In the mountains
I am no traveler though there are a few places I’ve been, the last being the mountains in the north.
Wearing knitted pants and a rider’s velvet cover-up, I joined a bunch of guys on an adrenaline rush. We negotiated steep hills, thinning ridges and straight paths paved by monster mining trucks under the cruel heat of the summer sun.
In the mountains, you form friendships. You look after the others, and they look after you in return. You share with them peanuts, as well as rice, even laughter. You share with them muscle pains, bathless days, and freakishly cold, cold nights. You share with them your life, knowing they will give you a hand when you topple over, and wait for you to get enough air when you think your lungs had been emptied of oxygen.
Feces left by beasts marked the trail, glazing the grassy cliffs. We were met by sudden rain but we went on anyway, cold and dripping wet although covered in shiny, colored plastic wrappers. Black clouds threatened to stop us on our way up, so we decided to spend the night sheltering under a patch of wood with a roof, sitting between low ledge and higher ground.
The next day, we awoke before the rest of the world did and were greeted by the sight of twinkling white lights spread across the predawn sky. Our vision was not enough to glimpse all the stars scattered unevenly like bits of Oreo cookies in a tub of ice cream. They formed shapes and drew streaks that you would miss if you blinked.
We walked toward the peak for hours while behind us, the sun began to emerge, casting colors of auburn, purple, and pink. We reached the summit and were welcomed by a sea of clouds hovering over the mountains across us. Thick, grayish-white nimbi hung silently on what seemed to be a blank canvas that the gods used to paint their emotions—gray for anger, blue for happiness, orange, purple, or pink when they felt a little peppy, or sleepy.
We had to continue walking, taking nothing but sweet memories and frames and frames of images with which to tell our stories to every curious mind who would ask how it had been. The hours passed and we felt exhaustion settling in. Peering over a cliff and seeing houses and some folks gathering for an afternoon chat brought great relief. It was tempting to run toward them, or even jump over just to get there.
But in the mountains, things are farther than they seem. You can only keep thinking that you are nearly there, returning to where you were before, even if the idea of going home before everybody else does is bliss, and will be a foolish thing to do.
As the trail grew closer to the end, everything seemed far longer than the earlier trip. The last marker—two smiling zeros—felt more like mocking than cheerful. They made me realize that there, I and everything else were dwarfed by the huge and lurid mountains, making me and the others mere dots, little points in the vast universe of pine trees racing to the heavens and sheets of cotton clouds billowing in the blue, arcane sky.
I am neither a mountaineer nor a traveler. I am a searcher, but I don’t know what I have been looking for. Maybe in the years to come I will know it. But for now, I will keep searching. Maybe by doing so, I will get to find those little pieces of meaning I have set out to find—in the mountains and everywhere else I have been, and will be in.
Windy P. Añonuevo, 26, is a civil servant pursuing a master’s degree in communication.
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