The Worker’s Paradise, pt. 2 – Awfully Pretty, Ain’t It?
From the Issyk-Ata Sanitorium, a thin trail leads through the valley above the bathhouses and dormitories to the alpine wilderness beyond. It was mid-morning, and the sanitorium’s patients, given some free time after the group breakfast, had come to the trail in twos and threes for the day’s first treatment – a dose of horsemilk. A herd of horses chewed lazily on the grass at the head of the trail, and some shepherds doled out their milk to anybody with an empty cup. Like almost any other natural substance in Kyrgyzstan, the milk of a mare was believed to be medicinal, and for darn near any ailment. As my brother and I made our way up the trail for a day’s hike, we were greeted by a gaggle of middle-aged women, glasses in hand filled with leftover froth. One of them had just had some kind of knee surgery, and had come to these mountains to recuperate. “Go drink some milk, boys!” she said with maternal kindness. “I drink it for my health, and you should drink some for yours.” Sadly, we had no cups to drink the elixir, and besides, the shepherds were nowhere to be seen, so we had to move on unmedicated.
Past the horses, the path ran straight, hemmed in by hills on both sides. The river that cut this groove gurgled noisily below us, and Palmer and I took turns chastising it for ruining the silence. “We get it! You’re mighty! We hear you roar. Now zip it, already, we can’t hear the birds sing.” The water paid us no heed and went on its way. A half-hour along the trail, we found it’s noisy beginnings. A waterfall careened off the hills to our left, chatting loudly with the rocks beneath. With no hot water this month in our Bishkek apartment, I hadn’t bathed in a week, so I couldn’t resist its cleansing powers. Palmer stood guard in case of another womanly gaggle, and I stripped and went for a session in the shower nature had provided me. The glacier water may have been colder than from the pipes at home, but I’ve decided that when the world gives you the opportunity to be naked in nature you might as well take it. I’m no hippy or nudist, I just don’t think one needs to blush in the presence of mountains.
Fresh and fully-clothed again, I followed Palmer’s lead to a spot a little up from the falls. Cheese and sausage from the market the morning before were sliced into serviceable pieces and eaten with a torn-apart wheel of Central Asian bread. A bag of strawberries had been pulverized, but that didn’t stop us from scooping them up anyways, dripping deep red juice on the rocks around us. The ground was our tablecloth. I couldn’t help but feel good. If every meal was eaten outside, I think, the world would be a happier place. When eating al fresco, the fresh air is almost another dish, just as nourishing as the berries and the rest. We drank it up and took in the alpine views before us. It was all the more enjoyable for its solitude. Not a soul passed us by.
The trail took us further up the valley and treated so much beauty we felt a bit embarrassed. Orange butterflies fluttered past, glassy creeks split our steps, and horses and sheep idled in grassy bowls filled with wildflowers colored yellow and blue. It was almost so idyllic it felt a bit cheesy. Perhaps I was so jaded from TV shots of romantic, pristine wilderness that to actually be in the shot felt a bit surreal. Once again, Palmer and I couldn’t help but be sarcastic. “God this is ugly” we complained. “Can’t we go back to Bishkek?” After a while, we relented. The trail had ended in a vast mountain meadow, and the beds of flower begged us to take them seriously. I lay down in the grass and closed my eyes. Palmer sat on a rock and sang. Yes, I thought, there’s nothing wrong with taking this beauty as it is and just basking in its warmth.