North of Omnodelger: February
I crunched uphill. My boots the first to scathe the undisturbed snow. Snow that fell months ago. Dakraa was paces ahead of me, occasionally slowing and asking if I was tired or cold. Marching uphill for the past hour with the heavy Mongolian deel and boots I was tired, and with temperatures in the negative forties I was cold. These discomforts I didn’t express to Dakraa though, I’d smile dutifully and assure him I was fine. So we trudged upwards, towards some distant crest. Passing by sparse trees I’d brush my hand along their branches as I passed. It’d been so long since I had been around so many in one place.
We left hours earlier, stepping out into the cold from Tuya’s mother’s ger at the base of the Khentii Mountains. Stepped out into the hodoo, the countryside, the backlands of Mongolia. Tuya’s mother, older brother, and two sisters, were nomads. They dwelt miles outside the confines of Omnodelger, alone, save for the animals they herded. When the livestock had expended the area’s grass, they’d get up and move again. I was invited to the solitude to help make preparations for the coming holiday Tsagaan Sar. After an hour or so of pressing, kneading, and stretching dough Dawkraa grabbed up his rifle and exclaimed joyfully, “come Justin, lets go hunting.” As we exited the ger I saw Tuya shoot her husband a sidelong glance as if to say “typical”. Slinging the weapon over his shoulder I looked at him curiously, “What will we hunt?” I asked. He just shrugged at me, “It doesn’t matter.” I laughed nervously aloud at the prospect of marching off into the wild with a trigger happy Dakraa. I thought better of trying to explain how hunting laws in New Jersey worked and how he’d surely be violating all of them and just mimicked his shrug of indifference and followed him up towards the mountains.
As we journeyed heading up the mountain’s western face, Dakraa began hooting and hollering into the void. We hadn’t encountered a living creature since setting out, making Dakraa’s hunting rifle just a heavy prop. He continued shouting hoping to stir some creature from its stationary roust. Suddenly he stopped his whooping and called me to his side. “There,” he pointed, “a fat bird.” It certainly was. Perched on a branch a couple dozen yards away, I could make out the silhouette of a bird, with a large round body and tiny head, I was shocked the branch held its bulbous frame. It was like a beach ball with a head. “Here,” Dakraa said, extending the rifle towards me. The lack of chicken in my diet for sometime compelled me to take the weapon from him. I crouched and held my breathe as I tried to judge the shot as best I could. It wasn’t fair that the bird was allowed to be so gluttonous, I would impart his sin unto me. Pulling the trigger, I heard the thud of metal against wood and saw bark shear from the bird’s tree. Startled, it fluttered off towards the setting sun. Dakraa laughed behind me. I stood up and growled under my breath, I was less angry with my embarrassing shot then the fact that the bird, in its obese state was actually able to take flight. Handing the gun back to Dakraa we set out at our continued pace towards the top of the mountain.
He stopped when we finally reached the summit. Turning and gesturing for me to hurry up, I sprinted the last couple paces and was met with a mind boggling view. Our small mountain gave way to a never ending expanse of ones just like it. They were so vast and expansive that many seemed like mere bumps in the distance. No roads, power lines, buildings or semblance of infrastructure could be seen anywhere. Distant forests looked miniature and blurry, the horizon expanded to a hazy white. If the landscape was daunting, the sky was even more so. Mongolia’s nickname “The Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” rang as true as ever. A wash of spectacular blue that dwarfed the land it covered. It seemed there was nothing blocking me from floating away into the blue void. I was overcome with a feeling of being alone on the top of the world and I resisted the euphoric impulse to yell at the top of my lungs. “Khentii,” Dakraa said with a gesture of his hand, sweeping it towards the view that lay before us. “Its beautiful,” I answered just above a whisper. He chuckled at my stupefied reaction, “Yes, it is,” he said with an air that suggested he’d seen it a million times before. “Lets go,” he added and began trekking towards the mountains western rim. I hung back until his footsteps had faded, until the silence engulfed me, a quiet so encompassing you can almost hear it. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the view, I snapped a picture, then followed in Dakraa’s wake.
The sun was all but set as we neared Tuya’s mother’s ger that evening. We had been gone the better part of the day. As we got closer to the tiny round structure I saw a figure step outside. It was Tuya, discarding some dirty dish water. Uh oh, I thought remembering her look from earlier. Dakraa’s going to get it for being out so late, leaving them to work all day. She looked up and to my surprise her face lit up as she saw us approach. Quickening his pace to meet her, he stopped a step from her and with just as an animated expression as her’s he began excitedly rattling off the events of the day. She let him speak, without saying a word, just smiling up at him. I’d never seen them show any kind of affection towards one another before but in that moment he took up one of her hands in his as he chattered on, playfully swinging it back and forth. Suddenly, I took an unconscious step back. Like my presence was somehow ruining the perfect moment. The surprise of it all made me feel sentimental and cliche. In a world where people marry for money, prestige, and insurance, here were two people in a small corner of our planet who had none of those things to fall on. As I caught some words, Dakraa retold how I missed the fat bird then mimed my facial expression as I stood dumbfounded in front of the extensive mountains and endless sky. Tuya made some jest back at him and they both went giggling and stumbling over each other as they ducked back into the ger. At that moment I realized how much they really care about each, how lucky I am to live next to such warmhearted people, to share in their relationship. It amazes me everyday, the things I learn from this place.
Love, like Mongolia, has no ceiling.
|Congratulations Kelly and Sean.|