Lilacs out of the dead land,
mixing Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
- The Wasteland, Edgar Allen Poe.
The second day of climbing eventuated in the helpless abandon of lush jungle hair in favour of a landscape more reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe's wasteland. Sticks and twigs resembled crippled knuckles and witches fingers. Trees grew into massive pitchforks and exploded into fists of aloe leaves. At ten foot tall they were doomed to death, according to our commander.
I made conversation with Whitey this day, intrigued by the 100-times-up-the-mountain-and-lost-count virtuoso. This job was his dream since he was 12 years old. He climbed for the first time when he was 18, without his parents blessing, and without a proper pair of socks. He didn’t have the money to make the trek as a tourist so he had to get a job as a porter to fulfill his ambitions. He froze and ached all the way to Uhuru with somebody else’s luggage and likely and ORYX can on his back. I wheezed under a 2 pound North Face backpack as he told me the stories of his strength and courage, and shrunk a little in my back straps. I wasn’t sure if it was an African thing or if he was just a much stronger human than I.
It was probably both.
Whitey’s not sure what his next dream will be, but he says he’s certain it will come.
I tend to think he’s right.
* * *
When we reached the last resting point that day, we could see our cabin hoisted above the rolling hills and valleys. It was perched atop massive, jagged red rock. It looked as if a transformer had ejected itself from the canyons to dominate them in the shadow of Uhuru's icy peak.
That night at mess hall I drank black tea with honey as bold rats with stripes like chipmunks played Russian Roulette across the floor. I couldn’t count how many there were, but enough to say a lot.
I tried to write some things in my green notebook but my pen stopped up and my fingers were themselves too frozen to defrost the ink. Commander Ernest took it in his palms and rolled it around softly, alternatively shaking it slowly.
“It’s too cold,” he said with ease.
I retired, thinking again of the hybrid rats. I hoped there were none in the V-shaped cabins where we spent the night in beds carved into the floorboards. Either way, I would have been to cold to fight them off, so I bundled in my fleece and cradled like a baby zipped in a parka.