Up in the MountainsDecember 10, 2014

John Muir, an early advocate of the preservation of wilderness in the United States, was overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing the Sierra Nevada mountains. In "The Mountains of California" (1894), he wrote:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

This quote, or something along that line, inspired college students in New England to cancel classes, without prior notice, and headed towards the mountains (or the park, if they don't want to go too far). Mountain Day, a tradition dating back to the late 19th century, may be a good excuse to avoid coursework. However, this won't be the same as Mountain Day in Japan. The Japanese Diet announced August 11 as that time of the year to climb the mountain and appreciate its blessing. Then there was International Mountain Day, to be held on December 11 this year.

The United Nations General Assembly came up with this campaign in 2003, aware of how these jagged peaks could transformed communities. So it was no surprise that the theme for this year would be mountain farming. It wasn't a long time coming. Twelve years after its inception, it was about time to put a spotlight those who have been living there - and making a living off it.

It was their only life

John Berger, English novelist and art critic, based his novels from his trips around Europe. He was a keen observer, as some of his works revealed the life of inner rural communities. "Once in Europa" (1992) was a collection of short stories about the famers who have toiled the Alps.

Berger, who was born on the London Borough of Hackney, didn't paint a romantic picture of the generations of people who viewed the postcard-like peaks in the same regard as the moles spoiling their farm. They were strong and resilient, doing the same set of chores over and over until their back couldn't bear it anymore. "The Accodion Player", for instance, showed a somber mood. The rise of towns prompted the women to go down and look for a husband. This would leave the male farmers, who must deal with something more unbearable than subzero temperature.

"Felix pulled a chair from under the table, he sat down and he wept. He wept for all that would no longer happen. He wept for never being able to leave the farm for a single day. He wept for the farm where there were no children. He wept for the forty-two years that had gone by, and he wept for himself."

The other tales revealed a common thread: Tradition. Tourists who couldn't wait to hit the slopes would oversee this. Those who wanted to see Matterhorn, the iconic peak of Switzerland, would ignore this facet of this Alpine nation. But this what made the mountains interesting.

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