I started building the mountain on a chilly Sunday in November. The garden needed to be cleared, so I went outside at around three to finish the job. Only months before, the flowers had been in full bloom, brightening up the backyard. Now, only their dried-up shells remained, bent over and strewn across the ground, victims of time and nature.
When I got to the garden, I leaned down to pull out the first stem. Judging from the loose soil, it wouldn’t take much to rip it out. However, right before I pulled, something caught my eye. On the ground next to my feet lay three stones.
They were just regular-looking stones with no special qualities or features. In fact, by some standards, they may have even been considered ugly. One of them was rust-colored, the other had a hole, and the third looked like it had been hit with a hammer. But together, they leaned against each other to form a miniature peak.
How curious, I thought, how they leaned like that. I bent down to take a closer look. Valleys were visible, and craters dotted their surfaces. On one face, a small patch of moss even resembled a field.
A couple feet from the stones, I noticed another rock laying on the ground. It was smaller than the other ones and had an even uglier look, but when I picked it up, I felt a sudden urge. I walked back to the pile and leaned it against the rust-colored stone. Now, the tiny peak consisted of four stones.
The sky hinted at dusk, so I decided to head back inside. I glanced at the stones one more time and then left the garden.
The next day, I finished my paperwork and came home from work earlier than usual. I had just poured myself a drink and loosened my tie, when I saw the pile of stones from the kitchen window. With drink in hand, I went outside to take another look at them.
They appeared just as I left them, valleys and canyons in all. A couple of ants scurried along, but nothing more. I was just about to leave when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw more stones laying in the back of the garden. They weren’t laying together, but rather scattered under a fence. I walked over and, for the hell of it, picked one up. It wasn’t bad looking—it had a few shiny flecks and a nice triangular shape. Slowly, I walked back and placed the new stone on the pile. A cave now existed on one side, and a ridge formed on another.
I put down my drink and walked back to the loose stones. This time, I picked one up with each hand and carried them back to the pile. I placed each stone with the others and then went back for more. I completed this cycle over and over, and the pile became taller and wider. Soon, stones became scarce, and I scoured the garden for more, crawling under trees and digging beneath shrubs. If a rock was larger than a quarter, it was mine.
Once again, the sky became dark, so I decided to leave. The pile was up to my knees now, and wider than a twin-sized bed. I walked through the garden one more time and then left.
A week passed. Work was busy, so I didn’t have much free time. I only saw the pile early in the morning or after I came home. Other matters filled my mind, and I didn’t set a single foot in the backyard all week. Then, one night while I was leaving the office, I accidentally backed my car into a wall. The wall separated my office from the neighboring office, and jutted out slightly into the parking lot. When I stepped out to check the damage, I discovered the wall was actually made of stone. For all the years I had worked there, I had never noticed it. After all, it was just a stone wall.
About five stones laid on ground beneath my back bumper. They must have become loose when I hit them. I bent down to put them back, but then stopped. I looked to my left and my right, and then opened my trunk. There was a dent from the impact, but I ignored it. Quickly, I loaded the stones, closed the trunk, and drove away.
When I got home, I unloaded the stones, walked them to the back yard, and placed them on the pile. These stones were larger than all of the others, so I had to reconfigure parts of the pile to fit them in. When I finished, I stopped to admire my work. Ridges now cut across the formation, and a steep cliff overlooked the east face. I quickly ran to the shed and grabbed the hose. With some work, a waterfall soon appeared.
The next day, I took more stones from the wall. Nobody said anything about the dent, probably because they had never noticed the wall either. On my way home, I also stopped at the hardware store to buy a lamp. I needed it to work at night.
And so it went. Every night for the next month, I took home some stones, hauled them into the backyard, and arranged them in the pile. By Thanksgiving, the pile was up to my shoulders and, by Christmas, it was far over my head. I constantly went back to the store for more supplies. Extension cords, buckets, ladders—all of these things proved more necessary every day.
To avoid being completely obvious, I only took stones from one end of the stone wall at a time. A keen observer would notice the wall becoming two feet shorter every day, but no office worker would ever see the change. Eventually, the wall became a half of its original size, then a third, and then a quarter. Finally, by the end of January, it was gone.
About that time, my neighbors began to take note of my progress.
“Whatcha building in your backyard?” asked my neighbor, Bill, while I was unloading groceries from my car.
“Oh, just a mountain,” I responded.
“Is that so?” he said, laughing a bit. “Then what’s it’s name?”
I hadn’t thought about a name. Until just now, it was only a pile of rocks.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that, Bill,” I said.
“Oh, alrighty then,” he said, walking away.
When I was a kid, my grandfather once told me a story about a cowboy who became lost in the desert. It went like this: One day, the cowboy was sitting in a saloon when a dashing young woman walked inside. From the moment he saw her, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. By chance, she sat next to him at the bar and, soon enough, they were talking to each other. The cowboy was an experienced cattle rancher, and he knew he had to leave soon to take a job from a friend. But, since the woman was in front of him, he decided to hang back for a little bit. The two ended up spending the night together and, in the morning, she told him she was going to Texas. She left, but he couldn’t seem to forget her. He went to the cowboy station, but his friend had left. He was too late. With no work, he decided to find the girl in Texas. He rode for a week, asking people if they had seen the girl everywhere he stopped. Finally, he met the girl in a cantina in Juarez. She remembered him, and they spent another night together. In the morning, a local rancher asked the cowboy if he wanted work. The cowboy said no—he thought he would stay with the girl instead. But when he returned to the room, she was gone again. She left a note saying she had business in Mexico. On his horse, his last friend, he rode after her, stopping for nothing. After three days, his horse couldn’t run anymore. At high noon, the horse fell over and died. Now, the cowboy was alone in the desert, without any food, water, or other people. His beard was overgrown, and he barely resembled the man that he was mere weeks before. He didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t remember the rest of the story. My grandfather never said if the cowboy regretted his decisions.
My boss caught me in late February. Someone was buying the building, and they realized the wall was missing during the evaluation. They checked the security cameras and saw it was me who took it, step by step, two feet at a time. They offered to not press charges if I left without severance. I accepted and cleaned out my cubicle.
Now that I had all the time in the world, I spent every day in the backyard building the mountain. I had previously ordered two tons of stones from a local quarry, so I had plenty of material to work with.
At night, I planned the next stages of construction. I sketched out a grand design that included cirques, ârretes, and even a small cave. I would need much more stone, but that didn’t matter. I figured it would take me another six months, so I sold my TV and couch to support me while I worked.
Unbeknownst to me, the mountain had become a talking point for locals. Bill must have brought it up at the Rotary Club or something. Some people thought it was cool and interesting. “That’s awesome man, go for it,” said one of my high school classmates when I saw him at the gas station. Others, though, condemned the mountain. “He shouldn’t do that,” I heard one woman say to another in the supermarket. “It’s a waste of time and it’s ugly. Who does he even think he is?” One day, someone even came to my house and yelled at me. “Hey man, I don’t know what you’re trying to do here with your ‘art’, but you should just quit right now. Get a damn life and stop annoying the rest of us.” He eventually left, and I went back to work.
Now, in late April, the mountain measures sixty feet tall. I have my cave, and a few of the other features are almost done. In truth, I get lonely sometimes in my backyard. I don’t know what I’m going to do after I finish the current stage. I might do more, I might not. I’m not really sure. I like building the mountain, but I think I could do other things. It’s not like the mountain is everything I am, right?