A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

In closing…

In Curiosity, Happiness, Life, Memoir, Writing on October 20, 2012 at 6:00 am

Behold the dangerous beauty of obsession!

My life can be easily reduced to phases, measured by degrees of obsession. These phases link to interests, which are sparked by curiosity. I do not know how to be interested in something without being obsessed by it. Obsession and it’s odd opposite twin, Discipline, have been my brightest marching outposts. My capacity to sustain pace is, however, inelastic and, pushed to the limit, fails me. Then, just like that, everything stops. Let me give you an example.

Several years ago I became interested in the classical guitar. I took lessons, went to workshops, sat in on master classes at a world-reknown conservatory. I studied music theory, took classes in composition. I played in recitals, practiced for hours. A guitarist grows long nails on the right hand to pluck the nylon strings of the guitar. One day, out of the blue, I cut my nails and put away the guitar and never played it again.

This pattern has repeated itself for years. Some passions–for that is what they are–last years, some only months. Some are still born and buried the next day.

That, friends, is the position in which I now find myself. I sense the nascent hankering to move on and redirect my laser-view of life. The blog, this house I live in, is on the wan. I trust you understand. You must know me by now, you know I can’t help myself. I figured I owed you a head’s up.

But before I go, please allow me to do something I have tried to not do. I don’t like to give advice. As a writer, I try to practice the old dictum, show, don’t tell. But let me tell you something now that we are going to be seeing less of one another. (“Parting ways” is such a strong and definite phrase–I just can’t go there.)

Let me tell you that life is the adventure–or lack thereof–that you make of it, as trite as that sounds. My flitting from obsession to obsession might appear random and ultimately meaningless; but the reality is that I encourage life to tickle my curiosity. I have trained myself to conform to the nature of my curiosity. There is a great natural harmony to be experienced in such a practice. If I am curious about the classical guitar, I will throw myself into it. I become a musician. If I am curious about the literature of David Foster Wallace, I throw myself into his work. I become a critic. Want to know what sunrise looks like in Nepal? Me too, let’s go, let’s become adventurers! Reinvent yourself over and over. Pursue the contrary, avoid the ruts. Stay interested–and interesting. Nurture curiosity. Allow yourself the freedom to embrace wholly, as well as relinquish freely.

Let us consider how to live, to paraphrase Thoreau. The terms of my consideration are different from yours. But consider we must! There is no greater challenge, no richer reward, than to carve from the marble of life a vision specific to one’s nature. A life well-lived is the greatest art. Become an artist.

Notes from Tim.

In Adventure, Travel on May 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

I wrote in my last post from Nepal that Tim was staying behind to continue to Annapurna base camp. We’re hoping that he’ll be homebound in three or four days. Nepal has been punished with bad government since the royal massacre of 2001. The country has been in disarray for a dozen years, with Maoists coming out of hiding in the mountains and into the government. In five days yet another government is to be seated and the country is on strike. The strike was kicking in as I was leaving, the streets empty and the shops closed. Tim is safe, but getting out of the country might prove a challenge.

Meanwhile, he’s still in adventure mode and I’m sharing a few paragraphs of his recent correspondence. I should mention that these missives are sent not to his long-suffering parents, but to a certain young lady awaiting his return in the mountains of Colorado. Thank you, Candace, for passing along.

