Mountaintops and Monasteries

The following is a piece of writing I actually submitted for a travel-writing contest, but I thought it was fitting to share with the readers of the Crossing Border’s blog as it is demonstrative of me as a writer crossing a few borders of my own. Writing a piece like this was a transitory experience for me. I’ve never really written creative, narrative-structured non-fiction before, so the experience of discovering how to tell a story in this way was a learning experience. I also got the opportunity to look back on something I’d experienced with my dad and recollect my memories of our trip together, reliving each moment through the writing process. I hope you will enjoy reading the following story as much as I enjoyed living it and then later writing about it.


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My grandma mentioned once that my sister and I are incredibly different people. This wasn’t news, but the way she illustrated our differences struck a chord with me. She said if we were to each go on a hike, my sister would be the trailblazer, rushing through to the peak, where, upon arrival, she would ask “what’s next?”. I, on the other hand, would take my time, thoroughly excavating each staggering path, stopping, literally, to smell the flowers.

Bearing this in mind, I went on a hike with my dad while we were travelling in Macedonia. Colour-coded trail markers with Macedonian text pointed in different directions; we had no indication of what lay ahead and chose a path at random. The hike started relatively easily but stops for water grew more frequent. At one rest-stop, I found a branch that doubled as a walking stick for which my dad teased me.

The hike continued, and the trail markers were becoming less frequent. At times we doubted whether we were still on the right path. The mossy leaf-laden trail – evident of the transitioning Autumn and alluding to the oncoming winter – narrowed and became rockier, less stable, more steep, more unwelcoming to beginner hikers. Sturdy footing no longer a guarantee. Suddenly it was not so stupid to have that walking stick.

We didn’t know what lay ahead. Breathtaking views of kaleidoscopic Autumn foliage? Folded layers of hills converging over a glistening lake? We had no clue. I created a small routine to keep my motivation up; I wanted to make sure the journey was just as breathtaking as the destination. So I counted 10 steps at a time. I climbed, walked, and strode, counting 1, 2, 3… 10. I observed each chalky jagged rock underfoot, noticing the thorny branches weaving in and out of my path when suddenly, snap!

My makeshift walking stick snapped clean in half as the space between the sloped ground and myself disappeared. For a moment, I saw myself going over the mountain. I hit the ground and slid back down the path. The plants underneath me were dragged along and found themselves broken under my weight. I slid to a stop after desperately grappling at the loose rocks and branches nearby.

I looked up to find my dad, who – forging ahead as my sister would’ve – decided to now stop for his daughter. I looked down once more before getting up, and suddenly a wondrously familiar scent wafted up from the torn greenery below me. It smelled like Thanksgiving. It was thyme. I’d never seen it grow wild before, but something about finding a familiar piece of home helped me feel some affection for the nature that had just betrayed me. Pushing forward, we finally made our way to a peak. The cuts and bruises on my arms and knees were long forgotten as the sweeping landscape unfolded before us. It wasn’t rugged or grand as some wilderness is, but it was wild and pure in a humble way. We free-climbed up the steepest parts on the way up and slid strategically close to the ground on the way down, crushing a certifiable Autumn feast underneath us as we crippled thyme coupled with the red- and black-currant berries staining our clothes. All of this was made worthwhile with that view.

At the top, we found an abandoned monastery. I couldn’t help but marvel at the faded wall fresco. At the graffiti signed 1989. At the sheer fact that this holy space was here 700 years ago. After lunch and internal speculation, we made our way back down the mountain. I thought about the little discoveries that made this trip worth being a story to tell. I didn’t expect to be blown away by rolling hills when I’d seen massive mountains elsewhere. I didn’t expect to eat soggy sandwiches with my dad in our own little slice of divinity. I didn’t expect to be beaten up by nature and rewarded with humble beauty. All I knew was I wanted to tell people about this place. I wanted to tell them to take it slow, observe your chosen path with intention, and don’t forget to stop and smell the thyme.

by Maya

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