We left the Appalachian Trail at the foot of Blood Mountain in Georgia. The next fifteen miles climbed the mountain and descended the other side. Near the highest point in Georgia this section of the trail is the most popular and scenic stretch in that state. At mountaintop sits an eighty year old rock cabin that serves hikers as a shelter from the storms that sometimes rake the barren summit. Prominent signs warn hikers to carry water from the spring a mile below the summit if they plan to stay at the cabin overnight. It is not supposed to be an easy climb, but the rewards on the other side include a fully stocked store and showers at the foot of the mountain’s other side. As near to heaven as the AT gets.
The name of Blood Mountain intrigues us. Known by that name before the Europeans came people assume it came from a prehistoric battle between native peoples. Over the thousands of years of human habitation every space on earth has seen its share of blood, but occasionally the toll is heavy enough to mark the sites with lasting titles that warn us– Starved Rock, Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, the Crater at Petersburg, Wounded Knee, Little Bighorn. Those places all have tragic stories to tell, and so, I suppose, does Blood Mountain, but the details of the story were lost and so the name became generic and universal.
So we planned to return to the trail to pick up where we left off, knowing that this mountain is a symbol of a universal and hopeful quest that we will someday climb beyond the stories of slaughter to a place of refuge and serene circumspection. From that vantage point we will see in perspective all the paths traveled by people with plans that intersect and plans that merge, where either cross-purposes or reconciliation could emerge from the deep woods and thickets with just a slight turn of the compass.
Already some people have climbed that mountain and achieved such perspective, following the leader up to the top. How heavy that burden must have been, weighed down as it was with so many rivers of blood, before he arrived there, and foretelling so many more needless sacrifices to follow. Yet he carried it, with a little help from yet another hapless victim chosen at random to add to the burden of insult. He carried it up to the top and then still higher as he ascended to the place of thrones and final judgments.
Again we mark Jesus’ ascent of a cross and of a path to heaven. Again he tells us to put away our swords and suffer the temporary humiliations of defeat while at the same time we accept the stronger force of stubborn love to insist on healing instead of harm. From the perspective of a bloody mount we look all around at the world God has made, and see how beautiful it can be.