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.

5 responses to “Valleys of Death & Mountains of Life”

  1. JEB BYERS Avatar

    Brilliant, thoughtful, moving. And Young Pausic was always a deep thinker. So cool that his writing inspired your own excellent analysis of the metaphor he proposed.

  2. Mollie Avatar

    Hali, I’ve been eagerly awaiting your insights on this journey to India at this point in your life! Even if we are always amongst the mountains and the valleys, we don’t always notice it. It’s interesting that this sentence written by Mr. Pausic hit you the way that it did, because for me, years ago, I clearly remember hearing EP read from his journal in Lodhi Gardens, in Delhi that first part, “God is anywhere, not everywhere”. I have come back to that idea many times and under many different circumstances, and it’s helped me understand what I was seeing or feeling. It definitely captures a non-dualistic outlook of existence that I couldn’t grasp until being in India several times.

    Your journey in India sounds like it is both an internal and external one, and though I miss you and your mama dearly, I am sustained by knowing that you are meandering through the valleys and bumping along through the mountains of northern India coming to know the power and the peace of such a rapidly changing landscape.

  3. haley Avatar

    Hali! Now you have me crying. What a great message for a Sunday morning. 

    This makes me think about the psalm that’s often read at funerals – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me, and you comfort me, and you spread a table before me.” India is a good place to think about this idea – where, or with who, can we find enough faith and comfort to not be afraid of the valley? There’s a lot of places around you to look for that – the comfort, the togetherness, the table, the companionship, or whatever it looks like for you – and it sounds like you are keeping an open heart and mind. Lean into the moments when something hits you like Evan’s poem did – and keep feeling them!

  4. A Showalter Avatar

    Great post, Hali. I wonder what your own poem responding to or expanding upon Evan’s would sound like? Consider writing one, and then imagine the future travelers tearing up at your words. There is wisdom here.

  5. channing Avatar

    BEST FRIEND! I am so so proud of everything you have done and everything you are learning in India. You always make every situation positive and overall life just 10x better. India is lucky to have you, because lord knows how much I miss you! Your figuring out who you are bean, and I couldn’t be more proud to see you do it. Love you forever

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