Spring had finally come to the valley. The mountains had changed from the dry golden yellow of winter to a lush, verdant green. Everywhere was bursting with life. The rains had come, and the fields that the villagers had prepared over winter had been planted. The leafy shoots were bursting up in crooked rows, wherever they fit in the allotments along the narrow valley. Potatoes, sprouts of corn, hot peppers under plastic shields. A city girl, she had never seen cabbage growing before, its leaves green and loose, unwrapped. Planting her feet in the soft, sticky mud, she breathed deep. The air was rich and heavy, smelling of earth and smoke, kissed by the mist that floated high above, clinging to the peaks of the mountains. A gentle wind pushed the clouds, and touched her face. The air was full of sounds: the beat of an axe or hammer, someone working on a house; the sound of birds, doves cooing, cocks crowing, sparrows chirping; occasionally a cow would bellow, a dog would bark, a child would cry out; the faint melody of voices was carried across from the farmhouses; she watched the woman in the field opposite slashing through weeds, the soft hacking sound muffled by the distance between them. The buzz of a saw started up, tearing through the air.
It was a beautiful place, but its nature was undeniably inked with the shades of human life. The air, cleaner than a city, was still full of man-made odours and sounds, the hillsides dotted with houses, the valley divided into plots, planted with rows of crops. Life in this place was full of hardships: water was scarce, making irrigated rice paddies impossible. The people grew potatoes and corn, but it was only ever enough for their own uses, feeding the pigs and cows. Most of the adult generation sought work outside, in factories or construction, because the land here could not support them. If you couldn’t earn the “chaopiao” (cash), you had no other choice.
A cool breeze lifted through the valley, the temperature drop raising goose bumps on her skin. Perhaps the cold front meant rain. For the people here, life never stopped. Planting, weeding, cooking, washing, home improvements. Resting around the fire in the evening was a welcome respite. Looking on it all with an outsider’s eyes, she felt both envy and pity. Envious of the simplicity of their lives, yet pitying of the harsh conditions under which they lived. No, this was not her life, but it was fulfilling to have come to know this place.