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Photo by Kate Gross-Whitaker

Snow globes in Puzhehei

After lunch, our group consistently falls into an afternoon lull. Lethargy follows our full bellies like an over attatched puppy, and last Sunday, in Puzhehei, was no different. Reflecting the pace of the off-season tourist town we were spending the weekend in, our group entered into a dull, empty silence as we waited for our next activity, biking, to begin. Luz Victoria and I suggested the group go swimming after biking; we asked around about the various signs reading “No Swimming” and were assured the only danger was cold water. In an afterthought of an activity, five of us ended up at the lake that afternoon.

Tracing back our steps from a hike we did earlier that day, we walked through a field and on some precariously placed logs to the edge of the lake. Jesse remembered seeing a fisherman a bit further down the trail at what looked to be a good spot, and we all agreed, why not, let’s walk for a little longer. Up and then down some stairs built into the mountain, off the trail feet sliding on the dirt below, we arrived at a rocky outpost facing the lake. Except for Jesse, we hadn’t brought swimsuits on the trip, so we salvaged the clothing we could by taking off our shirts, leaving them with our bags, and hoping our pants would dry by the next day. Luz Victoria went in the water first. The water wasn’t bad, she said, and so I slid onto a mossy rock just beneath the surface. The moss was slimy under my grip, and I wiggled my toes to rid them of the shock of cold water. Quickly, I pushed off. For a second I froze, then I shivered and exclaimed for the others to come in. Everything felt sharper: my torso tensing in the water, my culottes billowing and then sticking to my legs, even the chatter of my friends above. The lake cleansed my thoughts, leaving in its wake a clear and deep perception of my surroundings.

To our left, there was a cave. Unsure of how far it went, I swam into it. Light played off the wall at its back, shimmying with the gold of the late afternoon sun. At its end, I found a place to stand, and I marveled at the moment. How is it that I am here, seeing these stalactites that have grown for thousands of years, and continue to grow with each drip of water? How is it that I now witness this light, photons that have traveled from the source of all life only to arrive in this cave and dancing? How did us five, with our disparate life lines, come to share these hours together? Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it some sort of sacred?

I swam into the open water and looked up at the sky, big like the one I love in Texas. Its edges were laced with mountains, and I felt as if in a snow globe, wholly contained and intentionally placed. Soon after, we got out of the water, and we sat gazing at the last bit of pink sink below the horizon. I asked for thirty seconds of silence. In the quiet, I soaked in the chirping of the birds and the dirt on my heels, the pixilated reflection of the hilltops on the water, the clouds waltzing southward. I thought about how we stumbled upon this memory, and how I can hold it in my palm, shake it around and watch the light dance. Look, here: Luz Victoria is tentatively placing her toes in the water. Jesse is peering into a dark corridor made of rock. Jesus is handing me his towel. Saumya is sitting in the cave, looking back out at me.