For the Love of Mountains & Other Things You Can't Explain

Sammie Stagg
March 18, 2020

I come from a pretty flat state, so mountains are new to me. And my inclination whenever I encounter a new thing is to seek to understand what I’m looking at and how I feel, but mountains make that impossible. 

A couple of weeks ago we saw the highest mountain in the Andes (Aconcagua) from the tallest building in Latin America (the Torre Costanera). When we got to the top, I remembered all the times in kindergarten when I thought I could touch the clouds if I stretched high enough. In the echoey, otherworldly Sky Costanera room, glass with no roof, it felt like we had mastered the clouds and were now trying for outer space. 

This feeling was heightened by the fact that the Torre Costanera isn’t nestled among other skyscrapers-- none of the surrounding buildings come close to its height. From a vantage point so much higher than everything else, you can’t help but realize that you, the viewer, are not nearly as important as what you’re looking at. I think that was the point when I started to feel actual love for the city. 

It would take a whole day just to look sufficiently at the buildings from Sky Costanera, but the Andes claim most of your attention. The Andes rim the city, giving walls to Santiago’s bowl shape. At street level, there is no place you could walk in the city where you couldn’t see the mountains, and because of the smog they appear soft and faded, almost like they don’t exist in three dimensions but are instead a poorly-rendered fish tank backdrop. But from Sky Costanera (a distance that might as well be outer space), the mountains have mostly escaped the fog, and are clear--with crevices, layers, mottled and smooth sides--and they sit in shockingly three-dimensional glory. Plainly visible are big fat mountains accompanied by babies of all sizes, clustered together like they’ve gathered in a crowded elevator. 

When I saw them, I couldn’t come up with a single thing to think or say, and I didn’t even know what I felt. All I knew was that my immediate past and immediate future--how I had gotten to that building and was eventually going to leave it--had vanished and all that was left was just that singular moment. It was amazing how quickly and efficiently awe drenched me and washed out everything else. I tried to imagine the tectonic plates that smashed together in the world’s slowest collision and forced the ground up past everything, past even the clouds I used to think I could touch. But I couldn’t visualize it very well. 

Normally it’s frustrating or alarming to realize you don’t have a single adequate word to describe how you feel about something, but when it comes to those mountains (and more and more things here every day), I like not having the words to describe. It makes me feel stupid, but in a good way. Mountains are just gigantic, and that’s all that can be said about them.

Sammie Stagg

<p>I'm from small-town Minnesota and in my third year at Grinnell College, where I'm independently majoring in Health Science Writing. I enjoy drinking tea, cooking, swing dancing and signing ASL. I also read a lot of books and entertain myself with little things like research projects and scavenger hunts. I chose to study abroad in Santiago, Chile -&nbsp;a city of over 5 million - because my top two priorities were (1) to live someplace I could speak Spanish all the time, and (2) to live in a way that's significantly different from what I already know.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Grinnell College
Carver, MN
Creative Writing
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