Originally published on March 25, 2016 on the Where There Be Dragons “Field Notes Board” at https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/breaths/
The mountains breathe. Green velvet moss blankets the slopes with patches of rock and shrunken cliffs embedded within. Sheer, craggy peaks, towering over the labyrinthine valley, pulsate with the infinite knowledge that time is cyclical and this moment will come again; there is nothing to be rushed. The first lake we pass is the location of our ceremony but from that point on they only grow in size and frequency, their strata of colors shifting with the position of the sky. Nothing here is stagnant. Ever-present clouds, misty and indefinite, shift at the slightest request of the wind and smirk at their dominance. I rise and fall with every heave of the earth and it’s apparent, low and deep in my core, that this pocket of unearthly paradise exists to be sacred. The people of Nacion Q’eros know this. They’ve known it for years and their profound gratitude and pride born from potato roots themselves have allowed them to cling tightly to their traditions as “the last true Incas.”
The sacredness of this place is both ubiquitous and unique, solemn and light-hearted, temporary and ancient. After the sheep have been slaughtered with a slit to the throat for the Pachamanca, a traditional ceremony performed due to our presence but for which the entire community gathers, we are entreated to dance in a timid circle around the still-warm bodies. There is laughter throughout the butchering and some of it is certainly for show. But the pig-tailed toddler grabbing the skinned hind leg when I slack in my helping duties and the women sliding the intestines into sausage-ready segments are undeniably real. The stacked-stone oven covered with wet jackets and plastic is a testament to the power of adaptation and integration. Pachamama absorbs the blood and the age-old connection is there, cemented in red grass and obedient steps to notes on a wooden flute. Filling the corners of the communal house with its citizens lining the opposite side, chopped chunks of meat drop into plastic buckets and potatoes of varying colors hailing from nearly every family roll out from unwrapped squares of cloth into piles on the floor. One clear voice begins the thanksgiving as we close our eyes and a slow, deep wave of unintelligible prayer rises, undulating beneath my eyelids with each individual contribution and I’m swept up in a melding of senses until the vibrations dim as subtly as they began. I can taste the earth in my meat.
My own spirituality often finds harmony with the Andean Cosmovision of Nacion Q’eros. Blessings grow when watered and mountains give birth to gratitude where the sun envelops the moon and kisses the earth. The coca leaves of the Andes, at once abundant and endlessly sacred, are my breaths of sunrise on a precarious and chilly summit. The cheerful dances and tune of the Tinkuy atop a mountain pass are my laughs with my sister and snuggles with my mom. Nestled in straw on the floor of a stone hut with my host sister and a traveling companion turned close friend, distinctions of sacredness fade. We breathe together and the source is all the same: there’s enough special in this world to go around.