by tatiana de la tierra
This is a story of love. Not the flesh-and-bone, Cupid-courtship, balada-crooning, cuddling-moaning type. It’s more than that. Different. Deeper. Deep as the Earth herself, into and through all of her layers. Though really, I only fell in love with the parts of her that I could see with my eyes and caress with my hands.
My love is on twenty-two acres in the mountains of el Valle del Cauca, Colombia. High up past the fields of sugarcane, after two little one-street towns. When the road becomes completely unpaved there is a part where the earth tones copper. Right after that, you veer off to the right and go up. On the way you’ll see wooden houses here and there, some colorful and quaint, others dilapidated. Thick stretches of greenery, a few glimpses of el Río Nima, a dog or two. The air cools. You pass farms with identifying signs hanging on front gates: “Buenos Aires,” “El Silencio,” “Ruberoy,” “El Alto del Tigre,” and finally, at kilometer 24, right after a little waterfall on the left, the entrance to “El Abejero.”
Squeeze in at the side of the gate and walk downhill a bit as the mountains reveal themselves, singing sweetly, drawing you in.
They do nothing, not even wink, and I’m theirs.
What is it about these mountains that mesmerize me? They are but big green silent mounds of earth. I look at them; they look at me. We do not speak. But we relate on some cellular level. Their soil, my cells; their water, my blood; their tendrils, my veins; their earth, my earth. I stand before them in union and in awe. Verdant titans, they are my elders. I am small before them, and I expand in their presence. If I stand there long enough, maybe I’ll grow legs tall like the eucalyptus trees, tall enough to step across from one mountain to the other. If I lie on the ground with my eyes to the skies, surely a condor will swoop down and let me hitch a ride on its wings and fly me from peak to peak.
Mountains and I, we are one. Yet it is these mountains that circulate in my blood. Why these and not others? Why not Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii? I met her once on my way to Rome, and slept at the edge of the volcano. Or Mount Podbrodo in Medjugorje, who I discovered on one of my mystical journeys? Or el Cajón del Maipo in Chile, a recent acquaintance, introduced by a machi medicine woman? Or the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, that I got to know in winding roads behind the wheel of my car? Or the Rockies? Or even Monserrate in Bogotá, a mountain I’ve been going to since I was little? All these mountains, and many more I’ve known, are powerful and beautiful.
But they are not mine.
Love is ownership. To love is to own and be owned. My cats are mine and I am theirs. I may admire other cats on my path, but they have no claim on me. Yet these mountains, my mountains, they were mine.
Twenty-seven years ago my family purchased those twenty-two acres. It was a dreamy future, the family farm, to be there for eternities, for generations to come. My mom named “El Abejero” in honor of a native hive of bees she decimated in order to build the house. All this time, I held on to the dream. I planted a vegetable and herb garden. Painted the wooden railing a kaleidoscope of colors. Visited with friends and family. Inhaled early morning fog. Marveled at the hummingbirds in the daytime and fireflies at night. Those falling stars. The way the city of Cali lit up in the valley beyond in the darkness. The way my heart pounded going up to the gate at the top of the hill. The smells of pine, eucalyptus, and lemongrass. Picking blackberries, lulos and guayabas. Dipping into those cold waters in the round pool. Hanging in the hammocks. Writing poems. Watercoloring. Mountain gazing. Riding our horses. Riding higher up the mountain road on the milk truck. Rainstorms. Ritual gathering for the great spectacle of the sunset. That little dog I loved, Bandido. My failed attempts at milking cows. The blue Renegade jeep. The lovers I brought there. The tree we planted in the beginning that ended up being my sacred cypress pine.
I held on to the dream even after that swath of land was caught up in the midst of Colombia’s civil war between guerrillas and paramilitaries. After the FARC paid a visit. After a roving group of masked armed men—common criminals—came to hold me up in the middle of the night. After the caretakers we paid swindled us. After the guerrillas moved into our home. After the bright red and yellow paint of the houses dulled to drab and parts of the railing collapsed. After the mattresses became rock hard. After the garden was lost in the overgrown shrubs.
It’s been years of peacefulness in the area. No armed conflict, no guerrillas, no paramilitaries. Just a lot of beautiful silent mountains holding down the fort. Now, it is safe to return. And I had a plan. I had many plans, all of them were to be explored: an ecovillage, a writing retreat, a harvest of organic super food, a healing center. I went and cleaned up the house, made offerings to the land. Consulted with ecologists. Picked out new mattresses, helped my mom pick colors for the new paintjob. Set about seeing how this and that could happen in the future. Soaring dreams that seemed all too possible.
But while I claim my love of these mountains to be our mutual ownership, the title of the property was not in my name. And like mothers who slaughter their children in order to spare them from perils that may await them in the future, my mother sold the land out from under me.
This is a story of love and of heartbreak. My mountains are no longer mine.
But I am a fool, for they never were. Because the mountains belong to no one but themselves. The blood of Pachamama supercedes any legal document. I am but one of her many admirers. This land that belongs to herself, this land that I loved to the point that I dared claim ownership, this majestic and magical land. Thank you. You are my true mother. I love and honor you. I bow to the ground, ready to be swooped up by a condor with a ten-foot wingspan, ready to be taken from crest to crest, ready to be dropped at your feet in telluric love.