Mustafa’s stew is quite fine. Unless you are ill.
Nothing appeals to Wilkerson. His condition is deteriorating. He finished the acclimatization hike and came to the mess tent at suppertime. However, he is unable to eat anything substantial for a second day.
The collision of factors including elevation and thin air, physical stress, lack of caloric intake, dehydration, foreign food, and possibly a virus of some kind, is turning one man’s adventure into a nightmare. I wonder how much more of this he can take. Where will this go? Acquainted with marathon running, he is undoubtedly the best trained, the most physically fit member of our group. Unfortunately, Ağrı Dağı does not read résumés. Wilkerson sits with us at the table in the mess tent. He bravely sips his tea, but holds no fork in his hand: no fork, that is, except Morton’s.
As the story goes, John Morton was a powerful 15th century Englishman who lived in the time of King Henry VII. The question of the moment was who should and who should not pay taxes. Morton’s logic was inescapable. I can picture him seated at a very different kind of table, menacingly waving silverware in the air. A boar is stretched out on a platter nearby. He is brown and crisp with an apple in his mouth.
“If you live lavishly,” Morton argues with one pointed tine, “you can afford to pay the tax. You have money because you are obviously spending it.”
“If you live a life of austerity,” he argues with the other tine, “you can also afford to pay the tax. You have money because you are obviously saving it.”
I picture the maid listening to this argument, her ear against the kitchen door. She understands another reality: my life is austere because I obviously have no money at all!
Alas, Morton’s fork has only two tines. His argument frames the classic dilemma. While we rarely hear this 15th century backstory to the paradox, we feel it every time someone sighs and mutters, “between a rock and a hard place.”
We sit beside each other, stew in front of us, utensils in hand. My friend is next to me with Morton’s fork. Wilkerson’s choices are being reduced to one of two options. He may continue to press on against ever-increasing odds until his body vetoes the commands of his mind, or, he may retire to the camp for the duration of the climb. Neither option is desirable. Both options are pointed. We have come so far to reach this place! Is there a way to escape the tines?
After dinner I walk outside the mess. The air is cool and a few sprinkles fall from the sky. Wispy clouds are draped about the mountain. High wind smooths their edges. I wonder if there is a summit team somewhere above us contemplating an attempt this night? I wonder about their condition?
I set my gear in order and and crawl into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow we return to the high camp. This time it will not be an exercise for the sake of acclimatization. We will pack the camp and move it by horse just one-half mile. Vertical. Straight up. Having made the journey once, we know what to expect. So does Wilkerson alone in his tent.