The mountains were not yet free from snow, but Spring was in full bloom, and there was a great desire in me to escape the turmoil of the city: to breathe the pure air of the mountains and see the rising of the sun over the snowy peaks in the first light of dawn.
I boarded a bus from San Francisco -- it was not yet dawn -- and I arrived in the little hamlet late in the afternoon. Finding a hospitable small hotel, I soon ate a light meal and retired a short time later. I wanted to get an early start -- before dawn -- into the mountains.
In the cold first light of dawn I awoke, being aroused by a motorist also getting off early. I arose and looked out the rear window. The shadows of night were fleeing before the approaching sun and the dawn was breaking before me. In a grand array stood the mountains in their majesty, reminding me of the early settlers and their laborious treks through the vast mountains that stretched before me: they did all this to reach the beauty of the glorious Pacific Ocean and the Garden of Eden of the California coastland.
Soon I procured a light breakfast and way on my way. I wandered up through the valley along the side of a stream rushing and dancing wildly over the rocks. The valley I was following cut through the range of mountains, and other valleys opened into it.
This range was not unknown to me, for I had roamed through those mountains and explored their mysterious recesses, caves and caverns before. There were also many wooded draws; and there was one mysterious valley, which I had not explored, in the direction of a high mountain peak.
The summit of that mountain was, for some reason, shunned by mountain climbers. The mountain was only a little higher than the rest of the surrounding range, but it seemed to stand out from amongst the other peaks.
On this bright and sunny morning I seemed to be drawn toward this valley and the mountain peak by some invisible but irresistible power. It seemed that this mountain held the secret of life for me or at least the fulfillment of an undefined longing of my heart: were it to be satisfied, it would be on that mountain. There the answer to the mystery, which I had not found in all my searching would be revealed to me.
The sun had not risen in the valley, and the dark woods to the right and left were uniform in color. As I entered the narrow, mysterious valley, the path rose, leading through a dark forest along the side of the mountain. Slowly and patiently the sun ascended, and the forest became thinner and fell far below me as I climbed. Above me rose naked cliffs, with only a scattering of trees at their base. Still the path led up higher. In the distance was the sound of a waterfall, which looked like a wild confusion of giant rocks with foaming water rushing between them.
My path led upward, near the riverbed. It wound in and out of the giant rocks and finally descended to the bottom of ravines formed by melting snow. Thus, deeper into the mysterious valley I was led, and the sunrise appeared on the cliffs above.
A mild breeze swept through the tops of the trees and the foliage of the birch trees, with which the pine forest was sprinkled, whispered in the morning breeze. The only other sound was that of a titmouse and an occasional cry of a hawk, rising in long-drawn notes as he spiraled high in the air to look for food.
Looking back, I saw how the valley widened. Far below could be seen the river as it wandered toward the plains. Then, as the sun started to rise higher, I continued my way up the valley, which was now narrowing between the white crags of the summits. I gazed up at some of their highest pinnacles, and they seemed to merge into the blue above, as though they had a spiritual halo about them.
It was then that a strange phenomenon occurred. As I looked ahead, the valley seemed to fade away as it rose. It was just as though I was looking upon the lowlands and there were no mountains beyond. Then my attention was drawn to two spiral black rocks, one on either side of the valley, that stood like two sentinels at the entrance to an ancient cavern or cave. I stopped and looked for a few moments, for I was sure that this range of mountains continued on beyond.
Was this the secret, the mystery, which had kept so many mountain-climbers and explorers away from the peak which drew me so mysteriously?
I studied the form of the Sierra Madre Mountains around me. They looked windblown, as if rain had beaten on them and frozen them in most fantastic shapes. I recalled that this part of the range was called Red Beard, or the Crown Sceptre. My gaze was attracted to the evidence of destruction during many winters -- the fallen corpses of grand old trees whose roots had been torn from the shallow soil. They lay barkless and bleached like so many skeletons, limbs stretched toward the heavens and the rising sun, as if they were raising their arms toward the Light-Giver as he beamed down on them, while moss and parasites were feeding upon the substance of their dead hulks.
All around me, at the same time, stood the evidence of life and the changing of seasons. Pines again were taking on their deep green while clinging moss still showed the reddish color attained the Fall before. And in the caverns and cliffs there lingered patches of snow and ice from many past winters.
After enjoying this view of Nature's cycle of life, I continued a short way up the stream. The waterfall, I knew from its sound, was a short distance away. But, here again, I felt the increase of something hard to explain -- a force which spread across the valley as though the sun had increased its power. But it was in front of me, not from the sun above. Something that was emotionless but full of life became more prevalent as I walked toward a space that looked like an opening in the valley.
I was now within a few feet of the place between the two great sentinels. I wanted to go ahead but it was difficult to proceed. As I drew near to the sentinel rocks, the valley ahead finally disappeared completely, although the stream still rushed toward me. Imagine my consternation at seeing a stream coming from space -- from nowhere -- and tumbling down to the valley floor!
I sat down and thought a few moments about what was holding me back. Maybe this was the mystery: maybe this was the home of some Master Teacher or of some great mystics. If I passed between the sentinel rocks, would I fall off the precipice or would I still be on the cavern floor? Then my reason told me that if the stream was flowing down the hill, it certainly was coming from somewhere.
And I had made up my mind before I came on this search that I would reach the mountain top and learn the secret of the mysterious mountain.
I also realized that if whoever had created this block, or illusion, wanted to destroy me, he could do it where I was then standing as well as farther on. So I arose and walked toward "nothing."
I passed between the two black rocks, and the "nothingness" itself disappeared! There before me again was the valley through which I had been traveling. And to my utter astonishment, the once fast flowing stream became a large and quiet pool, with a pleasant grassy island near one shore. There were several pine trees at one end of the island and many wildflowers and ground plants all over its surface. Deciding to rest, I sat down under the pine trees and listened to the murmur of the stream as it came down to the pool. I was not tired, but I fell asleep.
I don't know how long I slept, but the sound of a laugh close beside me abruptly brought me to my waking consciousness. Looking up, I saw by my side one of those half-idiotic human beings known as dwarfs.
I was somewhat surprised and startled and not a little annoyed at his unwelcome intrusion and asked, rather curtly, "What do you want?"
A broad grin passed over the face of the dwarf as he answered, "My Master said I should guide you to him."
Astonished as I was by his answer, I realized that the dwarf probably was an idiot and I therefore could not expect an intelligent answer.
I asked again, "Who is your Master?"
And he answered, "The Master, my Teacher."
"I follow Christ."
As he spoke, his face lit up and eyes shone; he was happy at the thought of leading someone to his Master.
I attempted to ask more questions to find out who his Master was, but to no avail. He merely grinned and repeated what he had said before. I finally decided to follow him and see how the adventure would end.