Nature on the move – the view with Tolli
Ari Trausti Guðmundsson
At the summit
Distance gives the land an appearance that brings us closer to its vastness and our human tininess. We all remember our first plane trip and the sense of wonder that our height above the Earth’s expanses woke in us. On the summit of a high mountain, one has this same feeling, except that it is exponentially stronger than when sitting in an airplane. This is because a climber’s feet rest on solid ground: they connect to the land rather than soar over it. Many a human feels at that moment like a direct extension of the Earth, experiencing its greatness and their own smallness all the more powerfully.
At 5,643 metres above sea level or half the cruising height of a passenger jet, the view from Mt. Elbrus, a volcano in the Caucasus Mountains in southernmost Russia, stretches out endlessly. To the south rise glacier-pocked mountain peaks, some extremely steep and jagged, beyond which lie beautiful alpine valleys. In the distance is Georgia, where, so the story goes, many Western Europeans have their roots. In all other directions are wide swaths of forest, grassland and
farmland – the breadbasket of Russia. Here too lived many peoples who moved farther west in the mass migrations of bygone millennia.
The traveller’s eyes roam over flatlands, lakes and rivers and a number of Russian republics. Some of these regions have unfortunately been scarred in recent years by violence and destruction. Today, the faint haze over the landscape speaks to nothing more serious than a rise in temperature during the early hours of the day. A bitter wind sweeps the top of Elbrus, however, where the temperature reaches only -15°C. The pale blue sky grows whiter and whiter in all directions until it merges with distant lands on the horizon. The only shadow is that cast by Elbrus’s eastern peak. The snow crunches and little flags by a small cairn flutter and snap on their aluminium poles. A knot of climbers is making the ascent to Europe’s highest point.
Tolli took the final slope slowly. Hour after hour, the Icelandic group had walked on the hard firn of the mountain’s glacier. Heaved one foot almost mechanically in front of the other, made sure that the crampons were firmly planted in the snow, remembered to keep the climbing rope taut and watched as the starry night sky turned purple, yellow and finally a sunny blue, as Elbrus’s louring pyramidal shadow slowly retreated under the sun’s advance. Now and then, they gazed up to the peak ahead, as each and every one of them made a mental calculation of the distance left to their goal.
The ranks had thinned as the summit grew closer. Some climbers, coming from their various corners of the Earth, made it no farther then the saddle between Elbrus’s two peaks – a stop at which to eat and rest for the last stretch. The wind at these high altitudes was quick to chill, and those without the unwavering resolve or stamina to continue turned back at this point. Rope teams got ready to go, and one little group after another set off up the final slope at its own pace, few
climbers keeping to the ropes as there were no crevasses and an altitude increase of only a few hundred metres to the top. Valerij was best acclimatised to the oxygen-starved air at 5 to 6 kilometres above sea level and walked in the lead, his sunburned face like an old, well-used leather pouch. The slope grew gentler and Elbrus’s western peak came into sight. “Time to get into sheep gear,” Tolli muttered and took off after Valerij, who quickened his own pace in turn. The
two were the first to reach the cairn at the mountain’s top. All the climbers shook hands and some embraced. Tolli only mumbled: “Is it possible to get closer to that which nobody understands?”
Nature – found there and here
Modern Man can be quite sure that Stone Age Man didn’t consider himself master of the Earth; he had not yet managed to write the beginning of Genesis, where it stands that Man is to subdue and have dominion over nature. This is an ideology that has gradually permeated many societies. Humans have long attempted to govern and control nature, albeit without success. Here one finds utilitarianism in its purest form, along with a belief in Man’s superiority that places him second only to God or the Gods. At the same time, the opposite sentiment has arguably been best preserved among indigenous peoples who depend almost entirely on nature’s resources. One may also defend the view that this belief in the superiority of humans over all other living things has for centuries harmed both humanity itself and the biosphere that encompasses it.
