It perhaps comes as no surprise that the two types of landscape, which fascinate me are mountains and desert. Actually, I think the two have much in common. Both, no matter how the day was, can get rather chilly once daylight has fully faded and darkness truly descends. They are harsh environments of extremes, with a sense of beauty that is not always easily understood. And they are not for everyone. You fuck about in one of these stretches of geography, if you're lucky, you might just get metaphorically chewed up and spit out by the very landscape you arrogantly trod upon. Worst case, your bones are swallowed whole, and if you're even remembered at all, it's as a cautionary tale for foolhardy travelers from far-flung locals looking to do a bit of geographic slumming.
I like to believe if I'd not found my Kashmir here high within the bosom of the great Rocky Mountains, that I might've found it out in some lost and lonely desert, but, perhaps that is another story...
"We have mountains where we're from too," tourists, mostly from the east coast, will often say. I suppress the urge to laugh uproariously at them.
"Oh, I had the misfortune of living in North Carolina for about three and a half years," I've been given to say. "I've seen what ya'll think passes for mountains. Pretty? To a degree, but still barely foothills compared to out here."
Of course, I've gotten my backfist of perspective about living up high before. It came in the form of Sareta, a little Nepalese woman who runs Himalayan import store down below, in the greater metroplex, not too far from where I used to live. She's a sweetheart, and I still attempt to call on her maybe once or twice a year.
"You are moving to the mountains finally?" She asked, astonished, when I told her Sabina and I had purchased our house.
"Yeh, right along the edge of the high country basically," I replied. "A little over nine-thousand feet. We'll be close to a couple of fourteeners."
"The highest mountains in Colorado are fourteen thousand," Sareta said. "Where I come from, that is not very high at all."
"Yes, yes, I know," I said, all but bearing my jugular, which I do for no one. "Bloody fucking foothills. You win."
Another thing I believe our mountain Kashmir has in common with deserts is a matter of coloration. Green, unless you mean the evergreens-or cacti, in the case of a desert-is not a color that sticks around long here. In the mountains, most of the time, it is a study of khakis and whites. There is a brief few weeks in early, early autumn, when the aspens turn the hillsides into tapestries of spun gold, fire, emeralds, and rubies, but it is gone almost as quickly as it started.
Down below, and in warmer climbs, spring, green, seems to unfold slowly. Giving one a chance to ease into turn along the seasonal cycle. In our Sahel, there are the slight omens; a little more green in the khaki of the grass, bulbs threatening to come up through the thawing earth, reddish orange along the scrub brush, there is a scent of green along the trails when on is on walkabout.
But then, one day and from out of nowhere it seems...boom! Everything is green and lush and there are flowers and foliage and the wind is not so cold. Tourists and snowbirds swarm to the pointy lands like ravenous locusts. In that one day, shorts and sandals become more acceptable. In that one day, it is summer once more.
This period of green is very brief. Only about twelve, maybe thirteen, weeks, before the landscape begins its fade to a study of khakis and whites once more. I've heard tell flowering, blossoming, green times in deserts are as short, if not shorter.
After quite a few false starts, it is summer in our Sahel. Shorts and sandals and sangria or beer out back on warm afternoons after a walkabout. I've even gone as far as to tell tourists that it only began a few short weeks ago after an unremitting winter. It's not a lie, and some locals wonder if we still might get snow as low as eight-thousand feet above the surface of the world's oceans before autumn.
Although I make quite a few comparisons between the mountains and deserts, I do know better than to totally discount the geography of one place by what I know or have heard of another. Serta's backfist of perspective about living in high places not withstanding, there have been other times where I've been humbled by the reality of landscape.
I used to compare humid and/or rainy days down below to my memories of North Carolina. That went on for years. Then, when my siblings and I went back, for the first time in sixteen years, to help our father bury his mother, I once more felt the weight of Confederate air. I thought I was going to drown.
"I've lied to everyone I've ever met for the last sixteen years," I mused to my brother and sister. My sister giggled, and my brother said something about us being more of a desert people, what with being natives of the American Maghreb.
I used to refer to the places I knew in Colorado as bastard desert and wanna-be savannah. Short-grass prairie and high desert are indeed used as descriptions of some of the regions around here. Then, Sabina took me to Arizona, to the true deserts of the American Empire, to visit her parents. Given my fascinations with deserts, I was all kinds of excited. This was when I still smoked. As we waited to collect our luggage, I opted to step out to burn a fag.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Sabina asked me. "It's hot out."
"Woman, I have survived southern summers and hot days in the badlands," I said. "I can do dry heat."
And then I stepped outside. Kilns in artist collectives are cooler. The only other time I was given to sucking down a cigarette so quickly was when the air was polar-cap cold, turning to napalm and spun glass in my lungs. The sensation was queerly similar and not something I'm really in any hurry to repeat.
"How was that 'dry heat'?" Sabina asked with a smirk me when I came back in, my face flush, my breath somewhat labored.
"Fuck off," I wheezed. It was the best I could for witty banter at the baggage claim.
Those memories kaleidoscope through my skull as I take in the brief green. They keep me from embellishing in the tongues of ignorance when my obligations put me in the positions of speaking to tourists. It reminds me to enjoy the uniqueness of the landscape I have come to inhabit.
Which I do. Grilling outdoors and longer days. Shorts and sandals may have become more acceptable, but, I tell you, it fills me with the most wicked sense of joy to feel green grass, no matter how brief it may be, under my bare feet.