Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Natural High

There is something basic and primeval to mountains that appeal to the spiritual in man.  Mystics, seekers of inner wisdom and pilgrims searching for enlightenment have throughout human history made their way up the high places of the world where in the rarified air and the splendid isolation of mountain summits they sought the often elusive answers to the most vexing questions of life.

Of course, my family's brief Holy Week sojourn in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon province was more of a weekend vacation rather than a pilgrimage or spiritual journey.  But in between the thrills and squeals of the vaunted zip-lines and the zorbit rides, the high adrenaline rush of the buggy and ATV trails and the muscle aching challenges of the nature trails of Dahilayan in Manolo Fortich town, one does have plenty of down time to ponder, reflect upon and essentially "soak in" the unique ambiance of this mountainous hideaway.

Dahilayan is actually the home of a group of tourist resorts capitalizing on the cool climate, unique flora and fauna plus the spectacular scenery that can be found some 4,700 feet above sea level.  These resorts also promote eco-tourism and facilities geared towards the more extreme recreational activities like the already aforementioned zip-lines, ATV and zorbit rides.

Born and raised as a lowlander for most of my life, living at high altitude does have its unique surprises like being blasted by a wall of cold, freezing air every time I stumbled out into the open to watch the sun rise over the summits of the mountain peaks on the western horizon.  Or opening the door to a world of swirling, milky whiteness when, after a brief afternoon rain shower, the damp mountain fog suddenly descends to envelop  and hide everything in sight.

There is also the sudden, unexpected and alarming shortness of breath as one struggles to hike up the more steep nature trails as the thinner air, low temperatures and lower oxygen ratio of the mountain air takes its toll on unwary hikers and those whose age or physical conditioning may be less than optimum.  My mother, who is 75 years old, found this out the hard way when, after a night swim at a heated local outdoor pool she, could barely make it back to our lodgings and had to seek the assistance of the resort staff.

It is, however, in the quiet, early mornings just before dawn when the Dahilayan hills and mountains are, in my own experience, at their most beautiful and sublime. Standing before a stone wall bordering a precipice just outside our accommodations, I could only initially see with my mind's eye, in the murky and chilly pre-dawn darkness, what would be clearly visible in daytime beyond, below and above me as  a complete panorama of undulating valleys and hills bordered by far off mountain peaks.

Then the first spears of golden yellow and seemingly liquid light would shoot through the tops of the western mountains, the soft glow bathing the whole valley in front of me in soft amber hues.  The first to light up would be the tops of the pine trees that rim the hilltops around me followed by the hillsides with their neatly trimmed grass slopes terraced by dirt roads themselves buttressed by stone and concrete walls topped by wood fencing.

One is immediately seized by the illusion of being suddenly transported by magic to a faraway land in the more temperate climates, an illusion heightened by the feel of the soft, springy carpet of pine needles beneath one's feet as you trudge through the trees in the picnic area and breath in lungfuls of the thin, pine-scented and bitingly cold air.

In the mountains, one is dwarfed by the immensity of the scale of nature unlike in the lowlands and plains where man's creative genius and power of his technology lends false credence to the delusion that he is the master of the earth and everything within it.  From the summits of the world, however, he looks down and is instantly humbled and brought down to size by the swift and sudden realization of how puny and insignificant he and his creations really are in comparison to the immeasurable physical magnitude and grandeur of the universe displayed in all its glory before him..

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