a portrait of mountains (and such) as you move across the United States

You would think that, having grown up in the mountains, I would know what a mountain looks like. But one thing this journey has taught me is that mountains, while they are all recognizable for being the same land formation, have more forms and shapes and constructs than should be described by a single word.

The mountains in my hometown are small and rounded, and they are closely grouped together. The foothills of the Appalachians are almost more reminiscent of tight-knit, smoothed-over hills than mountains, though they do rise out of the ground with a certain sense of majesty that you might expect from a mountain. Still, the valleys have never quite felt like a “valley” to me – more like a dip in the landscape than a basin to collect the rain and the roads and the people. But those are the mountains I grew up with.

As you travel through New Mexico, the closest thing to a mountain is a plateau – short hills with the top sheared off like a man aiming for that vintage flat-top look. On the other hand, there is a more distinct sense of what a valley is – a deep and long depression in the land, cut through by a distant river. The sides of the plateaus are composed of a hundred thousand colors, all yellows and reds and blues and purples and whites.

The air in the plateaus has a strange quality which many of us wouldn’t recognize at first: it is clean. There is no smog, of course, because the cities are few and far between. But there is also no humidity or fog, and thus little moisture to thicken the air. Because of the clear air, the colors are deep and rich, especially at sunset, and the details pop out in vivid clarity, even at great distances. I understand why so many artists, especially painters, move to this incredible state. Taking National Geographic-worthy photos is all too easy in New Mexico.

As you get further west into Arizona and even California, the mountains change again. It’s as if a heavy piece of cloth has been draped over a series of incongruous objects, so that the folds of the cloth swoop down and into the ground, leaving the driver to navigate his or her way through the valleys, in-between the unknown objects. I keep waiting for a magician to pull up the cloth and yell, “surprise! It’s actually a ceramic donkey!”

These mountains are odd because they seem to rise out of nothing – the plains are flat, but somehow, there is a mountain in front of you. The valleys feel like a continuation of the flat plateau you’ve been driving since Texas, with a growth of mountains now looming overhead. I drove a hundred miles, and the elevation stayed at 5000 ft (there were signs!), and when it changed, the elevation even dropped – but still, somehow, I was driving through the mountains.

In California, as I drove north, the Mountains snuck up on me; at first, it just seemed like there was a gray haze on the horizon, but suddenly they were distinct shapes, with peaks and valleys and clouds sitting on top.

Still, the terrain was composed of gently rolling hills (I’ve never understood that phrase until now), spotted with the numerous cows and the occasional barn. The colors were so bright and intense and varied that I’m not sure artists will ever be able to fully capture or name the individual colors in those hills. Some fields were the bright yellow-green which happens to photographs when you increase the contrast too high on computers; other fields were almost teal or aqua-blue in color, subtly muted by shadow. And the shadows themselves were a deep blue or purple, standing out starkly against the bright colors of the hills. Finally, the hills were dotted with trees which only grew on the very top of the hill, as if a child who didn’t yet understand perspective had drawn them into existence. It was all surreal.

As I approached the mountains near Angels Camp, they never seemed to get closer, but the rolling hills gradually increased in size, until suddenly the roads were curving around the steep mountainsides. In Angels Camp, the houses are built into the sides of mountains in such a way that reminds me a little of the way hobbits live in the hills in Lord of the Rings – as if the land is supported by the house, and the house is supported by the land, and to take either away would cause the other to collapse.

In Angels Camp, the houses and town are situated between tightly-packed mountains, but the town lacks the feeling of being situated in a valley, similar to the valley-less feel of the mountains of North Georgia. However, it is not to be confused with the tightly-packed mountains of North Georgia, for these California mountains are steep and winding, whereas the southern Appalachians are nearly smooth and rounded. Instead, it is more like the valleys are far below us, and we are perched between the shoulder blades of tightly-packed mountains, in the cracks and crevices between the peaks.

I could write pages and pages on my impressions of the mountains (and hills and plateaus) as they change across the southern stretch of the United States – but I would have as many impressions as there are individual mountains, and I’m honestly not quite sure what the word “mountain” means anymore.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

My Home

The view from my new home. The home is a little…down-trodden. But the view makes up for it all!

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new beginnings

There’s something strange about new beginnings which feels indefinite – like my mind and emotions have yet to catch up to the fact that my entire life is changing as we speak.

