20 thoughts on “Charlotte’s Mountain

  1. How else would we know we’re alive without these tests of the spirit, of our endurance, of discovering what we’re made of? I’m not particularly courageous, but I’ve been thrust into situations that required courage, and was tempered by the fire. Neither am I adventurous, but I love walking in the footsteps of those who have been.

    Roz Savage is the kind of person I could never be. I wish her God speed on her journey and will hope that the pirates are wherever she is not.

    I really, really love that poem. It’s perfect for this post.


    On the other hand, perhaps you’re the kind of person Roz Savage never could be!

    And of course, there’s always the matter of scale. Crossing the Indian Ocean is a pretty darned big deal, but I remember my first single-handed voyage in a sailboat and, qualitatively, it provided some of the same challenges and rewards I’ve read about in Roz’ writing. So it was a deserted Texas lake at dawn – I might as well have crossed an ocean.

    So many tests of courage don’t require a boat or a backpack, of course. Still, people like Roz make visible the qualities needed not only (in Faulkner’s words) to endure but to prevail. I’m sure that’s part of our fascination with them – we know they have important lessons to teach.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem. I enjoyed knowing Charlotte.


  2. Roz Savage is extremely brave and I wish her a safe journey! The poem is beautiful and a perfect fit for the post :)


    She is brave, and extremely level-headed. It’s interesting to read her thoughts on the pirates, and to see her coming to terms with the fact that she’s going to have to change her plans because of them. It’s almost as though she had to begin viewing pirates as just another force of nature, like the wind or the waves. If you’re going to cross an ocean you don’t get mad at wind and water, you prepare for them and cope with them. Same for pirates, I guess.

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked the poem!


  3. The poem made me cry – I’ve been touched by cancer in my life so it really resonated.

    I wrote a poem yesterday that is SORT of related – except that I wimped out, in the end.


    Charlotte’s death was my first experience of losing a friend. She was a cancer researcher who died of the same form of cancer she was working with. That’s the sort of circumstance that can make you pause – it certainly made her fellow researchers pause. Strangely, I don’t remember the precise nature of the disease. I remember only that it was a less usual form of cancer, and that none of us really cared to know more. I am glad the poem touched you – thank you for letting me know.

    I did go over and look around your blog. You must not have posted your related poem, because I didn’t see anything there that looked in the least bit wimpy. ;-)


  4. Thank you for this beautifully written and thought-stirring post. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of an incident that occurred many years ago when I was teaching a confirmation class at my former parish.

    There was a girl in my class who had dyed some of her hair a shade of violet or purple that I can’t identify by name. After mass one Sunday, two women approached me and asked me if I were going to “talk to Sarah” before the bishop came to administer Confirmation. “Talk to her about what?” I asked, knowing pretty well what they meant. “About the color of her hair.” “Oh,” I said. “Definitely. I do mean to talk to her about that. I have just been waiting for someone to show me where it is written that there is a right way and a wrong way to wear your hair.”

    I have often had to rein myself in when I begin to react cynically to someone who wants to reach beyond where I happen to be — whether that means wearing clothes that aren’t like mine or whether it means taking a rubber boat from New Jersey to Florida on the Intercoastal Waterway. Where is it written?

    Thank you again. I’m going to share your poem with my oldest daughter, who also is a poet — because she had the courage to do it.


    I’m smiling, because I think I know that color. I suspect it’s the same one preferred by a checker at our local grocery. She had favored metallic green for a time, but went back to indeterminate purple. It’s just so – classic.

    Your story reminds me of a little tale I told here, about my inability to keep laces tied on boat shoes. For years I listened to admonitions to “please tie those things”, along with dire warnings that I was only a step away from disability or death. The day came when I realized some things are problems while others are facts of life, and wisdom lies in being able to distinguish between the two. Once those shoelaces became a fact of life and not a problem, life was easier for me, if not for my local fuss-budgets. Obviously, Sarah’s hair fell into the “problem” category for your ladies.

    As for the ICW by dinghy – that’s its own kind of adventure, and no doubt rather different on the east coast than it would be here. I imagine more traffic there, and more facilities, but certainly no fewer complexities to navigate through.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, and thanks for passing it on. I’d been looking for a way to place Japan’s pain into a larger context, and it seemed appropriate.


  5. Whoa. There’s so much in here, Linda, that touches a chord. Chords. First — that question — why do you do it? I ask Rick that on a regular basis when he takes off on his bike for more miles than I even like to drive — especially after his crashes. Perhaps like Roz, he does it because he must. Like her, he is smart — does his best not to take unnecessary chances. He pushes himself in everything he does. Far more than I do. I prefer a gentler pace.

    I send Roz good wishes for her journey. I can visualize her, strong. Intrepid. She will need this strength, I think.

