From the Edge of the Mountain
As the giant metal wings tilted gently to the ground and mechanical gears grinded into place, I felt my ears pop at the sudden change in elevation. It marked that my journey from home, or what I felt was home, was coming to an arid, sun-bleached end. To fend off the turbulence-tinged fear, I smoothed my palms across the grey plastic armrests, snaked my belt tighter across my waist, and stared up at the glowing seatbelt sign as it blinked brightly to the soft pings of a cabin announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we make our descent into Albuquerque, the local time is twelve thirty p.m., a soaring high of ninety-six degrees, and with a hazy noon sun brought to you by the first wildfires of the season!” the sardonic voice said, pausing with a half-chuckle. I glanced around the cabin but, like me, no one else laughed.
The attendant cleared his throat, continuing, “to your right, be sure to look to the Sandia mountains for smoky, one-of-a-kind views. Keep your seatbelt fastened, stow all carry-ons, and welcome to the land of enchantment!”
The static cut abruptly as I peered back to the window. As we coasted, the wingtips sliced through tendrils of smog. I squinted for any semblance of the earth below us and, all at once, the illusion was shattered. The waves of Emerald Isle froze into wind-patterns scattered on sand, the shores shifted to mountain playas hidden in the foothills, and towering pine trees tumbled into scraggly brush below. Seeing these stark changes never felt natural but, suspended between these two places, I could transform from seagull, to roadrunner, and back again behind the cover of clouds. I used to imagine slipping their wings on, pretending I could fly away.
Instead, I braced as we catapulted for the runway, jaw clenched, and thinking of anything but landfall. But the longer I stared at the mountain, the more I saw what kept me here to begin with. From the edge of the Sandia crest, I saw her come into view again. Sleeping, like always, in the clouds. Her sloping neck trailed along the La Luz path, her back turned to Albuquerque, and her turquoise robes swayed through the valleys at her feet. Her black hair drifted like silk down to the cityscape below, where they fell into the streams of the Rio Grande.
The first time I discovered her on the mountain’s edge, I was sleep deprived and slurping down gas station coffee from the Black Mesa casino, desperately willing stories to come as a newcomer in Santa Fe. She has never quite left me since. Now, in the haze of wildfire, she wept, her fabric blackened with webs. Her hair lost its shine, stretching thinly into drying riverbeds. Although her back was turned, I could see her breath growing ragged. I think, if you closed your eyes and listened from the edge of the mountain, then you could hear her, too.
Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.