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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Cordillera Dreaming

I want to tell about two of the places we have seen in the days that we were able to spend in the mountains of the Cordillera Real. While our experiences of these places were made complex and difficult at times by circumstances and happenings outside of the natural world that we were passing through, some of the views and experiences that I had while trekking this past week were so profoundly beautiful that they seem to exist beyond the reach of any of those things.

When I look back to the few days that we were able to spend in the mountains, I think first of the wild horses. They came in the dark of the evening to the marshland valley in which we camped, and at first I didn´t recognize them as different from the ones that we had hired to carry our food. And perhaps they belonged to someone. My understanding of their place in that cold landscape is limited and narrow, but here is what I wrote of them in the morning, after they had come in:

¨The wild horses, stomping and impatient and impossibly beautiful, in the field, outside of our tents, whinnying beyond. The challenges to our horses marked by their snorts, their quick advances, the cold air escaping in white gasps from their noses, the quiet, fleeting half-conflict made known to those of us watching those slight movements. Watching our horses, too, with their old white ropes telling their hooves how to dance a runaway song, joined now by the wilder kind, their population doubled in the night.

We wake and see a field that is new, dreamlike, indescribable and yet if I were to try, I would say that it is the landscape I would have wanted to know when I was small and still imagined places like this, so full of wonder. I did not know that I would one day wake up here. In this valley, thick with high grass and rushing, slim blue rivers and the dreams of twenty-one restless campers: I think that I dreamed of this place when I was a little girl.¨

Later in the week, we entered the landscapes and the glaciers surrounding the mountain Condoriri. We set up camp by a glacial lake- frigid, vibrantly alive with fish and other life, a deep, brilliant blue- and trekked up to the base of a glacier. We returned to the lake´s edge in a solo walk, and I found myself thinking about the mountains as more than the simple, beautiful visions of the natural world that they represent to so many of us. I wrote this of the land that we were trekking over in silence:

¨There is water running down the mountain like a memory of ice. Black, the peaks are, against their blind white snow and in the burning sun. The sun is near in this land. It looks down and follows everything it sees.

I look at this land and I think of how immense it is, in so many ways: huge beyond comprehension, overwhelmingly beautiful, and so filled with history and culture that even from my narrow perspective, I am aware of how much there is to be known of that narrative. How so much of this land´s meaning and rich significance is found beyond all of the spectacular beauty that meets the eye. Does a culture´s unique vision of a landscape influence, perhaps even create, the understanding and the perspective of that land by all other people who experience it? Perhaps you can feel some essence of the narrative that has been crafted of these mountains as you pass quietly through them, even without asking what it might actually be made of, even without knowing the reality of the history, the words to the old mountains´stories.

The quiet is spectacular. The hills; the great Apus themselves, perhaps, hum and sing in the silence of us traveling strangers; they mumble their rich histories. Something of the tune echoes in my listening ear.¨

I hope to return to these mountains after this course is over. I hope to hear more of the song of this land and to find more intuition and knowledge of its history than I can find now in the quiet of my imagination, as beautiful as that experience is to me. For now, I am still dreaming: of what each small detail, each hill and glacier and marshland and valley might mean to those who truly know it. I want to share a small thing that I wrote on our first night on trek. Sitting on an icy stone at the top of a rise in the wet land, I was overcome by the view that lay before me, even though I could see nothing through the fog that had rolled in. Days after I wrote this, I learned of a ceremony that some of the people of the Andes say you must perform for the Apus- the great, sacred mountains- upon entering their territories, if you wish to see their faces. We did not perform any rituals or ceremonies before we entered that land that surrounds the great mountain Illampu. Here is the entry that I wrote that night:

¨I am looking into the fog.

There is no way of saying to you how impossible this beauty feels to me. How to describe the high peaks, the ones still in clouds, in their thick holy shrouds of white fog. I am looking out and over the valley and I am seeing nothing but the absolute sheet of white, which holds everything now. I know that beyond and beneath the thick fog is a landscape so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes to get a glimpse of it. Yet standing here in the mud of the grassy knoll, the rocky earth clumping to my wet boots, I stare into that landscape and see no mountains at all.

I think of how this is like my vision of this place, this country as a whole: how I walk into the market and see things, certainly, but always through my own surrounding fog. There´s so much to be seen, to be known closely, to grasp with its deeper context, and I feel as though as long as I am lucky enough to travel, to pass through every kind of home, I will stand like this in every place: my eyes wide open to the soft white fog, waiting for the wind to come, watching with a kind of devotional attention: until I can see something through it.¨

With love love love,