The Girl Who Went Up A Mountain

2779 words (about 10 minutes to read)

For years, I've told my kids bedtime stories. Not ones from a book, these were created in-the-moment, often with nothing more than a single word, in this case: “stars”.

There once was a little village that lay in the heart of a small valley, next to deep blue lake. In the village were a dozen families that had lived in the valley for as long as anyone could remember. The village had all they ever needed: bakers who made bread, carpenters who made chairs and beds, weavers who made cloth and seamstresses who made clothes, and of course, the farmers who grew the food and raised the animals.

The people were happy, though every day for them was short and busy. You see, the valley was surrounded by tall mountains that blocked the sun from shining down except for a few hours a day. The morning came late, and the evening came early. The sun shone more on the mountains than it did inside the valley. The villagers watched as the sun slowly crept down one side of the valley, shone across the floor, and then up the other side. And then they would watch as the shadow would start at the top of the mountain, down across the valley, and up the other side. The sky above stayed blue long before the sun rose and long after the sun set.

No-one ever came to the valley, and no-one ever left.

In this valley lived a young girl named Lumi. She had long, light brown hair, bright green eyes, and always wore a light blue dress. She loved to run, and laugh, and play with her friends. She had a rocking horse, a leather ball, a stuffed bear, and three books that she read again and again and again. Her parents were both farmers, and spent their short days out in the family's huge field with their horses, ploughing long troughs for seeds, and harvesting all kinds of vegetables.

One day, when she was old enough, Lumi's father asked: “Lumi, would you like to come out and help us in the field?”

Lumi leapt up from her book, and said: “Yes, I would, Father!” She ran out the door and stepped into the field, and stopped.

“What's the matter, Lumi?” asked her mother.

Lumi was gazing way out into the vast brown plain. It seemed to go on without end. She knew there was a stone fence at the back of the farm, but she couldn't see it. “The field…,” Lumi breathed, “it's so big!”

“Yes, it is! We have to grow a lot of food to help the village,” explained her mother.

“But … how do you farm something this huge?” asked Lumi. She had seen her parents working in the field many times, but hadn't really understood how they did it. “I can't even imagine starting!”

“Well, you can't plant the field all at once, silly,” said her father, tussling her hair. “You do it one part at a time. We plough the field, turning it over. Then we sow the seeds. And then every day, we water and weed until we have something to pick. When you do it in small pieces, it's not so bad.”

“Oh,” said Lumi, still a little confused.

“Come, honey, we'll show you,” said her mother, and they went off into the field.

Lumi worked all day, helping carry water from their well, and pulling the tangly weeds. They stopped only once, for a quick sandwich when the sun was high in the sky. They worked until the last of the sun disappeared from the far mountaintop, and the valley started to get dark again.

That night, over dinner, Lumi asked her parents: “Where does the sun set?”

“It sets behind the mountain,” they replied.

“What's behind the mountain?” asked Lumi.

“Where the sun sets,” they replied.

“But what else is behind the mountain?” asked Lumi.

Her parents looked at each other. They had never thought to ask the question, nor had any of their friends or neighbours. “We don't know,” they replied.

One day a year later, Lumi's mother suggested that since Lumi had been so helpful in the fields, that they could take a day and have a picnic at the lake. Lumi thought this was the best idea she'd ever heard, and couldn't wait. They packed a picnic basket, and went down to the lakeshore.

After they'd had a wonderful lunch of apples, cheese, bread, and sausage, Lumi's father asked: “Would you like to go for a swim in the lake?”

“Yes!” said Lumi, and ran down to the water without another word. She ran into the water, her dress still on, until the water was up to her waist, and she stopped. Then she ran back out.

“What's the matter, Lumi?” asked her father.

“The lake is so big and deep!” she said, shivering slightly.

“Of course it is,” said her father. “What's wrong with that?”

“How could I ever swim in it?” she asked. Lumi knew how to swim, but the little pond on their farm was nothing like the huge lake.

“One little bit at a time, “ smiled her father. “Why don't you swim from here to that rock over there?” he asked, pointing to a huge boulder a little way down the shore.

“Okay,” said Lumi slowly, and she went down to the water, got back in, and swam all the way to the boulder. She climbed up on top of it, and jumped up and down, shouting: “Look! I did it! I swam in the lake!”

