The Parable of the Hill

On a higher plane

by Sam Walker   August 17, 2014  

Wherever you go there you are

I cycled up a steep hill, seeking wisdom and enlightenment. It took so many days and nights I lost track of time. There seemed to be no end to the climbing. I nearly got off and walked, such was my weariness, but I was afraid that if I did, enlightenment would not be given to me. I could not spin; it was too steep, my gearing too unforgiving. I could only honk. At one point a flock of geese flew by low, honking as if to mock me. I passed the bones of others who had come before and failed. They must have lost hope. I was not made of better stuff; I was merely more stubborn. Finally when I thought I could climb no higher, I reached the top.

At the top there sat a very old man. He looked at me and asked "Why do you come?" I said, "I have come to understand hills." He said, "Only after ten years can you begin to understand hills." So I sat with him there for ten long years. He wasn't a conversationalist; we said nothing. I merely contemplated hills. Occasionally I brought him a cup of tea, which he always spat out. This I took as a bad sign, but still we said nothing.

After the ten years had passed, I said: "Now tell me about hills." He said, "What goes up must come down." I said, "I already knew that." He said, "So why did you ask?"

10 user comments

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Spat. Not spit. Spat. Unless you're American, in which case you're forgiven. For that.

Noli porcum linguere

captain_slog's picture

posted by captain_slog [310 posts]
17th August 2014 - 21:17


Let's ask Bill Clinton, the cunning linguist.

Sam Walker's picture

posted by Sam Walker [82 posts]
17th August 2014 - 21:41


On the way back down I kept getting passed by the same man again and again and again. Was Strava involved, I wondered?

No, he too was bringing the old man tea. But it was always cold by the time he got there.

Sam Walker's picture

posted by Sam Walker [82 posts]
18th August 2014 - 7:30



posted by DrJDog [269 posts]
18th August 2014 - 10:52


> What.

Good question. It's not a review, is it? I'm not reviewing hills after all. A news story? A little light on facts. Ride report? That seems closer to the mark, yet it lacks the typical features of a report, most salient being details. Could it in fact be… what it says on the tin?

✓ short
✓ allegorical
✓ contains human characters but not animals, so not a fable

The Parable of the Hill may be considered a companion to The Rules.

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posted by Sam Walker [82 posts]
18th August 2014 - 11:50


The hills. That's what it's all about really, isn't it. The hills and/or the clock. Much more important than grammar, which is easily corrected. Because the lure of the hill is ineffable. The next time I'm grinding my way up some unforgiving slope I'll think about this as an alternative to the sound of one hand clapping.

Noli porcum linguere

captain_slog's picture

posted by captain_slog [310 posts]
18th August 2014 - 20:43


unCorrected for anybody from my homeland. ('Homeland'. Ugh. Employing the zenlike spirit of inquiry I would simply ask Why, when disturbing historical parallels can be so easily drawn, but I understand the warm fuzzies from the word Home trump such vague uneasiness.)

Hands can clap or they can listen, apparently. They can also be wrung - or rung, if you're feeling playful - though not like a bell.

Truss's book, subtitled "The utter bloody rudeness of everyday life," is must reading. Alas I haven't read it yet.

Anyway, hills, yes hells. That was an actual typo; also easily corrected, but allowed to stay because so many people hate them. The only time I hate them is when my bike is making a noise under stress that it shouldn't, as one of them is doing now, which means I have to take something apart again. Hate taking things apart. Wait a minute. Do I actually love it?

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posted by Sam Walker [82 posts]
18th August 2014 - 21:22


I like hills.
I like your writing too.
Thanks for taking the time to post!

I live not too far from the hill the photo.... Wink

posted by surfer35 [23 posts]
19th August 2014 - 19:45


the only positive aspect about the ascent to the lecht (pictured) is the foreknowledge that the descent on the other side is utterly worth it.

posted by the infamous grouse [29 posts]
19th August 2014 - 21:34


At the bottom of the hill there was a cave. After so many years out in the elements – the old man didn't believe in "coddling" as he put it – it felt odd to be inside. It took a while for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw that I wasn't alone. There was another old man, sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching me quizzically. "Why don't you turn on the light," he said. "The switch is on your left."

When light flooded the cave I saw that it had all the creature comforts, including a kettle. He got up to make me tea. This was a change, and I told him so.

"Then you've met my brother Fredo," he said. "My name is Plato." He bid me sit down for my cuppa and we had a nice chat. Then he bid me indulge an allegory he'd been working on. A gracious host doesn't have to ask twice.

The allegory required that I guess what shapes he was making with his hands on the wall of the cave after he had positioned the lamp just so. No real guesswork was required, as the shapes he made were exquisitely rendered.

He even managed to portray an okapi being chased by a leopard; how I knew it was an okapi I cannot explain, but he was that good.

The final shape was of a traditional steel-framed bicycle with Campagnolo groupset. It seemed so real I almost felt I could hop on and ride it out of the cave. When I told him this he said "Go ahead." I said "Surely you're joking."

He did not say "Don't call me Shirley," as I was half hoping he would (Fredo had zero sense of humour). Instead he bid me not to be a "prisoner of your mind," as he put it, though he put it so nicely it was impossible to take offence (he pronounced it 'offense' as a polite nod to my country of origin). I do not know if it was to humour him, or because he had me half believing the convincing words that came out of his mouth, but I got up and approached the bicycle, which was now gliding to a stop.

I looked at Plato. He looked at me, eyes twinkling. I got on. Then I rode out of the cave and into the light.

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posted by Sam Walker [82 posts]
20th August 2014 - 7:50