They call to me.
These words dripping out of my mom’s mouth with the perfect mixture of longing and satire, just enough to make you wonder if she’s serious, have fallen on my ears since long before my long, sea of curls covered them. As my mom dreamed of her adult life, perched atop some Rocky Mountain boulder measuring 17,000 times bigger than the largest pebble North Dakota has to offer, raising her kids in the harsh, uninteresting landscape of North Dakota is not what she had in mind. The smell of the mountain ground after an unexpected dusting of rain or the taste of the mountain breeze whipping through her hair, ears, face has never been far from my mom’s mind. It’s her secret that she was never able to conceal– the mountains call to her.
You’d never appreciate them.
These words, while I lived in my mom’s house, justifying my own love for North Dakota — its lack of curves, failure to thrive, abhorrence for natural growing trees, its unwavering commitment to performing its duty as the runt of the 50 state litter — surely all of these facets are the basis for my esteem and deep appreciation of the majesty of the Rockies. Every summer and Christmas I gazed upon those mountains from my grandma’s porch, never failing to be struck by their mystery. How they cast a shadow upon the ground long before dusk, daring you to challenge them for more sunlight. Their complete unfamiliarity, their ruthlessness, their only weakness being their powerlessness to forgive– all made me feel lonely as I craned my neck to look at them, my grandma’s laughter echoing from the conversation I had left back at a place of recognition.
I miss the mountains.
These words, never a surprise, impressively squeezed into unrelated conversation weeks after our re entry to my amenable horizontal, untouched land. As I sighed with my love for the land, the predictable monotonous drone of the landscape much like the sound of an old car on a curveless highway never failed to comfort me like a warm quilt, despite the barrenness of its usual below freezing temperature. This same comfortable barrenness seemed to seep into my mom’s bones like the frost settles into the cracks of the earth, giving me something to watch as she battled against it until the first thaw.
You need to get over it.
These words, meant only to encourage, highlight my naivety of her desire to live, yet again, under their grandeur, dwarfed by their endless precipices. Her inhospitality for her new Northern climate, my indefinite domain I was sure, was consistent with the inhospitable environment she had left behind, as if she had learned from the mountains how to never accept, never embrace. Her nostalgia never diminished, just concealed itself behind the transient North Dakota summer, acting as a fugitive, making my mom the pursuer.
The mountains are calling.
This time my mom is 200 miles away dreaming of her own mountains. These words escape my mouth in a single exhalation of bloated, hungry breath, like the desperate grunt of my son seconds before tears race down his cheeks. A familiar, yet for years unseen, Colorado trip impending at the end of the week, my longing for the mountains is not unlike my mom’s. The reason for it, however, is as distant from hers as the miles between her home state and mine, and more difficult to define. It could be the mountains I miss, never fully drinking in their intoxication when I had the chance, because of my loyalty to my futile land. Or could it be the breath of my grandma, the inexplicable smell of her house which seems to lie dormant in my nose years later, striking a memory at inconvenient times as if imploring me to remember her, the way her house convinced me my childhood would exist in perpetuity, that her laughter would always be there–I believe that it is likely this I miss, the enduring mountains serving only as a kind of mockery for a limited life.