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October 23, 2008 / calebdresser

The other side of the mountain

The glass is thick. Only a faint humming of pipes, the rustle of papers. Library noises, library faces. Bearded, bespectacled professors of a forgotten reality gaze down on me from their gilded frames. I cannot hear the wind. Dust and gilt oak and old leather chairs, a tomb for dead books that nobody reads anymore. Out over the silently swaying treetops, away across the valley, car windshields twinkle at me from the grocery parking lot. Behind rise the low slopes of the Ithaca hills, dappled the familiar dark and green and gold of late fall. They rise in rolling folds toward the silhouetted heights where I taught cross-country skiing last winter. It seems so long ago.

This is what it comes down to, then. Me. A window. Hills. Bells in the background, tolling the hour. In past years I used to stare at those maple-capped ridgelines, at the long gentle valley that leads off toward Pennsylvania. Beyond them was something, I wasn’t sure what, but it was important. I’m back here looking at the same hills, now, and for the first time I can really see them. A field is still green despite the season and the altitude, a little emerald adorning a throat of tree-covered glacial stone. Afternoon sunlight glints on the roof of a house built in my absence. A new radio tower went up. A flock of birds darts this way and that like a school of startled reef fish before disappearing into the rooftops of the town. Cars crawl up the grade on the lakeside road to Geneva. Life goes on.

The first euphoria of getting back to the States has subsided, the first blush of sociability replaced by distance and reflection. I can act normal when its needed but its just that – an act. Perhaps if you keep acting long enough you become the part, you live it, you are your character. Perhaps not.

When I walk the college-town streets – strangely empty after the overcrowded bustle of India – I find “for rent” signs on houses my friends had not even moved into when I left. In the dusk I walk alone through a landscape at once familiar and heart-wrenchingly different. Always, though, the skyline is the same. The hills are reliable, their slow seasonal changes just enough to keep them exciting, colorful veneers on an immutable core. Their promise is changeless. No doubt we look the same to the fruit flies in our kitchen.

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2 Comments

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  1. Margaret / Oct 29 2008 12:37 pm

    It’s so good to keep on reading here. Thank you for continuing to write. I hear from friends who still are checking your blog, too.
    Words, photos, yes.

  2. Marci / Dec 10 2008 2:17 am

    Hey there,

    I stumbled across your blog while googling IRRI. I just got back from a 3 month internship in Bangladesh studying hybrid rice with BRAC, the world’s largest NGO. I can totally relate to the reverse-culture shock. I’d really like to go to India to do more rice research, maybe an internship with IRRI during grad school, and your writing and photos are very inspiring! Thank you!

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