    Your poem. I’ve read that before in the book. It resonated then, and all the more now. When I first read it, it reminded me of my friend Patricia, of whom I have written on my blog. She was my first friend to die of cancer as well. A beautiful and free spirit, a role model to the max. Now as I read it, I think of a dear friend who will soon undergo surgery for a brain tumor. They say it’s most likely benign but in such a delicate part of the body. Her recovery will not be easy, regardless. It is her mountain. And because we all love her, we will walk the mountain with her as best as we can.

    Thank you for using my image from Japan with this post. It is a fine spot for it and I confess, it reminds me that the Japanese have quite the mountain to climb themselves.


    Your phrase resonates – “he does it because he must”. There’s no question people do experience “internal imperatives”. To be true to themselves, to their nature, to their calling, there are things they simply must do.

    Long before I knew Philippe Petit’s story, I knew his famous quotation: ““When I see three balls, I have to juggle, and when I see a wire, I have to walk.” Now and then, I wonder if each of us doesn’t carry inside us one or more of those imperatives, which we may or may not discover. It’s very easy to live in response to external demands and expectations rather than the demands of our nature. When someone suddenly moves from “external” to “internal” imperatives, it can register about a 10.0 on the relational Richter scale. ;-)

    As for the mountains of life.. I seem to have lost and need to find again a photo taken of me at about age ten. I’m atop my grandparents’ combination storm cellar and pantry, where all the products of summer canning were stored. I called it “the mountain”, even though it was perhaps six feet high at the summit. As mountains go, it wasn’t much, but it was mine to climb – which is precisely your point. I think of my mother, for example, for whom the process of getting through the day with reduced mobility can be a bit of a struggle. For me, going to the kitchen and making a pot of coffee is nothing. For her, it can be an hour-long task.

    In the end, perhaps, it isn’t the size of the mountain which is at issue, but the willingness to climb.


  6. Linda,

    These are beautiful and inspiring words for such a poignant experience. Compared to all the courageous mountaineers and adventurers, I’m a coward indeed… often worrying about the slightest hills. I’m glad for you too, a published writer and poet now… you yourself are one persevering climber. Thanks for the inspiration!

    On another note, Japan has to face a fourth disaster: economic. Manufacturers are planning to move out and the nuclear threat will continue to wreck the whole tourism industry. The family I know in Sendai has evacuated north to Hokkaido. But how safe is that if there’s a nuclear meltdown? There are just too many mountains to climb these days, all the more we need fellow hikers and walkers for the camaraderie and support. From porch to peaks, we’re all in it together, aren’t we?


    We are all in it together – a reality that was brought home in a very specific way when I responded to jeanie’s comment. When I went looking to be sure I was quoting Petit accurately, what should I find but my own comment on your post about “Man On Wire”, and your mention that you wrote that review partly in response to my essay called “Hanging by a Thread”. Busy little spiders we are, weaving this web. ;-)

    I do think it’s worth remembering there are forms of courage other than the obviously physical. A couple I know recently made the decision to move to home schoolling. They’re not ideologues of any sort, intent on protecting their children from the taint of modernist views. They simply are well-educated adults who find public school options unsatisfactory, and believe they can do better. I’m awed by their courage. Quite apart from the consequences of moving from two salaries to one, it is an unbelievable commitment – and certainly not an escape from bureaucracy and paperwork!

    As for Japan, you can add to your list concerns about the food supply. Eventually the distribution network will get worked out, but if releases continue, even land that escaped the tsunami will be suspect. On the other hand, I found this video of Hiroshima wildflowers recently. One day, flowers will bloom again in Sendai.


  7. I suspect we all have a Charlotte somewhere in our lives. Mine was a bit like Roz Savage in her willingness to venture into uncharted territory…but she outlived her prognosis by six years (I called her a Pirate Queen!).

    Reading your Charlotte’s story in your reply to The Bug reminds me how much cancer is a disease of irony. Arbitrary, cruel and a nasty, nasty grin. But without our Charlottes laughing back, how could the rest of us learn the true meaning of courage? How could we begin to climb our own mountains, however small?

    Your poem is a beautiful tribute to your friend. Somewhere, she is smiling…


    I think she is smiling. In fact, I’m convinced of it. But that, as they say, is the rest of the story, and I’ll save that for another time.

    I’ve never thought of cancer as a disease of irony, but of course it is. I’ve always acknowledged the irony of my own Dad’s death – five heart attacks before dying within three months of being diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer. We knew the stress of his work was involved with the heart attacks, but I’ve wondered in recent years if that same stress didn’t transform itself into cancer. After all, we ask people colloquially, “What’s eating you?” Who’s to say it isn’t more than simple irritation?

    In any event, we learn from it all and we trek on. Thank goodness there are those who are willing to cut a path.


