Feeling a little emo tonight? You’re in luck. Me, too. Enjoy.
I can’t live in the valley.
I’ve spent all my life searching for the valley. The hills and plains I’ve traveled are nice, but they’re lonely. Only in the valleys can I find peace and happiness. Everything good in life, everything that makes life worth living is in the valleys.
In my wanderings, I’ve found a few like it, but there are none others that match the abundance found in this one, the one. I knew, from the moment I topped the hill and peered down at it’s lush greens and the welcoming stream flowing through it, that none other could compare.
I was wary, at first. I’d been hurt before, and I knew enough to be cautious. I waited a while, peering from my vantage point on the hill, looking for dangers, looking for any traps that might be laid for those who would rush in, eager to partake of the treasures hidden there. And I was right to be cautious.
Because as I finally made my descent into the valley, I discovered that an ogre lived there.
His spoor was unmistakable. His tracks were everywhere; there was no place in the valley that he did not tread. Even with the abundance of fruit hanging from the limbs of trees, the ogre had to taste of each one, and having tasted it, dropped it to move on to the next. He wasted it, tossed it aside, obviously did not savor and contemplate each special gift. Even with the herds of game flocking the valley’s pathways and trails, the ogre smashed through and snatched up one morsel after another.
The more I saw, the more I hated the ogre. He did not have to spoil this beautiful landscape with his rapacious appetite! If it weren’t for his untender ministrations, this valley could easily support and sustain, or even advance, more than just his predacious self.
It was easy at first to avoid the ogre. I found places within the valley that the ogre rarely went, or where he would not even fit. A grotto near a waterfall, small enough for me, but unwelcome to the brute. I would sit and listen to the laughter of the water, and delight in the sparkle of the light through the waterfall’s curtain. Or an open glen filled with wildflowers, where I could lie on my back and watch the shapes that clouds make against the blue sky. Or high up suspended by a soft bough, swaying to the gentle wind, where I could see to the edge of forever across the spiky green carpet of treetops. I observed the birds and small animals, the valley’s children, cavorting and capering in simple play.
Surely the ogre, a creature of base pleasures, could not appreciate the subtlety of my simple hiding places, I thought. But eventually the ogre’s desires would lead him near my den, and I would have to scramble off and find another bolthole. Never did I directly confront the beast, but my secretive skill was a poor match for his awesome, barbaric strength.
Eventually, fat and daring from the bounty that the valley had to offer me, I dared. I felt that surely I could challenge the ogre and take his place in the valley. If he could not share the valley with me, then only one or the other could win this contest. If the prize were this magical place, so full of serene beauty and subtle delights, then perhaps I could risk a battle against the animalistic master of it.
So, one day, I took up arms; I found a stick and fashioned a crude club from it. I stripped myself of all encumberments, the better to move and fight. I made directly for the creature’s lair, and felt confident in my ability to best him.
But when I approached it, it was as if I saw the thing for the first time. He, too, carried a club. He, too, was clothed only in the mud and dirt gained from trampling the byways of the valley. There, near his lair, lay the bones of those he had defeated in order to gain control of this garden. To the victor go the spoils.
But… in my haste to defeat the master of the valley, I had become him. Our eyes met. And in them, I saw his jealous hatred of me, yes. But I also saw in them a recognition.
I knew in that moment that I could spar with him, and I might even win. The valley that had made me strong with it’s richness, had made the ogre soft and complacent. The odds were even. But I also knew that in defeating this creature, I would be lost. I would lose everything that made me able to appreciate the valley. If I defeated him, I would have to defend the valley from any future travelers, and I would have to patrol constantly, which would take away the time I had previously spent in quiet meditation. If I defeated him, I would be giving in to the base emotions of rage and fear; those powerful passions would overwhelm me and they would consume me. Further the battle between us would be mighty; we seemed evenly matched. Therefore the contest would be long and difficult, and would likely cause terrible damage to the spoils of our war; the valley itself would suffer because of our rage.
I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to become the thing I fought against. I didn’t want to lose the ability to enjoy the thing I most admired. And I didn’t want to hurt the valley, the green and lovely valley. That, most of all, I did not wish to happen.
I ran. With a mighty roar, the ogre gave chase. But I was fleet of foot and had the advantage of rest. I could not be caught. I ran into the hills again, leaving the valley that had seemed so welcoming and lush, and found myself again in the rocky barrens. The ogre, sensing that I would not come back, stopped his pursuit, consoling himself with some parting screams of anger, warning me of my fate should I change my mind. But I knew, with a terrible certainty, what that fate would be, and I would not, could not, bring myself to risk that fate.
I can survive in the hills. There is food, and water, to be found, although not in the quantity of the valley. It takes more work, but the work is good for me. It builds character. I’m not as strong as I was when I lived down below, but it will do.
Yes, there may be other valleys. I could go and search, again. I could brave the plains and the dangers that lurk in those awesome vast empty places, and hope that somewhere there exists a valley as inviting as this one, one with no ogre to guard it, or even a less fearsome ogre, one I could defeat without causing the thing I love to suffer.
Sure I could.
But, instead, I sit here, in the hills, dreaming of the times I spent in the valley. The grottoes I will never again view. The wildflowers, whose perfume I will never again taste. The trees in which I will never again find shelter. The laughter of the waterfalls, the sigh of the wind… all gone. Given up so that they might remain, untouched by hatefulness. I think about it constantly; not a day goes by that I do not feel moved to tears over what I have given up.
I would be a gentle master, I know it. I would not abuse the gifts it produces. Perhaps the valley itself knows it, too, but it can do nothing to hasten that day.
Perhaps, I think, the ogre will tire of the valley and wander off to find another home. Perhaps another will come and defeat the ogre for me, and the victor will be too spent from his battle, and I can take advantage and seize control. Or (it’s possible, don’t tell me it’s not) the ogre will simple pass away of old age, and leave the valley without a master, ripe for me to tend to it.
But thinking hateful thoughts at the ogre only diminish me. I try not to spend much time dwelling on him.
Instead, I simply remember what it was like, in the valley.
And I wait.