I am lying on Buck’s Ledge, feeling the curve of the earth in the sun-warmed rock beneath my back. Here and there, in the crevices of the granite, enough soil has accumulated for patches of soft moss to grow, and I am resting my head on one of these, while my heels are braced lightly against a small outcropping of rock.
If I turn my head I can see, inches from my eyes, three different varieties of moss. I search lazily through my mental catalog to see if I can name them all, but I can only remember that the tallest one, with its delicate stalks tipped with brilliant red, is called something like British soldier moss.
It is summer, and I have climbed Moody Mountain to see if the blackberries are ripe, and if perhaps I might see a deer or even a moose in the cool, swampy spot behind the ledges that never quite goes dry, even in August. But there are no deer trampling the dark mud today, and no moose, and if there were any ripe blackberries, a bear has gotten here before me and cleaned them out, leaving behind black scat that is pebbled with seeds.
I don’t mind, because really, I came here to do just what I am doing, to lie on the bare rock that is like a portion of the earth’s skeleton exposed, closing my eyes so that I can feel the motion of the planet turning, and opening them to look at the dome of the sky stretching over me and down to the horizon.
As a child, I believed that our world—a sphere, as I understood it to be from the globe my older brothers kept in their bedroom and sometimes referred to for their geography homework—existed inside of another, bigger sphere. I imagined that this larger globe was made of something like opaque blue glass, for it was clear to me that when I looked up at the sky, I was seeing the surface of something blue and solid. All of our weather, I reasoned, took place inside this blue sphere. The sun shone or was obscured by clouds; rain or snow or sleet fell from weather systems that moved about just beneath the impermeable layer that imprisoned our world, or shielded it from what lay beyond.
What lay beyond, I thought most of the time, was probably Heaven, the Heaven I heard about at Sunday school, where the boss of Heaven, God, lived and ate and slept and walked around like a regular person, where I would go after I died—if I was at least pretty well-behaved—and where I would get a chance to meet my father, who was an angel, for the first time and see if, as people told me, I really looked like him.
At times I wasn’t so sure about Heaven—who, after all, could prove it was up there? At those times I imagined what was beyond the blue glass to be nothingness, dark and scary and perhaps filled with a whooshing, screeching cacophony of noise.
By the time I was old enough to climb up to Buck’s Ledge alone, I was old enough to know something about the solar system and the galaxy and the effect of light coming through the earth’s atmosphere, making the sky appear blue. I had a rudimentary understanding—although quite possibly a clearer understanding than I have today—about the difference between the body and the soul, the physical and the spiritual, and that Heaven wasn’t a place just above the blue glass where people continued their lives as if they had never been interrupted by death.
Still, whenever I climb the mountain and lie against the curving ledge, and look at the sky—which is not only above me, but all around me, on all sides of the mountain-top—it is easier to believe in the comfortable solidity of a protective layer that safeguards me from the unknown, than to force my mind to bend itself around the notion of uncharted space and infinite distance.