How to Undress a Mountain
by Aditi Rao
It’s like turning a page. Or peeling the cellophane off your favorite book’s cover. Look for moisture — moisture turns corners.
Keep scrap paper handy. You want to catch the shavings and throw them neatly away.
Grab the cheese grater. Grate.
Gather mountain shavings like nail clippings in newspaper. Don’t throw them away just yet. You never know what you can use when.
Fair warning: what you find underneath might scare you. Make sure you have someone around to help with the newspaper.
Step back (about 4 kilometers). Watch the grays give way to blues, the purples grow into magentas. Allow yourself a day to acclimatize.
Look for striped rocks. They are trying to tell you something. Listen, always listen, to the songs of rocks. They are usually right and always wise. Let the rocks tell you which path to take next.
When in doubt, stick with the left. It is the safer option, and it makes the returning less painful.
If you brought your binoculars, now is a good time for them.
Look up. There are lifetimes worth of blue there.
Keep peeling. The mountains you see first are a ruse; the real ones hide behind. Or under. Sometimes, you have to drink up a whole river before you find what you are looking for.
Arrive thirsty. It’s worth it.
Yes, you will shave the snow too. Stuff it into cones. With a little mint, it is better.
Watch how the snow peak throws the sun’s light back at it. Watch how it glows in its own stubbornness. You need that glow.
Place your chair in the river. Anyone who nears you will first remove his shoes. Feel like a goddess.
Fill the arches of your feet with freezing rocks. They will not hurt you. They remember you — this river must. After all, it is what you are.
Let the old man downstairs wash his clay elephant. His prayers can only help you (although I doubt he’s praying for you). And your daughter loves the smell of incense.
Learn the names of the birds that screech you out of bed. Look particularly for the one that nests in the walnut, pulling branches from a half dead, half blushing apple tree. It has understood something you do not yet know.
Keep looking. The longer you watch, the closer you will come. Climb into the apple’s arms if you want to be sure.
Wait for the air to smell of night and cowdung. (You have learned to love cowdung, yes? You cannot peel through the mountains until you learn to love cowdung.)
No, there isn’t an end. But you can take these shavings home and build a new mountain. Then, you can start over. That’s the fun of mountains. You can always start over.
Aditi Rao (website) is a writer, educator, and dreamer. She works in New Delhi, India, and lives everywhere she can.