I had been climbing for what seemed like days.
The mountain had seemed small at first, but it grew continually larger with each step I took along its steep terrain. It took me days to reach the top of the mountain, but it felt like it had taken me years. The climb had been gruelling and difficult, but now I was here, at the top of the mountain. I looked down at the world around me.
It seemed impossibly large, as if it could go on forever. That thought frightened me. I thought of how much further I had to go, of the downward climb that I had to make, and I was filled with a fear that took all the strength from my body. I slumped against a tree that was close by and smelled the scent of pine.
I closed my eyes and prayed. I don’t know who I prayed to, only that it was a reverent prayer, one filled with promises that I didn’t know if I could keep. After the immense climb, I wanted my journey to be over.
I heard someone nearby clear their throat. I opened my eyes and looked to where I had heard the sound. I saw a woman. She had bright red and gold hair that framed her face and brilliant brown eyes that were speckled through with more gold. She beckons me over with a cheerful wave of her hand.
I nodded to show that I had seen her. I wondered where she had come from. There had been no woman when I had first reached the top of the mountain and no forest either, yet there were trees that spread around her and beyond her.
When I approached her, the very air around her seemed to shimmer.
She looked up at me and the first thing I see is her eyes. When the light hits them, they seemed to shimmer like spun gold. I sense incredible warmth coming from her.
“Hiya!” She said. She motions for me to sit down.
When I do, I am entranced by different scents and smells. I am lulled in by lavender and I smell other scents like lemon and peppermint.
I take another look around us and I can make out the outline of trees, stretching high into the clouds. I can see the sunlight is coloured green where it filters itself through the leaves. I can see plains in the distance filled with flowers that lend more scentsations: rose and jasmine and neroli.
“I had no idea there was a forest at the top of this mountain.”
She lets out a laugh that’s like music. “Well of course you didn’t. You had to climb to the top first, didn’t you? If you could see the forest from down below, would that have brought you joy? Or would you have not climbed this mountain?”
“I probably wouldn’t have climbed it at all.” I said.
“Exactly. Life is like that sometimes. We take on that which is hard to do, but the reward at the end of it all if so much more than we thought possible. Don’t you agree?”
I nodded my head noncommittedly. I looked away for a moment, drawn by the breeze moving the flowers that surrounded us. I was sure they had not been there before. Then I looked back at the woman, she was handing me a cup of tea. It smelled of cinnamon, cloves and oranges. I closed my eyes and breathed it in.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
She took a moment to think of an answer, taking time to take a sip of her tea. “I am called many things. For today, you can call me Rachael.”
“Do you have more than one name?” I asked her.
My eyes were drawn upward to one of the trees. I saw birds with red feathers. A flock of cardinals were sitting in the branches where there had been none before. They were chirping and singing to us. The melody was very soft and lilting.
“Why does this land keep changing? There was not supposed to be a forest here, nor grass or flowers or birds…” I said.
“I don’t know, Angel.” Rachael gave me a kind smile. “Who knows why? But let’s enjoy it while we’re here. I don’t often get to just sit and relax, so this is lovely!”
Rachael smiled at me again and I felt only felt joy and warmth from her. A soft wind blew around us and citrus notes filled the air, lemon again with orange and grapefruit. It made me feel as if I was smelling sunshine.
“So why are we here?” I asked her.
“Well, does there need to be a reason?” She shrugged. “Why did you climb the mountain?”
I shrugged. “Because I had to. It was on my path where I needed to go. I didn’t know there would be a mountain in the middle of my path but I had to climb it.”
“Did you really have to? Or was there another way you could have taken?”
I thought about it. “I could have just gone around the mountain, but then I would not be able to see all of this.” I turned and motioned to the world far below me. “I would not have been able to see the world in this way.”
She put down her tea cup and joined her hand together. “You see? You did not know the reason when you started climbing, but you learned something about yourself. Life is often like that, teaching us lessons when we least expect it.”
I put down my own cup and watched as grass sprouted where our tea cups had been. From these two spouts of grass, more grass grew and soon, the whole forest floor was covered in an emerald green blanket. It was soft and cool as I ran my hands through the blades of grass.
“I don’t know how to move forward.” I said. “I’m afraid of climbing higher.”
Rachael gave me a sage look. “Oh, I don’t sense fear in you. Only immense courage and perseverance.”
I shook my head. “Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it.”
Rachael held out a hand and I took it. A plume of warmth ran up my arm at her touch. “Sometimes, life gets in the way of the good stuff. In every challenge, there is wisdom if we choose to see it.”
“What’s the wisdom in climbing to the top of a mountain?” I asked. “The climb nearly killed me. It took everything from me.”
“Well yes, but you did climb it. You didn’t give up or lose faith in yourself! And now you can look back at everything you’ve accomplished. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing ever?”
I sat there in the midst of a forest that shouldn’t be, talking to a woman that should not be here and reflected on what she said. If I had not climbed the mountain, I would not be experiencing this moment of joy and beauty. If I hadn’t climbed the mountain, I would not be seeing the world in a different way.
I gave her hand a squeeze. “Thank you.” I heard music in the distance and something about it called to me. “What’s over there?” I asked, making a vague gesture beyond the forest.
Rachael gave me a kind look and I was moved by how beautiful she was. “I don’t know. But, much like the mountain you’ve climbed, won’t it be an adventure to find out?”
“You have to find the joy in your life. What do you smell when you think of happiness? What does your idea of joy smell like? What does it sound like to you?”
I didn’t have to think about it. “I smell the scent of ink and paper. I can hear the sound of a pen dancing across the paper. That is joy to me.”
“Then go out into the world and find something to write about, won’t you?” She stood and helped me to my feet. “If that’s your joy, you have to share it with the world. Don’t keep those scents, those words, bottled up. You have to let them out to dance across the page.”
She walked with me to the edge of the forest. I walked beside her and when I broke through the trees, I was expecting to see the mountain that I had to climb down, the rocky terrain that I would have to scale to continue on my path forwards.
What I saw instead took my breath away. Instead of a rocky terrain, there were wide open fields of grass, dotted with trees and more flowers. Here was where the scent of jasmine, neroli and roses had come from. The meadow was a riot of colour.
I turned to Rachael, one of my eyebrows raised in a question I didn’t have the words to ask.
Rachael only smiled. “Sometimes the path forward is not the one we envision for ourselves, but the one that we find instead. Would you agree?”
“Good. Now, get going. Those stories won’t write themselves and you have so much more to see.” She touched a hand to my face and I was filled with warmth from the light of her.
I walked on a little ways, but looked back to where Rachael had been.
There was only a flower, a tall rose, standing in the sunshine. I turned away and, as I walked forwards, I wondered if the scent of roses had come from her.