Mark Owen Martin
By Barbara Bever
The soft light creeps through the cracks in the wooden shutter and falls gently upon the weathered face of the monk sleeping on a tattered mat. How many identical dawns have greeted him in this temple beside the mountain stream? As he stirs, he recalls the many students who once came to seek his wisdom, who kneeled at his feet eager for enlightenment. They come no more. Only the sun finds its way into his home.
The monk stretches awake. He neatly rolls his quilt and sleeping mat from the wooden floor and places them carefully in the far corner. He reaches for the graying sweater, left by an eager novice, from the wooden peg by the door and slips on his sandals. He slippers onto the porch where a wooden bowl of rice awaits. He thanks the universe for providing this daily sustenance.
He heads down the stairs from the narrow veranda of this temple, his home. The third step from the top creaks its familiar welcome and his old knees respond likewise. He pads silently down the worn path to the edge of the stream. The playful sun teases awake the little fish along the water’s edge. The monk’s gnarled hands immerse themselves, the fish disperse. Cold water trickles down his creased features. The sun tries to catch the drops before they fall to the soft earth. The monk dips the empty rice bowl into the stream and takes a long drink. He is awake.
The sun and the mountain call his name today.
The monk tucks the wooden bowl beneath his robe. He knows the springs and resting spots where he can refresh himself on the long climb to the mountain-top stupa.
The forest is dense at this elevation, full of ferns and rhododendrons with their rubbery leaves dripping with dew. The birds flit to and fro announcing the monk’s approach to the ground-bound creatures. Butterflies dance in the cool air of the morning, reveling in their day in the sun. The leafy carpet under his feet cushions the old monk’s knees. The sun plays hide-and-seek among the trees.
The forest gives way to a carpet of violet gentian and the sun exposes herself fully to a field of yellow patrinia. The monk lowers himself onto a smooth rock and dips his wooden bowl into the adjacent spring. Warmed by his efforts and the sun’s constant presence, he slips off the old sweater. He drapes it over the rock. Revived, he resumes his climb, telling himself he will retrieve the sweater on his way down.
Hawks fly lazily overhead. Junipers cling to the rocky terrain. The sun reaches her zenith. The monk pushes methodically upward and onward. He recalls a time in the spring of his life when he could scale this mountain well before the sun reached her peak.
Beads of sweat form on his upper lip; his cotton robe clings to his back. The monk folds himself down onto a rocky outcrop. Far below he sees the ribbon of silver winding its way past the isolated little temple. A pang of loneliness seizes his heart. He knows every inch of this temple as if it were his own body. He hewed its wood, planed it floors, cleaned its crevices, polished its surfaces. In return it keeps him sheltered from the spring rains, the summer sun, the winds of autumn, and winter’s cold. They have grown old together. Could it be missing him today? The monk dismisses these thoughts and climbs higher.
The sun tires of her mid-day labors and allows a breeze to caress and dry the monk’s robe. His step lightens, his mind empties, and his spirit soars as he approaches the mountain top. The monk hears the stupa’s prayer wheel spinning on its axis. He steps around the rocks and out onto a grassy knoll. The mountain wears the stupa like a jewel in its crown. The sun bathes the stark-white monument in a rosy afternoon light.
The monk rests on the steps of the stupa, his weary legs stretched out onto the grass, his back against the still warm western wall. He thanks the universe for this journey to the mountain top. He surveys the expanse of sky above and the breadth of earth below, of the waning light of the sun and the lightness of his soul.
The monk’s eyelids grow heavy and the sun’s weight pulls her toward the horizon. The timelessness of the universe carries both man and sun into the cool and gentle night.
The soft light of dawn creeps through the cracks in the wooden shutter and falls gently upon an empty tattered mat. An old gray sweater lies damp upon a rock waiting for the eternal sun to find it.
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