This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Many new books have been written and old classics from that time, like Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, have been reissued. I read The Magic Mountain in college and loved the contrast between the magnificent Swiss mountain scenery and the rather twisted characters of the patients in the sanitarium where the novel takes place. We left today for an extended trip higher into the mountains west of Siguatepeque than we had ever been before. We left in two trucks early in the morning and, because of the almost nightly rain showers, our path took us into a thick carpet of mist cloaking the mountain tops and half way into the valleys. I thought of Mann’s book and felt a child’s sense of adventure and expectation. In Honduras, unlike in Mann’s fictional Switzerland, the magnificent mountain scenery is reflected in magnificent smiles on bright faces, faces full of innocent wonder and trust. There is a biblical theme that warns against the moral corruption of cities and praises the salutary effect of living in isolated, small groups, immersed in nature, constantly in the presence of eternity. This was reflected in the children, teachers and parents we met in the first school of the day. Set in a pine forest, this humble school building seemed to recognize the majesty of its surroundings, making no attempt to assert a human presence, nestled into a bed of pine needles, tranquil and resonant. In the pictures below I will try to convey how this tranquility is reflected in the children’s faces as they listened to our initial introductions and instructions. Such beautiful faces full of innocence and absolute trust. They made me want to be a better, more loving man.
The second school was even higher up in the mountains, at the very edge of the coffee fields, just where the original cloud forest takes over on the steepest slopes. This shift from geometric regularity to chaotic, riotous growth is quite striking. Sally’s grandmother was a quilter and we have one of her pieces. We use it under our Christmas tree, where its many folds and different patterns reminded me of the Honduran countryside on our travels. At this school the children had gathered pine boughs and spread them all over the classroom floor and in the area outside the porch where they greeted us with a performance of folk dancing and song. The resinous scent of the fresh pine permeated the performance and our time teaching. Somehow everything – the dancing and singing, the parent’s faces full of pride and our own enthusiasm and commitment- seemed fresh and pure. The thick carpet of needles in the surrounding grove of pines gave the school a mysterious, hushed atmosphere, as if a secret were being whispered, and if one were quiet enough, one could sense the presence of God.