“I'll bet you can swim all the way back, and then out to that log!” said her father, pointing out into the lake to a large log that floated near the shore. Lumi jumped back into the lake, and swam all the way without stopping once.

One day, a year later, Lumi was helping bring in some firewood under the brightening morning sky. She looked out towards the mountain where the tip was starting to glow from the sun.

“Mother,” she asked, “where does the sun rise?”

“It rises from behind the mountain,” said her mother, starting the fire in the oven.

“What's behind the mountain?” asked Lumi.

“Where the sun rises,” answered Lumi's father.

“But what else is behind the mountain?” asked Lumi.

“We don't know,” they replied.

So Lumi asked her friends. None of them knew, either. None of their parents knew. The baker didn't know, the carpenter didn't know, nor did the weaver or the seamstress. No-one knew.

“I want to see the sun rise,” said Lumi one day at lunch. “And I want to see it set.”

“You watch it every day!” said her father.

“No, I mean a real sunrise and sunset. Where the sun meets the horizon!” said Lumi.

“But that's the horizon,” said Lumi's mother, pointing at the tops of the mountains all around them.

“That's the top of the mountain,” said Lumi. “I want to see where the sun rises and sets beyond that.”

“Oh,” said her parents.

After a moment, Lumi stood up. “I'm going to climb a mountain!” she declared.

“Oh,” said her parents.

“Well, that's a long, hard trip,” said her father.

“Then I'd better bring a sandwich!” said Lumi, and went into the house.

She came out of the house a few minutes later, dressed with a sweater, long pants, her boots, and a hat. She slung her father's sack over her shoulder, which bulged with a blanket, a full waterskin, a sandwich, and her stuffed bear. She smiled at her parents, and set off for the tallest mountain, which sat at the south end of the valley.

By the time Lumi arrived at the tallest mountain, the sun had already set on the west side of the valley. She looked up at the mountain and saw that it was much, much bigger than she had remembered. It loomed over her. She stopped. From her home, the mountain seemed not so … “huge,” she said to herself. She stared at it for a long while, then turned, and slowly walked home. It was very dark by the time Lumi got home, and her parents were surprised to see her.

“What happened?” asked Lumi's mother. “Did you see the sunset?”

“No,” said Lumi, sadly. “I can't climb the mountain. It's too big.”

“Do you remember the first time you helped us in the field?” asked Lumi's father.

“Yes,” replied Lumi. “It was fun!”

“But you were scared of it. You thought it was too big to farm,” said her father.

“I remember,” nodded Lumi.

“You're out there every day, hoeing, watering, and harvesting. Does it seem so big now?” asked her father.

“No, it's a lot of work, but it's not that big,” laughed Lumi.

“Do you remember the first time you swam in the lake?” asked Lumi's mother.

“Yes,” replied Lumi. “It was fun!”

“But you were scared of it. You thought the lake was too big and too deep,” said her mother.

“I remember,” nodded Lumi.

“You swim across the lake nearly every week. Does it seem so big now?” asked her mother.

“No, it's a lot of work, but it's not that big,” laughed Lumi.

“It's the same thing with a mountain,” said her father. “It just looks big. You just have to climb it a bit at a time.”

Lumi nodded. “I understand. I'll try again tomorrow.”

The next day, shortly after the sun reached the top of the western side of the valley, Lumi left her house again, dressed in her sweater, long pants, boots, and hat. She had her father's sack over her shoulder, which had the blanket, two full waterskins, and three sandwiches. She left her stuffed bear sitting in her bedroom window to watch.

The sun was high by the time Lumi reached the tallest mountain at the south end of the valley. She looked up again at the mountain and saw that it was still much, much bigger than she had remembered. It still loomed over her. She stopped. Then she looked down, ahead of her. She could see a kind of path that led up the side. “This,” she said confidently, “is where I'll start.”

She climbed the path up the side until the path stopped. She looked down. She hadn't climbed very far. She looked up, and the mountain still seemed huge. Then she saw a set of holes that covered the side of the mountain. She put her hands and feet in them, and started climbing up. She climbed up and up and up.