Several religions or philosophical systems exist that endorse this concept of human supremacy, as do others that define human beings and nature as being on equal terms, or even one as a part of the other. The course of history has prompted many people to reexamine concepts of Man as lord of nature. The 20th century saw remarkable technological developments, scientific process and concentration of power. Humans began to number in the billions. Doubts over the unrestrained use of natural resources grew. But change for the better is slow. Just as in the previous century, the greater part of humankind in the 21st century has been working hard to subjugate nature despite the fact that many, for example in industrialised countries, have discovered the veracity of the simple fact that the sustainability of our activities must be as matter-of-course for humans as it is elsewhere in nature. The failure to observe this basic rule is currently causing serious problems due to a warming climate, desertification, overfishing, exhaustion of arable land and air, water
and ground pollution. The question of how large a role humans play in global warming, as compared to natural forces, is irrelevant. We have millions and billions of years of data on these forces. The human factor is also present and contributes all too quickly to a warming climate. This is the only factor we can change. The unforeseeable consequences of too great a rise in temperature kindle both our fears and our fighting spirit. Human society needs to change the way it lives with nature. Here, then, is one reason that nature-related themes are culturally prominent. An increased interest in and concern for nature is bound to be reflected in art just as in other areas of culture.
Many people have used the ideology of utilitarianism and the projected role of humans as masters of nature, or ideas of the like, to justify human-caused extinctions and ruthless exploitation of both land and natural resources. Other groups of people, small and large, sense a different and simple truth that no philosophy, political theory or religion can fully overturn: nature is us, the other and everything we thrive in and live off of. They have learned this truth through their own experience and in their own life. These are the indigenous peoples mentioned earlier, including the Canadian Inuit, the Chukchi in Siberia and the peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon. They have, to be sure, lost sight of their roots at times and taken part in overexploitation, but in many places they have succeeded in turning away from this destructive path. Still other people, a group that might be collectively categorised as “modern people in complex knowledge and industrial societies”, have gradually turned their back on the attempts of their forefathers and foremothers to gain unilateral control of nature. They have done so through reasoning and deduction, armed with the power of knowledge and values, which rejects or casts doubt on the idea that it’s possible to subdue nature through technology and development and that economic growth can continue indefinitely, like an ever-growing snowball. A third group comprises both authorities and the public in many developing countries. Their conclusion: moderation and sustainability are key for the future of the world’s inhabitants, who will number 10 billion in a matter of decades. Keeping this in mind, it’s no wonder that nature appears in human cultural efforts and that arts reflect a respect for nature.
The written, organised manifestation of the ideological shift from unrestrained utilitarianism to concepts of sustainable existence likely dates back to long before the beginnings of global industrialisation. There have always been far-sighted people. Philosophical theories, works of fiction and art movements emerged that linked together humans and nature or revered nature as vast and powerful, exalted, beautiful, untamed or merciless, depending on the time period and a society’s ideological position. This sentiment could, admittedly, shift into the realm of outright nature-worship and fanaticism. It sometimes does so today. But what of that. Doubts as to nature’s subordinate position are growing, as reflected in culture from the Renaissance right to the present day, even if the going was slow at first. These days, environmental concerns have become one of the prominent issues in politics and culture.
Nature in visual art
In visual art, the conflicting viewpoints of pure utilitarianism and respect for nature weigh in against each other. Just like the expression of the human and the nature-related. Whether the artworks are figurative or abstract is immaterial. These works mirror developments in societies’ ideological warfare. When rationalism and later romanticism became hallmarks of progressive art, nature was brought to the forefront – clement in a country idyll, untamed and mysterious in an ocean scene or a view of open expanses and hunched mountains – and became a classic subject for artists. Then came expressionism, which celebrated colour and the immediate environment and thus remained more often than not close to nature. The 20th century brought with it both eagerness and discord between art movements, but nature was by no means absent from visual art. Nature continued to have a presence in many images and is still alive and kicking in the
21st century. Nature is everywhere… and nowhere, should one wish to see it in visual art or not see it at all.
