The Mountains of Paris: How Awe and Wonder Rewrote My Life
by David Oates
Oregon State Univ. 178 pages, $22.95
Noted back-country climber David Oates is perhaps best known for Paradise Wild, his manifesto on the way humans fit into the natural world. In that book and in The Mountains of Paris, a recurring theme is his upbringing in a conservative religious household (“I am the gay son they never wanted”). Both books focus on his ways of coping and becoming more free as a gay person. As Paradise Wild used the metaphor of escape via the Sierras as its principal route to sexual salvation, The Mountains of Paris uses the image of ascending a mountain to confront personal demons or to be awestruck by a painting. Flashbacks to his youth bring us the golden-fleshed Tommy—someone who, like Gore Vidal’s Jimmy, perhaps, we all knew in our youth. The music of Schubert heard, played, and imagined flows through much of Paris along with the author. Youthful reminiscences of C.S. Lewis contrast with the delicate faith of a mature man. Oates calls his re-rooting as an adult being in “the deep present.” It is certainly a gift to all of us to be able to walk with him in his days and nights of Parisian discovery, as much John Muir as Ned Rorem, blending the richness of church as it should be with the pine-scented cirques of his doubting youth.