Monday, February 18, 2013

mountains in my blood

Somewhere between Lyon and Albertville, France

17 février 2013

Naked vineyards climb snow-covered slopes. Slopes that are angular and rocky. Not soft and rounded like the mountains I come from. Occasionally, a small, ancient castle—perhaps intact, perhaps in crumbling disrepair after centuries of standing tall—slides into view, as though it’s no big deal to be a castle, still claiming a vantage point that assures no marauders can approach unseen. Roofs of all sizes are pitched steeply, ostensibly to keep the heavy snow from collapsing them, but even pitched roofs can eventually succumb to the heavy, wet whiteness, it seems. Along with and sometimes on top of castles, broken roofs, too, have slid past, each scene in view for only seconds—oh, look! now there’s a tall, narrow waterfall outside my window, gushing melted snow—as the train zips on its merry way.

Albertville, France

Even if my weekend in Albertville (site of the 1992 winter Olympics!) had been terrible—which it wasn’t—the weekend jaunt would still have been worth it for the train ride alone. On my Friday exit from Aix to Albertville, views were mostly muted and monochrome, but beautifully so, hinting at the weather that had brought the previous night’s pillowy snowfall. As I return south today, the sky is clear and bright, making the landscape’s every color seem more fully itself: the white, white snow; the deep brown/black of disrobed trees; a blue, blue sky; the warm stone-brown of still-lived-in old houses; multitudes of shutters flaunting bright greens or light blues, cherry browns or apple reds.

And as I observe families of homes huddled together in the shadow of the rocky heights and wonder how the shadows and the beauty mark the lives inside those homes, my train takes me back to other places where I’ve wondered similar things.

Kalongo, Uganda

Suddenly, I’m back in Uganda, wondering about the people of Kalongo who live in the austere but beautiful shadow of that strange, rock-mountain that towers over their round, thatched roofs. And then I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, where Table Mountain marks life for inquisitive four-year-olds such as my cousin’s daughter and for residents eager to return home to the security of their mountain’s austere but familiar footprint.

Cape Town, South Africa

Next, the snowy Alps and the cultivated slopes transport me to the mountain villages I visited while trekking in India’s stretch of the Himalayas. Especially that particularly heart-claiming village where the people were so very friendly and their terraced farmland, so high up, was the picture of order and hard work and healthy harvest. And from there I am back in the Appalachians that birthed me, back in scenes I was reminded of in India.

Uttarakhand, India

Just as certain qualities of urban centers are a culture all their own no matter what nationality marks them, so it is with communities tucked into mountain crevices. I felt at home in Northern India partly because it reminded me of home in Northeastern Tennessee, where a drive along curvy mountain roads showcases sheds of patchwork tin and sometimes-dilapidated barns with partially-intact roofs, clinging to life a little longer in solidarity with their older cousins in the Alps. 

Upper East Tennessee, USA

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