When the holes stopped, Lumi found herself on a small ledge. She sat down, pulled out her first sandwich, and ate it hungrily. She looked about and saw that she had climbed a long way up. The valley floor seemed a long way beneath her. The sun was starting to set on the western edge of the valley. She could still see the stone walls that cut up the valley into the farms, including her own. The field seemed … smaller. And beyond it, she could see the lake. The lake was smaller, too! Lumi then looked up and saw that the mountain was … a little less huge than it had been before.

At the edge of the ledge, Lumi found a trail that wound up the side of the mountain, zigging and zagging back and forth. When the path stopped, she looked down and saw that the shadow had reached the eastern edge, and it was dark in the valley. She looked down and starting seeing the lights in the village being lit. But she could see that the sun hadn't set outside the valley.

The valley looked … small. She could barely see the centre of the village. She couldn't really see her family's farm anymore. And the lake … the lake looked no bigger than the pond back home! Everything that once seemed so huge to her now seemed so utterly … tiny.

Lumi turned and looked west. She saw vast plains that seemed to run out beyond view, a patchwork of browns, greens, golds, and even a few pockets of red, blue, and purple! Silvery rivers cut through them, edged with deep fuzzy green, flowing out to a lake so huge that it didn't seem to end. “That must be the ocean!” she exclaimed. She looked up, and saw that the mountain wasn't so big anymore.

Up Lumi climbed. She climbed up rocks, carefully walked around boulders, until finally, she had run out of mountain. She stood on the very top, and looked all around her. Below, the valley seemed to be a little dark egg, speckled with the tiny dim lights of the village. When she looked to the east, the skies were dark blue, the clouds a bright white. In the west, the sun had turned from the bright yellow-white Lumi had only ever known, to a deep glowing yellow that sent great long dark streaks across the plains as the sun went lower and lower in the sky.

Slowly, the sun turned the clouds in the skies yellow. Then they slipped to a light orange that darkened with each moment before finally bursting into a bright red, like a fire dancing across the sky. All around her, the clouds lit up brightly, casting a red hue on everything. The red deepened, and then slowly began to fade as the sun dipped below the horizon, the real horizon that Lumi had always known was there, but could never see. And then, the sun was gone. The lights faded, and slowly everything else grew dark.

Below her, in the valley, it was almost black. The lights were starting to go out as people were going to sleep. Night had already fallen at home. On the mountain, Lumi found it impossible to sleep, unable to stop watching the changing lights. She found a little nook in the rocks, curled up in her blanket, ate her second sandwich, and watched the stars come out.

When Lumi awoke many hours later, it was still dark. She looked up and saw millions and millions and millions of stars across the velvety black of the night, sparking into shapes and swirls of light.

And then she noticed that it was becoming harder to see the stars, like they were fading away. Lumi looked to the east, and saw that the sky was no longer black, but a dark blue. The skies slowly began to light, the clouds appearing from the inky blackness as the light caused them to bloom into fluffy whiteness.

Then, almost imperceptibly, a thin sliver of yellow appeared. The sky around it seemed to jump with reds, oranges, and yellows. The clouds lit up like great balls of cotton candy as the sun crawled it's way up into the morning sky.

Lumi smiled, eating her last sandwich as the sun continued to rise. Then she folded up her blanket and tucked it onto the sack, and started her long, slow climb back down the mountain. It took all day. She wished that she had brought a fourth sandwich. She reached the very bottom by the time the sun had almost set in the valley. She looked back up at the huge mountain next to her. “It's a lot of work, but it's not that big,” laughed Lumi.

Her parents were thrilled when Lumi came home. They had been very worried about her. Her mother served Lumi a huge bowl of lamb stew, Lumi's favourite. She ate two servings while she told her parents all about her trip. The next day, she told the story to all of her friends. Then she told it to the baker, the carpenter, the weaver and the seamstress.

Slowly but surely, almost everyone went up the mountain to see for themselves. Everyone thought the sight was beyond anything they could have dreamed.

So, one day, everyone decided that they wanted to live on the other side of the mountain, on one of the plains, near one of the silvery rivers, and watch the sun rise and set every day. The entire village moved to a new village, and every morning the villagers would greet the sun as it rose into the sky, and bid it goodnight as it dipped from sight.

As for Lumi, she loved the new village. She loved her new farm. She loved her new pond. She continued to climb the mountains, and she swam in the nearby river every chance she got.

Then one day she asked her parents: “What's at the end of the river?”