled the last few steps around the rock boulders and pushed his legs faster so as not to prolong the pain building up in his hard-pressed thighs after 35 minutes of steady cliff hill climb. Standing now on the hilltop and breathing heavily, Jose pulled down his eight kilogram back pack and reach out the bottle of water on the side pocket. Perspiring profusely, he realized, as he glanced on his wristwatch, that he failed to meet the time he set for himself to reach this spot. “I think I am getting old now,” he silently told himself. He then carelessly sat on the soft green cogon grass to ease up the leg pain. While sitting Jose noticed the remaining dews hanging on the edge of a fern leaf on his left side. His hand moved and touched the hairy stalk of the fern and there and then he felt the sensual ecstasy rising. The delicate natural formation of the fern’s leaves once again fascinated his childish curiosity.
The voices of Jose’s four companions cut short his rest. They are now approaching the top hill and in few minutes they will reach the spot where Jose rested. Jose stood up, waved to Kiking, who was in front of the 4-man pack, and moved ahead in high spirit knowing that the lake is just three turns away from the fireline which crisscrossed the foot trail.
It was there. How can Jose forget the joy of the first encounter of this lovely spot. The placid lake water offered a magical spell. The blue sky was magnificently mirrored on the lake’s calm waters. And the famous peak was clearly reflected on its crystal waters. “This is like coming home,” Jose uttered to himself. As he walked towards the nearby bunk house, his mind drifted to the memories of the past, the thoughts of his fears and doubts as a child and the critical decision to make in his job. Seeing the bunk house in front of him, Jose emptied his mind of all concerns. All he wanted at this moment was to lie down on his nylon hammock. He wanted it badly, the soothing sway of the hammock, just like what it used to be when he was still a child.
The lunch was quick. And when the special forces of the Philippine Army that patrolled the area two days ago left, Jose took a long nap on his hammock hanged on the bunk house’ cozy veranda. It was the best part of the climb for Jose. Worldly concerns left him temporarily as he slept soundly on that lazy afternoon at the heart of the great mountain.
At 6:30 in the evening Jose sat down on the small wooden stool in front of the fireplace. The temperature inside the bunk house was dropping fast. Sitting in front of the fireplace had become a ritual for all climbers who stayed in this bunkhouse. The heat of the burning woods calmed the trembling hands and feet of Jose and he felt the warm comfort returning back . Every 10 or 15 seconds, Jose shifted his legs from right to left to spread out the soothing effect of the fire’s heat on his body. With two hands clasped together near his breast, Jose moved his face and upper body closer to the flames and glowing burned twigs. While sitting on the wooden stole Jose’s thoughts drifted back to the thrilling nights of story-telling with his grandfather in the remote farm where he grew up.
He took the last gulp of his morning coffee and stood up. Its 5:15 in the morning. The night before went well for Jose. He opened the bunk house door and went outside in time for the rising sun on the eastern side of the peak. The first gush of chilling wind struck his face and it reminded him that its time for a holy encounter.
Jose walked towards a clearing 50 meters above the bunkhouse. The cold morning dews soaked his shoes with cold waters. Jose’s hand gloves were icy wet after wading off the tall grasses along narrow trail. He reached the spot in time for the full rising sun. With concentration, Jose fixed his sight on the peak’s edge line and observed the increasing light on the background. In an instant succession, the bursting light appeared, engulfing the whole horizon. At that moment Jose felt the sudden release of energy all around. Flickering light rays of the morning sun were dancing on every leaf, the treetops swayed with the changing colors from golden brown to silvery white, and the sky instantly open up with infinite clarity. Jose embraced in silence the life force which only his heart can understand.
The encounter was brief but Jose knew it will be etched in his memory forever. The fleeting experience reminded him of the foolishness of man’s pride and arrogance. The heavenly power and wisdom that sustained this daily miracle was simply beyond human comprehension. But Jose realized in that encounter an overflowing love in action for all mankind. For Jose, the encounter was enough to last a lifetime.