Visual art in the modern sense has a rather short history in Iceland. With the exception of portraiture and decorative arts, visual art practices date back only to the late 19th century. By 1900, however, paintings of Icelandic nature were hanging on walls in what remains an unbroken tradition to this day. Prominent visual artists in Iceland who look to nature for their subjects include (in more or less chronological order): Þórarinn Þorláksson, Ásgrímur Jónsson, Jóhannes Kjarval, Jón Stefánsson, Guðmundur Einarsson, Júlíana Sveinsdóttir, Gunnlaugur Blöndal, Sverrir Haraldsson, Hringur Jóhannesson, Sigurður Guðmundsson, Steinunn Vasulka, Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir, Ragna Róbertsdóttir, Rúrí, Eggert Pétursson, Finna Birna Steinsson, Húbert Nói and Georg Guðni, as well as still younger artists. Þorlákur Morthens – Tolli – belongs to this group. The author of this chapter wrote the following in connection with a recent exhibition of Tolli’s works in Denmark:
Comparatively large artworks characterise the exhibition, in which the dramatic Icelandic landscape is conveyed with strong brushstrokes and daring colours, precisely in order to illustrate its countless obvious contrasts and the role that light plays in evoking a gentle or a rough beauty that most of us take in but can neither define nor fully reach a consensus on.
This description of Tolli’s works is one of many to appear in print. It is not all-encompassing. It is not exhaustive. It simply attempts to capture the spirit of his paintings without defining them or placing them in historical context. One element of the description is, however, as plain as day: Tolli paints subjects that he finds in Icelandic nature or the nature of other countries. It’s a fact well worth reflecting on. Why is Tolli so focused on painting nature?
To paint your origins
Many an attempt has been made to define the basic role of the artist, even the artist’s mission or purpose. This is something well worth the time to reflect on, so long as we avoid the conclusion that we’ve hit the bull’s eye or arrived at the One Truth. Consider that such discourse dips into well-known standards like:
- The artist (re)defines reality
- The artist deepens our understanding of existence and interprets our environment
- The artist awakens new (and even unknown) feelings
- The artist looks beyond the confines of everyday life
and it seems no wonder that nature should appear in works of visual art, whether they be old or new. Nature is so close to humans and humanity is such an obvious part of nature that most concept work, including artistic creation, is bound to encompass nature. Just like scores of other visual artists working in Iceland, Tolli looks to nature for his subjects. Here, we find the first hint of an answer to the question of why Tolli interprets nature.
The clash in Iceland between modernism and classic painting after 1946 certainly revolved around forms, methods and interpretations, but it was also an issue of the visual material itself. Polemic post-War debates defined clichés and formulas about art and artists and constructed a discourse that demarcated what was “acceptable” and a credit to the artist and what was “unacceptable” and showed signs of being reactionary or degenerate, depending on which side of the battle lines one stood. Artists went so far as to enter into informal alliances for the purpose of targeting certain other artists and either eradicating or elevating them in an artistic sense. In hindsight, this period of conflict, which lasted for more than two decades, bears the marks of narrow-mindedness, pushiness and mistakes on both sides. It was damaging to the visual arts scene and slowed its progress. It resulted in many excellent artists being left out in the cold and prevented them from realising their potential. This is not an argument for parcelling out blame to named names for the vehemence and mulishness of the past; perspective will only come with the passage of time as research uncovers what in fact occurred. In addition, clashes over ideology and culture are rarely well-balanced, characterised by sangfroid or fairness. This is simply how things are in the evolution of societies. The most important thing we can do is to analyse thecourse of events and learn from them.
Nowadays, nature is “acceptable” and may be painted or visualised in virtually whatever manner one chooses; nature and human society are equally progressive subjects. The debate on methods and interpretations continues, but forms are diverse and almost equally respected. A single group exhibition can feature installations combining soil, rock and water, nature photography, a video of a waterfall and other images of Iceland’s expanses and its lone mountains, some painted, alongside works that don’t directly address nature as such. Traces of the old intolerance still remain, but they are not conspicuous.
Tolli devoted himself to nature when he became an artist, impelled not only by vision or necessity but also by his instinct. He had learned to live close to nature, and in nature he saw – and still sees – a congruity between material and spirit. This path is as natural for him as his childhood pastimes, the long hours spent out-of-doors as a teen and the various outdoor jobs that paid the bills while he was pursuing his arts education. It does not matter whether one looks at his first
works or his most recent: a clear thread runs through them all, from the images of strange beings, oceans, birds, and the elements to the pure landscapes that sometimes harken back to older works through a door… or perhaps a lone manmade object such as a windowless house. Sometimes, indeed, he makes an excursion into abstract works, but even here viewers can catch glimpses of nature if they wish to find it.
