Mother says, “A Legend is a being that cannot be told of, even if seen. Do not believe the men who say they’ve met the bird-mother who makes the snow, or their god on the mountaintop, or any creature with multiple heads. If a Legend reveals its divine body to you, then you are doomed—to die, or to wander the earth shunned like a madman, or to return home but never speak a word, or to forget the Legend’s form.”

When I am nine, I say, “I won’t trust the men who claim they’ve seen the Legend because they all describe her differently. Some say she’s the size of a quail with tail feathers twice the length of her body; others say she’s as massive as the mountain itself. They couldn’t have seen the same Legend, so they must be lying. Or maybe all but one of them?”

Mother says, “You cannot trust these men for all the ways their stories are the same. Each man says he reached the same summit, each without a guide to bear witness, and each in equal proximity to death, the same number of shallow breaths left in all of their lungs. The similarities show they are repeating one common story, with different visions of the Legend because each man wants to set himself above the rest. Each greedy man wants his lie to be the last, the tale that becomes dogma.”

When I am twelve, I ask, “If all the tellings of the Legend are false, how do we know it even exists? Why believe in what we cannot see, or keep a record of? Maybe the mountain has no keeper. Maybe the snow has no maker. Maybe humans and animals are enough for the world, without spirits and gods and Legends.”

Mother says, “I know the Legend is real because in my vibrant youth I, too, scaled the mountain. I remember every icy crag I clutched and every crunching footprint my boots left in the snow. But I cannot remember how I returned. I stood on the peak, barely breathing, flurries whipping my face, when my vision faded into brightest white, and then my memory goes blank like a full-measure rest in a sheet of music. After the blackout, I awoke lying on a sun-baked rock at the base of the mountain. Tears through the thick layers of my clothing and red welts on my arms and stomach appeared to be the marks of talons.”

When I am fifteen, I say, “I will retrace your steps and summit the mountain myself. My mind is sharper than yours, and I won’t return until I have proof of the Legend’s shape. I will wrangle the beast if I have to, or else I will capture its image. I will carry down evidence that will end the lying men’s stories and put all self-aggrandizers to shame.”

Mother says, “A Legend cannot be contained. If it fits inside a box, or a ball, or a story, then it must not be a true Legend. Do not hope to see such a being, for if it chooses you, then you are forsaken, as I am. My life is incomplete because my mind is always searching for moments it lost. If you must set out for adventure, and travel outside of human reach, and you enter the lair of a spirit-bird, or a giant dog, or a golem, then pray that you will die, rather than live and wonder at the mystery of what you once beheld. You are my child, I love you, and yet I would trade you for that absent memory, to be made whole again.”

Photo used under CC.