I got my first vaccine shot today. That’s not really newsworthy; most of us are getting it and I had scheduled to get it a few weeks ago, before New Jersey had opened it up to everyone. Problem was, the only location available was in upstate New York, so rather than rescheduling once Jersey opened up, I decided to take the long drive up the Palisades Parkway for the shot.
It felt almost like last year’s long winter was coming to an end. The sun was beaming into the car. There was a light breeze, so I put the sunroof down. The trees were budding. And the farther upstate you get, the more mountainous the scenery became.
I love these mountains. The Appalachian Trail winds through here, so after I got the shot, I drove over to Harriman State Park and took a walk down the Long Path Trail which connects to the AT. There was this collective sigh of relief for the months of worries I felt I’d carried around the pandemic. Maybe it was the mountain air, but I felt I was able to breath for the first time in forever.
As I sit with it, I think I’m drawn to mountains, to the earth, in a way I never would have expected. If you’re into the whole astrology thing, that’s particularly surprising: I am all water. The depths of the friggin’ Atlantic. I’ll drown you if I’m not careful. Such is the nature of a Cancer, I guess. But, ever since I lived in Morocco, I found that I’m drawn to the dirt, to getting lost in a mountain pass–and particularly to what a good stream can do to it.
My whole life, it turns out, has revolved around the mountains. I grew up in Tennessee in the lowlands just a few hundred miles from the Appalachians and took summer trips to the Smokies. I studied abroad in Scotland, in the highlands and the Aberdeenshire. I lived for a few years in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Sandwiched now between the Poconos and the Catskills, the mountains are never too far from the meadowlands. Everything leads there. Or from there, it seems.
Turns out, though, all of those mountains I just mentioned, are the same mountain range, originally. Before the supercontinent Pangea began to break apart 175 million years ago, there was a mountain range we’ve dubbed the Central Pangean Mountains which ultimately came to form the Appalachians, the Atlas, and the Highlands.
Realizing that gives me some sense of belonging: a world carved up just so, just for us. And, too, there’s some kind of weight to it. Mind you, there’s weight in the water too, the heaviness and the unknown of the ocean depths. But the heaviness of the mountains is of a different sort. It can be changed, eroded and chiseled through, yes, but also formed and made, complete with crests and troughs not all that different from the waves but more settled and safe.
The drive back from the shot, I kept the window down and took in the mountain air as long as I could. I worried a little more about the variants, about what comes next. But then I stopped myself and just took in the gratitude that a year and one month, to the day, I’m alive, and it’s okay to just take in that mountain air and sit with the summit enjoying the view.