  8. I’ve often wondered about the basis for the question ‘why?’ about adventure too…. I wonder how much of it is due to society’s desire for us to conform?

    I enjoyed the poem by the way, very moving.

    Crafty Green Poet,

    I’m not sure, about the conformity issue. It may be that non-conformists make those around them nervous or fearful – that they challenge assumptions. Or we may ask “why?” out of simple curiosity. Sometimes I bump into a person whose views or behavior I just can’t understand. Sometimes someone who’s been absolutely predictable does something so out of character I’m astonished, and I ask, “Why?”

    Of course, one of the hard lessons of life is that we often get one of two basic answers to the question “Why?” One answer is “Because”, and the other is “Why not?” ;-)

    I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. It made me happy to be able to capture a little of Charlotte.


  9. Linda,

    I remember that, when playing tag as a kid, I was what was termed a “home sticker”. I figured it made more sense to stay where you couldn’t be tagged as “It”.

    Now, despite living a life where, for the most part, I played it safe, I have little security. So it seems to me that playing it safe has all the insecurity of adventure without any of the fun.

    Your poem and post is inspiring me today when, as I wonder if I’m failing, I see that I continue to put one foot in front of the other, come up with different plans to help my daughter, and crack jokes in between this weekend’s setbacks.

    I think trusting the universe as our safety net is the way to muster the courage to climb a mountain and manage the fear of falling. Every time someone goes online and donates just what she or he can to the Japanese relief effort, the net is reinforced. When my brother texts me that I’m not alone, the net is reinforced. When your posts inspire, the net is reinforced.



    Well, just remember. It was putting one foot in front of the other that got Philippe Petit across that wire strung between the Twin Towers – eight times! – not to mention across all those other wires he’s strung up around the world. While it’s true he’s never worked with a physical net, what he has to say about safety nets is pretty interesting:

    “Seemingly, I’m crazy — a suicidal maniac. But you have to enter my world. I work for days, months and years to prepare. My safety net is much stronger than anything else in the world — it’s my preparation.”

    All of the things you mention – the texts, the jokes, the contributions, the posts, the simple fact of putting one foot in front of the other – are preparation for life, for what comes next. Even though we can’t predict what’s next, we can prepare for it by dealing with what is. Fun? Not always. But absolutely worthwhile.


  10. Many eons ago, Linda, I heard that the greatest adventurers of their day were young whipper-snappers who weren’t old/wise enough to know better. They didn’t understand words like NO or CAN’T or SHOULDN’T.

    Maybe we’ve gotten more daring with time, though I ‘spect there were plenty of them back then, too. Just last week Astrid and I watched The Wannabe Astronaut, a perfect example of a man who just HAD to fly his homemade rocket into outer space, against all the odds…and a family he loved who could lose him. Something about chasing dreams. They nag the dickens out of us until we finally say ENOUGH ALREADY and just do them.

    Some mountains are dreams, of course. Others are challenges. ‘They’ say…the ones who have studied the subject…using the right word is important. Challenges. I’m sure the philosophers and theologians are having a heyday right now with what’s happening in/to Japan, let alone the Middle East. I have all these tapes in my head that I’m challenged to obliterate from my past up-bringing. For every answer there are at least 10 more questions (like dear Yentl taught us!).

    Thank you for writing so passionately about Charlotte’s mountain. It’s a good springboard for just about anything I expect to hear today once I turn on CNN Int’l.


    I’ve seen the postings of some of those would-be philosophers/theologians who’ve been busy interpreting recent events, and there’s a lovely, old-fashioned word for their rantings, too. That word would be “clap-trap”. I’ll admit it can be interesting, in a perverse sort of way, to see the “blame the victim” game played out on a scale large enough to include whole nations or peoples, but still – enough, already.

    Your reference back to the “shoulds and oughts” makes me smile. Just last night someone mentioned that the official arrival of spring means we can wear white again, and drink Margaritas. Of course you know as well as I do that white only is allowed between Memorial Day and Labor Day! When I think of the layers and layers of rules that we “knew” to be true back in the 50s, I shake my head. Since so many of them dictated what a lady can and can’t do, it’s no wonder it took some of us a while to break free.

    On the other hand, there are just as many rules for living today, most of them implicit and so commonly accepted it can take effort to ferret them out.
    For example, there’s the rule that we must be connected electronically 24/7. Really? I hear people complain that their Facebook and Twitter accounts, texting and emailing are eating up their lives. Well, there’s an answer for that, and it’s not a smarter phone. ;-)

    And now I really am smiling. Apparently, even those of us who haven’t studied the subject have a sense of it. After all, look at the tagline I chose for my blog nearly three years ago and then slightly revised: “a writer’s on-going search for just the right word”.


