Mountain Madness by Clinton Crockett Peters.
Mountain Madness is a collection of essays detailing the author’s hiking treks in both Japan, during his tenure as a twenty-something English teacher, and in the United States during his time as an outdoor guide. His essays weave together both the physical details of his outdoor adventures and the emotional reflections and meanings of these experiences more than a decade later. We see him simultaneously growing into an adult and then ruminating on that process as he nears middle age.
Peters’ reflection is not just a coming-of-age story, but a coming-into-maturity season of his life. The reader sees him face the inevitable struggle of ideal versus reality, of vacillating between what he wants to want and what he actually wants. Throughout his adventures, he learns to let go of ideals, career and relationship plans, and even his religion. For Peters, the shock of a foreign culture was the catalyst to understand himself and hiking both mountain peaks and urban jungles created the context for his personal revelation. He explores both his inner and outer landscapes to make sense of his past, present and future.
Comical but also painful, Peters is brutally honest about his past. For example, in his essay “Midslope”, Peters relives a discussion with his ailing father. He admits his frustration with moving to Idaho to care for his family during a sharp decline in his father’s health after several strokes, even stating to his father in a moment of frustration that “…there’s a part of me that wonders if you should die.” The conversation, laid bare in the essay, clearly haunts Peters years later as he realizes his questioning was not only of his father, but also of God himself. Peppered throughout his writing are glimpses of Peters losing his faith in things he once clung to so tightly, including his religion and upbringing.
His honesty is again raw and almost unsettling when discussing his relationship with Yumiko, a woman who would eventually become his wife. In his essay “Love in the Valley of Death”, Peters interlaces the historical narrative of Japanese warlord Takeda Shingen some four hundred years earlier, with his personal love story of meeting and settling with Yumiko. He dissects the futures he and Yumiko “killed off” by pairing up and delves into her family’s troubled past. Their love story is poetic but also pragmatic, with Peters acknowledging that “We each had lacerations we helped salve, provisions we shared, and enemies we plotted against.” He concludes the essay by conceding the parallels between warlording and romantic relationships, astutely observing that “…this is the thing that makes us human, an impulse to build something greater than ourselves, through love or war…”
Peters’ writing is dense and weighty, heavy with philosophical musings and metaphysical conjectures. He parses through what are, at first glance, very ordinary events but excavates extraordinary significance from each of them. For example, meeting a girl at a party is a symbol of letting go of his preplanned, epitomized future. Seeing a group of three white missionaries in Japan conjures up an exploration of his past self and a fear of what might have been. Even a painful ankle injury and the resulting consideration of abandoning a hike in progress is rife with meaning for Peters. Stopping mid-hike would mean not only failure but letting go “of the part of myself that was ravenous for validation, each hike a potential merit badge for my future.”
Mountain Madness is an archaeological expedition of the author’s identity, through matured eyes and against the backdrop of the natural world. He sees the interconnectedness of nature, history, and his own humanity and how each informs the others. He is candid in his willingness to confront his past, his regrets, and his emotions. His shrewd perceptions about himself and human nature invite the reader to do the same.