By Hali Valadez
We gather as a group in the late evening, under the cover of a big white tent. The warm wind blows through the air as i play with the soft, dusty sand at my feet. Mr. Alter is reading blog posts and poems from previous years and I listen with wavering attention, more focused on keeping my eyes open and not drifting into temping sleep.
Suddenly I hear the words of a poem from a young Evan Pausic being read aloud. My eyes immediately widen and my head lifts from its focus on the sand as he reads the stanzas with emphasis. As my ears focus, I catch the middle of the poem being read. The words, “God is anywhere, not everywhere; why walk through the valleys of Death when Mountains of life stand beside them”
My breath catches and tears well in my eyes as I listen. A warmth in my chest rises as I repeat the lines over and over in my head. I suddenly feel emotional, like tears could come and never leave as long as I remembered these words. I didn’t understand why I felt this way. As the night continued I stayed in a haze, those 6 words swirling around in my head; Valley of Death; Mountain of Life, making tears brim my eyes every time I thought too hard.
For the next couple of days, those lines stayed on repeat in my head, my brain and body trying to understand the words and feeling with them.
Mountain of Life. For the people of Pancheshwar, the mountain is the source of their life. It is where they live, work, have families, and thrive. The tall steep cliffs provide them with food for their families and animals, and protect them from monsoons; the flat rigid terraces give them places to build homes, villages, schools, and farms; the springs and rivers give them water and sustenance for animals and crops. The Mountain of Life. The animals that habituate themselves on the Mountain also rely on it and everything it provides. Tall trees to nest in and climb on; long grasses to graze and steep mountainsides to walk. For them, the mountain is everything; to survive and thrive; it is their source of life. Mountain of Life.
Valley of Death. Though the mountain of life is a tall and plentiful figure, some walk in the valley of death. Air, water, noise, and light pollution; commercial influence; the destruction of natural and the creation of fabricated and fictitious. The Valley of Death is formed of temptation and seduction, a fascination with MORE; but really, less.
How does one choose between mountains and valleys, life and death? Is there even a choice at all? The Mountain of Life and the Valley of Death; the two sides of India, of life.