Tolli has not felt himself compelled to vanish entirely into abstract painting in holding nature up for show or to adopt other media than white canvas, colour and brushes. This is entirely permissible in modern art, though nothing should ultimately be labelled “permissible” in this arena. The figurative form in visual art is far from obsolete if the interpretation
of the subject remains fresh and professional. Nor is oil painting as a method of presentation obsolete if the use of brushes and colour is likewise fresh and professional. Artists working in this medium are thereby, if form and presentation pass standard, just as progressive with their new painting as those who are introducing something entirely new to Icelandic visual art history.
It doesn’t matter how realistic the landscape is, how much of what is on the canvas comes from the imagination and how freely real-life colours, light and natural forms are interpreted. “If it isn’t like this, it could be like this,” said a fine artist in response to the complaint that the mountain in his picture was demonstrably too big and the sky too angry and overcast. Nor should we forget that all artists are uneven in their work and it’s only fair that we who critically examine
their work see the forest and not just the trees. Open-mindedness is a virtue too often forgotten when evaluating visual art.
It’s interesting to accompany Tolli on excursions to his childhood haunts, fishing or logging trips, climbing expeditions or travels to foreign parts. Yet another facet to the role of nature in his works becomes apparent: Tolli is so steeped in nature and the outdoors that it’s a matter of instinct for him to paint nature, his parent, even spin pictures out of it. It’s instinctive for him to paint his own origins.
The trip to Meðalfell
Turn off Route 1 just before it disappears into the Hvalfjörður tunnel and you’ll find yourself on what was formerly the main highway: a long, snaking road that skirts Hvalfjörður Fjord. A popular salmon fishing river, Laxá í Kjós, winds through a confined valley to issue out into the fjord. To the south of this valley rises Mount Esja, beloved landmark of the Greater Reykjavík Area, rougher and darker than when seen from the city. Cliffs, ravines and snow-filled cirques
characterise this side of the mountain, which remains in shade for most of the day. Reynivallaháls to the north is a steeper but much smaller mountain than Esja. Between these two peaks is Meðalfell (345 m) – a mountain to some visitors, a hill to others. Ages ago, icefalls split out around Meðalfell, advancing from the highlands out into the fjord. Glacier ice rounded its peak and formed its gentle eastern and western slopes, which were once facing and trailing the glacier. To the north and south, however, glacial flow along the mountain has sheered its sides. Meðalfell’s overall appearance is thus not so unlike the sheepbacks seen throughout the world on a smaller scale where glacier movement shapes the bedrock.
Water has collected to the south of Meðalfell in a hollow left by the glacier. The resulting lake is called Meðalfellsvatn, and it was on the southern shores of this lake, at the foot of patchily vegetated scree slopes and the mountain’s steep, black cliffs, sheltered from cold northern winds and remaining in sun for much of the day, that Tolli’s parents built their summer cottage. Tolli spent long stretches of the year here, back in the days when schools offered their students vacations for months at a time and freedom was the only thing on the agenda from sunrise to sundown. The water, the meadows and the mountains – these were his summer camp, rearing grounds and nature school. An academy that is good for us all and like a continually repeated lesson for Tolli.
After Tolli’s parents had vanished from his life under the green turf and the house that had sheltered him and his family for many years had been moved off the site, the two of us stood not far from the old yard, ready for the climb up Meðalfell. Directly ahead of us was the half-finished house belonging to Tolli’s brother Bubbi. On the other side of the lake rose Tolli’s new home. Building noises mixed in the still air with the mooing and baaing of local farms and pastures.
As he laced up his boots, Tolli remarked that the mountain was no Elbrus but it was good all the same.
We set off up the slope, strode over tussocks and stones, sought out patches of grass and moss to have something more solid under our feet than fickle, frost-weathered scree. Being outdoors and close to the land was the number one thing; the mountain, or rather the walk up it as such, came in second. So preoccupied was Tolli with our immediate surroundings and the mountainside’s features that we made slow progress. A green tussock that was larger than the last time, a moss-grown boulder with a new carpet of grey vegetation, cirrus clouds up in the sky, a ledge in the mountain to stop on and a band of cliffs for the hands – all this became a catalyst to recount and to reminisce. Tolli remembered an incredible number of tiny facets of the mountain. Touches that vanish in the bigger picture when looking at it from a distance. His sensitivity for nature is revealed on the way, his understanding of the continuity of everything that is closest to us there: weather, vegetation, bedrock, biota, water and light. How one issues from another and what signs of
change may be seen.
