Caucasus Mountains, Russia

In the mountains I was learning things. Hiking through summer pastures, in the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, I was remembering things too. We were a couple of kilometers above sea level, and I learned the Turkic names for peaks in the distance and how to tell currants from sweet, poisonous berries. During the day I remembered from previous treks how the packed weight of your room and board settles comfortably on your hips, and at night I remembered the tart joy of tea, steeped from early green apples and mint.

Herds of sheep and cattle wandered the hilltops with us, and through the night we could hear the distant ringing of an occasional cowbell. In the mornings the animals would come investigate the smells of our kasha, and we would laugh at them and shoo them away. Then we would straighten up and peer down at the day’s hike into the next valley, where a thin, silver river seemed to snake motionlessly. Over and away, always to our south, atop the sheer black rock of the main Caucasus range, massive glaciers glistened in the sun. Sometimes I would tell Yuri, my Russian traveling companion, how spectacularly beautiful I thought it all was. With a nod, he’d agree.

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