  11. I love your pictures, and the poem. I hadn’t heard of Roz Savage’s rowing adventures – I cannot imagine the loneliness of rowing all alone across those vast empty seas, and the possibility of having to face pirates alone out there sounds terrifying to me! Sheesh she’s one tough lady.

    Good advice to just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll eventually get to the other side. I’m going to remember that.


    I was introduced to Roz when she began her first Pacific voyage, and followed along pretty closely. It’s too bad she’ll not be able to communicate so often or so directly this time, but reading about her previous rows is completely amazing. The wonderful thing is that she’s able to describe the experience itself and reflect on it in a way that makes it accessible to us.

    As for that one foot in front of the other business – it’s just so true. Of course, we probably should remember what Woody Allen said, too: “The longest journeys begin with a single step. The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity.” ;-)

    Thanks for stopping by. You’re always welcome!


  12. Applause for Roz. How courageous.

    I’m not much of an adventurer, but I’m surrounded by them. You make a good point about everyone being called to climb at one time or another. Of course, that’s a different sort of adventurer. They cope when it’s thrust upon them, but they don’t seek it. Those seekers are made of different stuff. I admire them, but I also admire those who cope and survive and even triumph when faced with adversity. You always make me ponder. Thanks.


    I think what makes Roz so compelling isn’t just that she rows around in that boat – as competent as she is courageous – but that she’s put her adventuring in the service of her ideals. You and I aren’t going to get in that boat, and probably not one of those who follow her travels will do such a thing. But there she is, saying, “But I don’t want you to go rowing. I want you to care about our oceans and do what you can to help keep them clean and alive. How about you stop using plastic bottles, for example?” Oh. Oops.

    As for coping with adversity – well, you and I both know how many forms that can take. Truth to tell, I might take the Indian Ocean over that little dust-up with C some weeks back. Funny how a mountain can pop up overnight, giving us no option but to dig around in the closet for the hiking boots!


  13. Arti is right, there do seem to be a lot of mountains to climb at the moment. but we do still live in world where there are poets. And pirates!


    Which raises an interesting question – plenty of poets have written about pirates, but I wonder if there’s been a pirate who was a poet? Or a poet who pillaged and plundered? We’ll put those on the list of things to be explored “some day”.

    Not only are there a lot of mountains to climb, they seem to be getting higher every time I turn my back. I think we should give abundant thanks for any peace and beauty that comes our way – it’s clear how quickly it can disappear.


    1. Andrew,

      That’s exactly right. I call it the “internal imperative” – once it led me to just BUY that “pearl of great price” and once it led me to quit a perfectly good job. To paraphrase the old saying, sometimes folks gotta do what folks gotta do! Anyone who’s missed the chance knows what misery it is.


  14. “Why do such a thing at all?”

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than forty years since astronauts first stepped foot on the Moon. And while plenty of people questioned the cost and risks of those missions, I suspect all watched in awe and cheered, either openly or privately.

    It wasn’t about real-world benefits, which few could have comprehended anyway. It was about setting a nearly impossible goal and then doing whatever it took to reach it. Such an accomplishment blurs the line between Us and Them, and brings people together. Your post illustrates that beautifully.

    1. bronxboy,

      It’s almost unimaginable that it’s been forty years. I still remember watching on tv that night, and then stepping outside to look at the moon. It was so hard to conceive that what we were watching on our screens actually was happening in real life. Now, I hardly can conceive that it was done with relatively primitive technology – which is just another reminder that the people count as much as the technology.

      I’ve been thinking about goal-setting recently. While it still is given lip-service, it’s been doing battle with “go with the flow” for a couple of decades, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. After all, sometimes the flow is headed down the drain. ;-)

  15. I’ve always admired those brave souls who choose to climb Denali, especially in the winter. The climb isn’t so much technical as weather bound, and in a matter of moments can easily turn deadly. But rowing the Atlantic was almost unbelievable to me; how can one survive it? Then I read that it’s been done many times before, which whet my palate for searching out other adventurers. Rox’s rowing experience was an inspiring read; couldn’t put the book down.

    1. Monica,

      After I began sailing, I developed a taste for books like “Fastnet: Force Ten”, descriptions of the best sailors in the world facing the worst conditions possible. I found myself thinking over and again, “How could they?” “Could I?” “Now what?” “What would I do?”

      Eventually, I got past the feeling I was rubber-necking at a twenty-car pileup and began to understand the appeal of the stories was the resiliance, creativity and persistence of the people involved. I think those are the qualities adventures nurture, and even the smallest adventure can do it.

      I remember, for example, my own mother after my father’s death, putting gas in the car for the first time in her life. That gas station might as well have been called Denali.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kindness of a comment. Your site’s delightful, with a link or two I intend to follow.


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