Approaching the mountain’s edge, we had to clamber up low cliffs. Should something have gone wrong, it was a rather long fall and one destined to end in scree. Tolli reminisced on how he and his brothers had fearlessly scrambled up this rock face many times without ever losing a foothold or a handhold. Just like many other people, regardless of their religion, Tolli believes in fate. For him, it goes without saying that nothing serious ever happened to the pack of children exploring the mountainside and its hidden realms.
Meðalfell is quite wide towards the top, characterised by alternating bulges and troughs. We were able to sit down and gaze out in all directions from its highest point. The view from the mountain is good, particularly over the fjord and the surrounding mountains, the northern slopes of Esja and the highlands west of Lake Þingvallavatn. Patches of snow at these highest heights are reminiscent of some of Tolli’s paintings, and the setting sun in the west casts a golden and redgolden light over both land and sea that also seems familiar from his works. His father’s ashes had been scattered there several years ago. It reminds one that some of what drives Tolli could also be seen in his parents, for example the wish to remain extremely close to nature.
Natural beauty is a concept just as abstract as love or greatness. Our estimation of just what it constitutes is no doubt a product of our origins and upbringing, society and attitude towards the world. Tolli’s vision of beauty in nature has surely been formed in this, his countryside, by a life filled with conflict and his arts education. He says he has little interest in discourse on beauty. Says beauty is there to be enjoyed and that’s why he creates beauty for people with his artwork without providing an explanation on his part. Why? Because beauty acts to enrich us. This being said, his audience may be divided when it comes to their perception of his paintings. Some see beauty; others see something quite different. Tolli isn’t concerned about the differing attitudes of those who see or comment on his paintings. Just like many other artists, he doesn’t explain his own work but is always up for discussions on visual art, something that registers clearly in books about him and interviews.
We walk westwards down the mountain, facing the sun, a much easier route than the one we took up. Tolli points out stone polygons and moss campion and remarks that Meðalfell and its immediate surroundings alone would give any artist a lifetime supply of subject material.
Into the present
Life is a journey. Who, I wonder, was the first to say or write this? The comparison is a fine one; to comprehend this truth can teach us the modesty and curiosity necessary to make a physical journey fruitful. It is tempting to go a step farther and say that life is a mountain journey, and of course this has also been said and written before. The lead-up to the mountain itself, the varying steepness of the trail and finally the summit, which marks the beginning of the inevitable trip down the slope and towards the end of the climb, a point inseparable from its beginning. Tolli and I have climbed several mountains together, and Tolli has sometimes said that for him, mountains are a metaphor for precisely this. On the way up, one might mention, the best thing to do is to identify with the land and reconcile yourself to whatever is under your feet at any given time, save energy, pass like smoke over the landscape, gaze up to the summit and wonder what is behind each ridge and what can be seen when standing right at the top. And indeed, it may be that circumstances lead you to turn around and look for a different mountain. The journey remains of great value all the same.
Several years ago, Tolli climbed the mountain Island Peak or Imja Tse in Nepal, over 6,000 m high. He was alone except for a Sherpa guide, but one may guess that on the climb he once again was filled with the conviction that the summit was like life itself. He had to grapple with fatigue, disquiet, thin air and malaise in much the same way as he had grappled with negative temptations, drugs and excess for many years. Tolli learned to overcome these difficulties without ever ceasing to paint. He harnessed his addiction and transformed it into performance and an enthusiasm for his work.Became a better person. That’s how I saw him after our mountaineering trips. Tolli’s difficult years were of course far from devoid of happiness, but on Imja Tse he likely felt a uniquely deep sense of satisfaction when finishing the climb. The satisfaction of having the time to reflect on his life and stand at the summit of a mountain with an incredible view over the icy peaks of the Himalayas, with Ama Dablam and Lhotse almost within reach. At the top, everything seems to be at a virtual standstill, but this is only an illusion when things are examined closely upon reaching the final goal of this leg of the journey. Curiosity had brought him there and made him work for his gratification. His Nepal experience clearly surfaces in the artist’s paintings.
