First published in ‘The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014 ‘The Story of Us’, Edited by Teika Bellamy.
Your rhythmical sweet breathing calms my racing heart as I climb steadily at this high altitude. You sleep soundly, strapped firmly to my back in a sling, the safest place on earth, your sanctuary. I feel you stir as I reach Kyangjin Ri, hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind, awesome snow mountains rising majestically in every direction. You are only twenty months old, ‘bis mahinar‘, as I have replied to continuous enquiries from local Nepalis and amazed tourists alike. I force a smile to encourage my husband on, as he labours in this thin air with a far greater weight than I, that of our four-and-a-half year old son, Ewan.
When he joins us we stand for a moment entranced, gasping at the awe-inspiring view before us. Then I pull you round to stare into your eyes, pools as deep, clear and fresh as the endless bright blue sky above us, both infinite and achingly beautiful. Laughing, I nuzzle into your still soft baby skin, finding instant comfort as I breath in your familiar aroma. Feeling the power of this place, my hands flutter together as I offer a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth, gratitude for my children and for this landscape we are so privileged to travel in. You smile back at me, your wild red hair catching the radiance of the sun as you almost jump out of my arms, eager to explore on your own two feet. You are totally unaware of the significance of this moment, as we peak at 4,700 metres and achieve our goal of trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas with our children. Months of planning has brought us to this cairn, yet for you it is simply another day of toddler adventure.
Together we trek for fifteen days straight. You travel on my back and when you ask for ‘miiilt‘, on my front, nursing in the sling on the move, lulled to sleep by mummy’s milk. At times you walk confidently along on easier stretches of path, ever eager to follow your admired older brother, your ‘Ewnaan‘ as you call him. You are his shadow and his second mother, thirsty to learn from him as well as nurture him. You carry walking sticks fashioned by our young porter Hussein, who dotes on you both. You entrance him, the red girl and the blonde boy, children from a culture so removed from his own we almost inhabit another world. At times he flings you in the air, racing easily over tricky terrain with you as you laugh with glee, your weight no heavier than a feather to him. He loves you as if you were his own, your smiles and near indecipherable single words a secret language you have developed together in these long quiet days in the mountains.
Creatively, your sticks become your sole toys in this remote land of dry earth and stone, turquoise sky and shimmering snow peaks, the vast materialism of home a lifetime away. We are all forced to be resourceful in this harsh environment, yet with it we embrace the simple yet often forgotten joys of simply being together, free from the multiple distractions of home.
In the stillness as I walk I reminisce to my younger self in this same lost valley at eighteen years of age. I weave a thread of memories as I walk on old half forgotten paths, everything vaguely familiar yet remarkably changed in the intervening years. I wonder at the innocence and independence of that time, yearn for it at moments when the strains of motherhood begin to show. I did not foresee the maturer me as Mother, yet this role brings me boundless joy. Whenever I falter, all I need do is remind myself of what I have now, at thirty-four years of age, a healthy, growing and happy family, you and your brother and your loving Daddy.
Our days take on a new rhythm; we awaken at dawn before eating a humble breakfast by the fire, then walk through the day to another tea-house, where we fill ourselves on endless plates of rice and dal in the early evening. Exhausted, we nestle together for warmth in one large bed, the peace of the high mountains folding us into sleep. We are together twenty-four hours a day, developing a symbiosis reminiscent of the first weeks of your life as a tiny newborn, when we snuggled in our bedroom cocoon, the late March snow falling softly outside. I read your cues like an open book, where free from distractions or separation devices my instincts are unearthed and alive. There are no car-seats, pushchairs, mobile internet devices or domestic duties here, allowing me to respond to your need to feed, sleep or use the toilet promptly.
On our return home I long for this oneness to return, for those simple wholesome nurturing acts to be carried out as uncluttered and as pure as they were in that other world. Yet snatches of that more peaceful time remain even now; when you are lulled to sleep in my arms nursing as I carry-out my chores, walking across the damp, boggy moorland of home, your breath just as sweet and calming when I stop to listen and live in the moment. Your slow night nursing in the wee hours as the rest of the world sleeps, your arms outstretched to mine, your soft voice beckoning me with ‘mummmyyyyy‘ to stop and reconnect.
Ever on the look-out for your next adventure, you run almost effortlessly with your brother through the woodland close to our home on a bright day in midwinter, gleeful at your ever growing freedom of movement, fascinated with the world as it unfurls around you. The sound of crisp leaves under your feet, the feel of holly sharp on your soft hands, the wet smell of our Labrador as he noses into you, the bitter taste of late blackberries on your tongue, all hold you spellbound for long moments, before another sight or sound fascinates you.
You will go far my daughter, higher and further and well beyond the confines of all of my imaginings, above the great mountains of the Himalayas and deeper than the holy lakes we sought as pilgrimage. As we travel the invisible cord between us shall grow ever longer, yet you shall always remain close to my heart, in spirit if not in body. Etched on my soul are these precious snapshots of time, when we lived in harmony together as a family trekking in the Himalaya. They are far more than memories frozen on still photos, for they are alive every time we connect, every time a sunbeam glints in your flaming auburn hair, every time the blue sky is reflected in your unfathomable eyes.
‘The Story of Us’ can be purchased online from Mother’s Milk Books or from Amazon