For example, there’s my family. I’ve lived two hours away from home for six and a half years now – and I’ve loved it. I went home as often as I could, and while that number had dwindled over the past few years, I still went home about once a month. I even regularly drove two hours home just to get the oil changed in my car at our local dealership. At the moment, I am having trouble accepting the fact that going home will now require at least a couple weeks planning, a moderate reserve of cash, and at least a day’s travel in both directions.

I haven’t yet accepted that going home will be so rare in the future.

I am also having trouble accepting that I’m not going to be an active member of the Atlanta Dance Scene. While Atlanta will always have a special place in my heart, and I know I will always be able to return, it is difficult to take a step back. There are beginners I want to teach and events I want to help organize. There are a lot of changes happening in the Atlanta scene right now, and I want to be part of those changes, because I want to help make the Atlanta scene the best it could be – but instead, I am leaving it in the (albeit, quite competent) hands of my peers.

It is even difficult to fathom that I am not going to be part of the Southeast or East Coast regional dance scene. There are so many events which I have attended, and my mind still plans on attending those events, even though I know the reality is cost prohibitive.

Right now, I am struggling to refocus my brain towards making connections on the West Coast. I have a new job to work at, new friends to make, and new events to attend. I know it’s all going to be great – amazing – but I also know it’s going to be an odd period of transition, and a potentially difficult one.

I look forward to looking back in six months’ or a year’s time and seeing how my life has developed. What friends will I have? Where will I be working? How will I get involved in the dance scene? Right now, I’m just trying to figure out where I’ll be living in three days’ time.

Can't you see the family resemblance? I mean that we both take dance lessons, of course...

Can’t you see the family resemblance? I mean that we both take dance lessons, of course…

california, here I come

If you know me in “real life” or if you’ve been paying the remotest amount of attention to Facebook, then you know that in a few short days, I will be moving to California.

To answer a few of the most basic questions: Yes, I am excited. I will be moving to Angels Camp, which is a very small town in Eastern Central California, a couple hours almost directly inland from San Francisco. I will be working for the whitewater rafting company called OARS, where I will be part of the reservations team and marketing department – in the most exciting development, I’m going to actually get paid to blog for them.

Once my seasonal position at OARS is complete, I will hopefully be attending Graduate School, location TBD. If Grad School does not happen this year, for whatever reason (cost, rejection, meteors), then I will be taking some supplemental classes, volunteering for the nearest Environmental organization I can find, and working full-time so as to not die under a mountain of high-cost living.

Also on the FAQ list:

  • Yes, I will be able to go on all the outdoor adventure and rafting trips I want. You are welcome to be jealous, but you’re also welcome to come visit, and I’ll see what I can do.
  • There is not a lot of dancing where I’m going – but I have a plan! More on that in the next couple of weeks over at the Lindy Affair.
  • Packing sucks. I’m trying to sell everything. Would you like to buy a bed stand for $10? It has a lamp attached!
  • I am driving out. First I will drive to NOLA, where I will stay with the lovely Kerry. Then I will drive to Houston, where I am working for the stellar event known as Lindy Fest, which is hosting the Lone Star Championships this year. From there, I will be proceeding to San Francisco – anyone have a place for me to stay between Texas and California?
  • I do not know the exact location where I will be living yet, though I am having a couple conversations with potential roommates and landlords. I will let you know when I know, and you are all welcome to send me “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME” cards and care packages.

The most difficult thing I find, at the moment, is saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I have here in Atlanta. At Hot Jam, I was blessed to be individually approached by three newer members in our dance community and told of the impact I made in their dance. One lead told me, “Dancing with you makes me a better dancer.” I nearly cried. The bottom line is that I have taught a bunch of beginner’s classes at Hot Jam, and I’ve really enjoyed contributing to the Atlanta community; I will miss it. I’ve also worked hard as a volunteer and formed some pretty spectacular friendships with some pretty amazing people.

My official going away party will be Sunday the 10th, and if anyone needs the location or time, please let me know! In that vein, my last day in Atlanta is Monday the 11th, where I will be attending Hot Jam for the last time as a regular. I hope that everyone comes out – because honestly, you guys have made me into a better person.

I am sad to leave the community which has taught me to dance and supported me through life over the last few years. However, I am beyond excited to start the next phase of my life – one which will be full of learning, new friends, and adventure. Such great adventure.

California is soon to be my new home. So here’s some Joni Mitchell for you, ‘cause it’s on my playlist on my phone, and it makes me excited every time I hear it.