No trail-building or backpacking this weekend. Almost no mountains. Almost.
But mountains are like breath to me. They take and bring oxygen to my lungs, pure as sunshine and blue skies over too-dry peaks. And if I can’t drive further, I’ll stay close and bring this beauty to students who’ve traveled the world to live here and never get to feel this rocky crunch under their shoes.
“Have you ever been hiking before?” I ask a three-years-in Eritrean immigrant.
“Here? No. But my home… my home in Eritrea, it was surrounded by this. And we had to take trails like this to go to the bathroom.”
It is such a simple statement from her full-haired, smooth-skinned, beautiful face that will always fill the picture frame of this day. So simple, yet so profound.
On the drive home, we are all starving after our four-mile trek. The last two of my Nepali students (our numbers have frighteningly diminished since Trump’s election) suggest Subway and find a roundabout route on Google Maps to get us to one. But my Eritreans refuse to order a sandwich that their “rich” teacher is buying. They say they ate too many Pringles, but I know there is more to their story than what their English vocabulary will allow them to say.
The Nepalis order toasted bread filled with every vegetable Subway offers, no cheese, no meat, nothing against Hindus. The pale white young men hide behind their caps as the Nepalis point at vegetables, still not sure of their names, and though I try to recite, “cucumbers, tomatoes,” the boys’ pale eyes tell me that they’d rather not be here, surrounded by other skin tones in this bleached-white, English-only suburb. It is such a simple obscurity behind their black baseball caps, and yet so profound.
I drive them halfway home because only these five girls out of ninety-three “participants” showed up today, and why shouldn’t I? It is a reminder of the two or three buses each of them takes, from every limb of our fully-branched city, to come to our school. It is a reminder of the commitment that comes from leaving a whole country, a whole world behind, to never get to see the mountains of my state. It is a reminder that on a Saturday afternoon, nothing is more beautiful than the sound of the accented, “Thank you, Miss.”
It is a reminder of the beauty of blue sky days. Of close mountains that fill my lungs with hope. Of not having to hike to find a bathroom.
Of what this world could be, if we would just take a moment to breathe.