My two most memorable experiences of the summer just gone involved climbing. The first one to the monastery on Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry, Ireland and the second to the crater of Mount Vesuvius, Naples, Italy.
The climbs could not have been more different, one being on a small deserted island that looked like if it had just risen up from the ocean, the other on the slope of a dormant volcano overlooking one of the most populated bays in the Mediterrenean Sea.One started in the mist, the second ended in the mist that, in both cases, provided the right atmosphere with a timing that made you wonder if someone had orchestrated it all.
The journey to the island involved riding the waves in a small fishing boat off the coast of Kerry. The sea was choppy and I felt a bit apprehensive. Thankfully the skipper on the boat was an elderly, skillful Kerryman with a great sense of humor.
The drive up to the car park on Mount Vesuvius was also unnerving due to our minibus driver’s habit of overtaking cars on a narrow road full of blind bends. At the back of the bus there were four of us sharing three seat belts.
On Skellig Michael I wondered about the monks who made their home here, sustained by very little but a deep faith.
Climbing the rock was an act of faith in itself, your attention constantly deflected by the breathtaking landscape, the vegetation and the many hundreds of birds nesting on it.
On Vesuvius the climb was made difficult by the unstable terrain, a kind of slippery gravel made of lava and other volcanic rocks, and by a very intense heat.
So I climbed, all the while hoping that I would be nearly there. I climbed and wondered why I had started off in the first place. Up and up I went pulled forward by a feel of internal pride, a bet with myself that I would get there, by the promise of some reward that was waiting for me just at the top of those few steps or around the next bend.
In the enclave of Skellig Michael’s monastery I sat on a stone at the entrance to one of the beehive huts while a wave of deep emotion swept over me, just as a ray of sun peeped out from the clouds.
On Vesuvius I stood at the edge of the huge crater. I looked down into it in absolute awe of its grandeur, majesty and power as the mist surrounded the top, engulfing everybody in a surreal world.
Reaching the top made me realize how similar the physical journey is to the creative process. The essential part of it, the real experience is to be found on the ‘going up’. Once you have arrived and reaped your reward what you are most likely to reflect on is how you got there and soon after that, where you’ll go next. The creative spirit, like any genuine explorer, doesn’t content itself with reaching a destination. What it really wants is to experience a new journey all over again and to keep going.