Professor Connelly, a teacher of Greek and Roman mythology at the small Vermont college that I attended, would start every class by saying, “The sun is bright, the wind just right, for a trip to ancient Gnosis.” This was his own private joke, one that no one understood until the semester was over and he asked us to find Gnosis on a map. The heart of his daily joke was that Gnosis was not a city or place, as we assumed, but rather a term describing the spiritual knowledge of mystical human truths, usually associated with saints or other enlightened humans. In his daily preamble, the good prof was trying to tell us that deep inside the myths he was teaching there existed timeless clues into the nature of understanding. Yet, since I had him first period, after morning hockey practice, and my hair was still frozen from the walk across the Vermont tundra, this was completely lost on me.
So, why do I recall Professor Connelly some 25 years hence? A recent Edge of Never trip to Whistler, of all things, brought his memory and the trove of mythological tales he taught back like it was 1984 all over again.
Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this. I think…
Over the years, Professor Connelly’s telling tales of Greek mythology bubble back up, mostly when I’m in high places. Could be the lack of oxygen, or maybe it’s that most of the world’s great myths use mountains as metaphor. Think Moses and the tablets, a tale with a happy ending, which is unusual. Most mythic mountain stories involve the hubris of climbing too high, and the subsequent smackdown — dudes making wax wings and base jumping off mountains, only to have the wings melt when they fly too close to the sun; or others who are condemned to push a rock up a mountain, only to have it roll back on them when they reach the peak; and such. But the most brutal smackdown involves a Greek guy named Tantalus whose father is Zeus, the Don Corleone of Greek gods.
When Tantalus moves into manhood by having a son, Zeus figures its time to show the kid the world of the big mountains. So he invites Tantalus to Mount Olympus to learn from all the other major leaguers who are hanging out up there. The kid goes up, starts tossing back the ambrosia like its Bud Light, and pretty much parties like a rock star. Zeus is not amused by his son’s lack of respect.
Now, Tantalus is all twisted and quite sure that his old man is nothing but an out-of-touch dweeb, so he decides to take the party elsewhere. He swipes a keg of the ambrosia on the downlow and takes it downtown to his homeboy humans on the flatlands. He continues the bash, but they run out of food. This being before takeout pizza, Tantalus chops up his own son, Pelops, and throws him into a stew to feed the homies. But when Daddy Zeus notices the missing keg and gets a whiff of the stew, he knows what’s become of his grandson. So, he grabs Tantalus by the ear and throws him into a time-out that will last for all of eternity.
In this time-out Tantalus stands chin-deep in water with sweet fruit dangling just over his head and cool water just under his chin. But whenever he tries to drink or eat, the water and the fruit recede. He is forever teased in this way, and his name is turned into the verb, to tantalize.
So what does any of this have to do with The Edge of Never and skiing and Whistler? You thought I forgot, right. I’m bringing it around now. I hope…
On your way up the road from Vancouver to Whistler there stands an incredible mountain range of snow-covered ramps and shower-curtain steeps. It looms just to the west of the highway, seemingly near enough to reach out and grab, but rendered inaccessible by the Howe Sound and the river valleys that flow westward to the ocean. The name of the range is Tantalus.
It was this range that Trevor Petersen and Eric Pehota pioneered, with the help of a trusty helicopter, some 20 years ago. And it was to this range that Trevor’s son, Kye, was drawn this spring. After many sage scouting missions, Kye, Dan Treadway, and Matty Richard decided that the sun was bright and the wind just right as they took Edge of Never-sponsored shooter Eric Crosland and still photog Blake Jorgensen to the Tantalus. The range did not recede and the boys shot this little sequence, a teaser of the one that will appear in The Edge of Never. The artful editing is all Eric Crosland.
Though I don’t know if it was a trip fruitful enough to qualify as a trip to gnosis, I’m sure Professor Connelly would be pleased and impressed by the first descent that Kye and Matty notched. I know I was. I hope you find it tantalizing.