Buddhism is the belief and philosophy taught by Gautama Buddha, who lived around 2500 years ago. Buddhism is a philanthropic philosophy that aims to bring people to the awareness that standstill does not exist, that an individual’s possibilities are virtually unlimited and that life is inherently precious. Everything in the world comes and goes, springs up and vanishes. For this reason, human existence is painful. Individual nature is marked by limitations; limitations give rise to desires and these desires cause suffering because both humans and that which they pursue endure only a short time, change and vanish. Buddhism teaches that all important changes begin with the decision to take responsibility for one’s own life by improving oneself and exerting oneself in order to have a positive effect on one’s immediate environment and interaction with other people. Keeping this and Tolli’s life experience in mind, it’s no wonder that he embraces Buddhism. Tolli readily speaks about the inner metamorphosis that has turned his life around. He emphasises positive qualities and transforms fear into courage, delusion into wisdom and egocentrism into solidarity. Gautama Buddha taught that there is a release from the world’s suffering and a road to enlightenment or the actual state of being, called nirvana. Release is found on the eightfold path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Buddhists say that humans are a synthesis of five skandhas. Four vanish with death; the fifth, karma, endures and obtains a new skandha in the next life. Karma is the sum of all a person’s deeds in previous lives. Each and every human carries their karmic heritage with them in his or her search for inner peace after the end of cruelty, hate and ignorance. This is a perspective that Tolli doubtless also seeks in his visual world.
As a geoscientist, I’ve never subscribed to the view that the glaciated volcano Snæfellsjökull is a more remarkable mountain than many others in Iceland. On my travels here and there in the world, I’ve become acquainted with many intriguing ideas regarding the unique connections between people and mountains and the power of mountains. In Equador, volcanoes are personified as parents – taita and mama – and frequently invoked; shamans travel to them in search of wisdom and mental power. In Nepal, they are the homes of goddesses and gods. Back in Iceland, Tolli and I have stood by the volcanic craters at Fimmvörðuháls in spring, paintbrushes in hand, seeking a way to interpret that which we saw in front of us. All at once, we felt the need to climb Snæfellsjökull before this book was finished. He was certain of the mountain’s power; I was skeptical.
Towards its base, Snæfellsjökull is covered by a lattice of lava rock of varying ages. This is replaced at higher altitudes by firn and a relatively steep glacier, laced with deathly deep fissures. It’s easy enough to take a snowmobile almost to the very top, but that is a journey in which we have no interest. The mountain has to inch itself into the body and mind through every one of our own steps. Our path will be the most direct one up to Miðþúfa, the highest of the Snæfellsjökull’s three peaks, which looks just like an ice-battered beacon on the edge of the volcanic mountain’s crater. With the right equipment, it isn’t dangerous.
The best time to climb Snæfellsjökull is on a summer night, arriving at the summit in the long sunrise after the sun has dipped just below the horizon. The slope is even, and the snow is hard after the chill of the night, making it reasonably easy to negotiate the firn. Just as on Mt. Elbrus, the purplish sky above gradually turns yellow and the view becomes ever more panoramic, this time revealing steel-blue ocean rather than continental expanses. Most of the climb is spent in silence, with the line between us and the photographer’s taut. If all the thoughts that go through climbers’ heads when absorbed in their own worlds would be put down on paper, the outcome would be many remarkable books or diverse works of art.
As we approach the upper slopes, Tolli talks of a trip he is planning to Tibet along with several friends. He raises his voice, for the breeze has picked up. This will be the second time that Tolli travels to the Land in the Middle, this time to walk the pilgrim’s path around the sacred mountain Kailash, one of the most remarkable natural monuments in the world. I wonder to myself whether he will experience the same fulfilment and mental power in completing this journey as when he stands at the summit of Snæfellsjökull, but ask no questions.
We climb Miðþúfa with crampons and ice axes in the wee hours of the morning. Our exhilaration leads us to chatter about everything and nothing, but it doesn’t overshadow the comfortable and fulfilling sensation that grips each and every one of us when standing on a mountain as beautiful and majestic as Snæfellsjökull. Is this what some people call the glacier’s power? I don’t ask. Instead, Tolli and I talk about the future: how he plans to tackle the current crisis in the material world, where our travels could take us over the next few years, how our families are doing, where the visual arts are heading and where I’m planning to go with my work.
Fresh winds sweep the glacier in every sense of the expression, and the sky has just begun to turn a faint blue by journey’s end at the foot of the mountain.