The Lookout Point

If you’ve never been hiking in the mountains, you should. If you have, then you’ll understand the beauty of the lookout point.

Last summer I took a backpacking trip in the Sierras with some friends from school. The trail started at the Florence Lake at the end of Kaiser Pass, and wound steeply upward until we reached a destination called Hidden Lake at the top of a nearby peak. Although I knew that the lake would be beautiful and the hike worth it, much of that hike was rather frustrating. Most of the time, we were not gazing toward the distant mountains or admiring the trees; we were staring intently at the two feet of ground directly ahead of us–hoping to prevent any slipping and falling on the rocky terrain. This made orienteering difficult, as we could neither see where we came from or where we were going in the grand scheme of things, and with each twist or turn back or short drop in elevation it seemed as though we’d never get to the site. Don’t get me wrong; I was glad to be there, but the work factor was slightly stronger than the fun factor. Thankfully, every so often we would come across a really cool lookout point, where we’d stop and set down our packs and be able to see out over the mountain and above the trees.  Granted, it always looked similar–Florence lake was still there and so were the mountains behind it–but the view had changed nonetheless. It became broader and more expansive, and we were able to see how far we had actually come. All those small and careful steps added up until we could actually see the fruits of our labors, leading these lookout points to be very helpful morale boosters to keep on persevering to the site.

Today, I had a horn lesson, and I found a lookout point. Considering horn lessons were one of the things I was most excited about in coming here, I know I haven’t mentioned them much. This is mainly due to the fact that they’ve been heavily characterized by technical exercises and other things which would sound like Greek to someone who didn’t play horn or at least some form of brass. It has been three months of long tones and articulation exercises and embouchure adjustments and all sorts of other slightly mundane and often frustrating things which are necessary evils, the individual steps, in being able to play the music that I long for at the level I want to. There have been major two-three week periods of setbacks while trying to unlearn one habit and relearn something new after 10 years of doing it another way, and every day, as I dragged myself to do yet another set of long tones with the tuner, I felt as though I was once again dragging myself and a fifteen-pound pack up a never ending mountain. The only difference was that this one didn’t have any food in it to at least give energy–just twelve feet of metal tubing wound up on itself.  For a while, I forgot why I even liked playing horn. And then, today, I reached a lookout point. I played, and was able to “see” (or, rather, hear) the difference. I’d gotten somewhere, and it turns out I was much further along than I thought.

Granted, I’m not at the lake yet. I have an entire life time to go before I’m the Übermensch hornist (and I’m not even sure that’s possible with the nature of the horn), but that’s okay. I’m on my way, and that’s all I needed to know. I’m not sure why today I could hear it, and not yesterday or Monday or a month ago. Perhaps it’s because, like on the trail, the most exhilarating and inspiring lookouts are the ones that suddenly appear around the bend and take you by surprise. And besides, even if we could always see everything ahead of us, I have a feeling we still wouldn’t be able to perceive our progress. And then we’d be robbed of the joy of a lookout point.



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