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Broken Postcard Palisades

Origin Story

USA | Thursday, 1 May 2014 | Views [79] | Scholarship Entry

I touched the universe for the first time in the seventh grade.

We were primarily a suburb kind of family. Family trips were Myrtle Beach-style affairs; I knew from a young age the special torture of having to share scratchy hotel blankets with a younger sister for a whole week. Our tastes of wild freedom primarily consisted of being allowed to get something from a hotel vending machine late at night, alone, and riding the elevator up and down repeatedly.

This trip was a romp for our class, packed into a giant bus and shipped away for the advent of spring. We drove towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, a ribbon of road through North Carolina that crests and falls into some of the most impossible mountains you can find on the east coast. I long held a careful concept of mountains in my mind that resembled my concept of adults – large, self-important, and ultimately duller than one might expect. I had seen pictures of mountains, of course. I sketched them as average triangular forms in the background of fantastical adventures. Marvelous places and great adventures, these belonged to stories. This was a clear-cut world of school and home and safe places. I knew this. I hated it. I didn’t expect it to change.

When we lumbered around the corner into view of the first peaks, the world changed. I remember to this moment the feel of the window, warm from sun and a bit smudged, pressed against my palms. I remember the way the air left my lungs without permission, the impossible gripping my chest. I gasped loud enough to attract genuine concern from the adults. Something crucial in my understanding of the world had just lit up, the long dormant signal fires of possibility flaring in response. A kid with her face pressed to the window, I know only with the clairvoyance of memory that my first glimpse of mountains equaled what was, perhaps, my first experience of true wonder. I was exposed, blown open to the universe temporarily as I had never expected from all my books and stories. Made keenly aware of my own alien nature. Behind us, the other children laughed and shouted to each other so easily. They couldn’t see my world. I was unconcerned. This alone was the most important thing. Mountains of postcards and pictures were nothing. The world was greater than even stories had told me.

In the end, I suspect every adventurer begins their story like this - a child accidentally brushing against the skin of the universe. One day, we did not come home the same.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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