Last night we made it to the Annapurna Base Camp, 4250 meters. Truly an amazing spot. 360 degree view of huge snow-covered peaks. Including Annapurna south, Annapurna 1 and 3, Macchuputre (Fish tail), Him Chuli and a few more I can’t pronounce. I woke myself up late night to check out the stars. [The night before] the sky was filled with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. So I figured since I was even higher and farther from light pollution it would be even better. Wow!!…the stars were clustered so close together and there were so many of them it was like rice in a bowl. The sky was clear and the stars reflected off the snow tops of these huge 6, 7 and 8,000 meter peaks.
* * *
Ram tells me how excited he was to see my beard and blonde hair hanging over the patio in upper Chomrong, drinking a celebratory beer….he took the short cut, and I had pulled pretty far ahead of him. Apparently when he got to town and couldn’t find me he got worried thinking I had taken a wrong turn or wrong path. Then he said he saw my beard and “got very happy.” I told him not to worry about me, that I’d find my way where I need to go, that I ask villagers when I hike to make sure I’m going the right way. He says this is a classic method and that my dad would be proud. He said, “I not worried, you not a sheep, you like a fox.” He said, “The fox is very cunning, and curious, he figures everything out no problem.” I thought that was just amazing. It was like something I would read in my Indian Books. They always compare things to animals.
* * *
Lastly, if there was any question about Tim getting his strength back:
Ram warned, “Tomorrow is about 8 or 9 hours Trek, all up hill, all up hill.” He said it twice. I asked him, “Even for you and me? No dad or Scott?” He said, “with dad and Scott, 11-12 hours.” I told him I would do it in 6 hours. He laughed, said maybe 7 but reminded me it was all up hill. I told him 6 hours.The next morning over breakfast I told Ram, 6 hours. He said, “for you maybe 6 hours, for me 5 hours” He said this with a grin….I took it as a challenge. The hike started off crossing a swinging bridge then an immediate up hill, pretty steep, up. I got to the top and there was a guide/porter and his client sweating and panting. They left an hour before me. The guide/porter said, “Wow, you’re fast. Where’s Ram?” I said I think he got lost ; ) and moved on.
About an hour later I stopped in a small town to wait for Ram. He came panting and sweating up the hill, just shaking his head at me. When he got to me he said, ” You fast hiker. We are supposed to take our lunch break here.” It was only 9:30. We hiked on. He told me to meet at a town called Chitre for lunch. I arrived about 10:45 Ram got there at 11:15. During lunch break I spotted a sparrow and a black winged cuckooshire, pretty neat bird. However, the crimson sunbird reminded me of you the most so far. A brilliant red tiny bird. So pretty. After lunch, Ram said “For you 45 mins to Ghorepani, for me an hour and a half.” Ha, oh how the tables have turned. Then things got real hard. It was a steep uphill from here on out. Except for a 15 min break to watch a huge goat herd pass, I hiked a lot slower but non-stop. I thought this must be the equivalent to a traffic jam in these parts. I took pictures, There were three dogs running the perimeter and three people hollering to keep the goats moving. Fun to watch, but I was exhausted.

Photos from Nepal

In Adventure, Photography, Travel on May 23, 2012 at 6:00 am

Many readers of “the house” come here from Facebook. If that’s you, you might have already seen some of the photos I put up there. But for many more readers, Facebook is not the gateway. So I thought I post a handful of photos from the trip.

Tea house at a mountain pass.

I mention in the post, From Manang, that we took a day hike to visit a mountain mystic, a Lama. Here are three images from that visit.

Outside the lama’s mountain gumpa.

The Lama.

View across the valley.

In Note from Pisang, Tim and I climb to a mountain monastery.

Tim inside.

I write about the snow, the high camp and the Lorong La, in the last two posts, Thorong High Camp, and Thorong La.

Ponies in the snow at high camp.

Ram, our guide, and the morning approach to Lorong La.

Uphill slog.

Water break, Scott and Tim.

The team on the world’s highest mountain pass, 17, 700 feet. Tim, our porters LaLi and Santos, our guide Ram, me, Scott.

As always, thanks for stopping and reading–or in this case, looking.

It’s nice to be home and back at my desk.

Best regards.

Nepal, end notes.

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on May 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

Two days after Thorong Pass we hike into Jomsom. Scott and I will leave from here, flying out to Pokhara, then Kathmandu. As we enter the village I see, not a hundred meters above us, pressed into the mountain side, the crumpled remains of an airplane. Four days previously a plane landing in Jomsom aborted on approach and attempted to return to the single airstrip. There was not enough space in this narrow wedge of a canyon and the plane crashed where I now observe it. It was the morning flight to Pokhara, the same flight Scott and I will be taking in twenty-four hours. Fifteen died. Five survived. I try to put it out of my mind. Unsuccessfully.

Tim is staying to press on to Annapurna Base Camp. He will return home in ten days. Seven years ago, my daughter and I traveled to Tibet where she was to work and live in an orphanage. I got her settled, showed her Lhasa, as best I could having been there a year before. Ultimately she had to leave, realizing after the fact that an American living in a school-orphanage in Chinese-occupied Tibet was asking for trouble. This was understood with immediate clarity when the school director shunted her into a closet after a surprise visit by the local Chinese authority.

I think of this as I prepare to leave now Tim behind, far from home. The weight of being a parent has never been heavier, except for maybe leaving Allie.

As Scott and I walk to our plane I hear a whoop. I turn and see, in town, on the tallest rooftop, Tim. He is waving. I raise my arms, whoop, and wave back. Scott and I board and begin the first leg of our return home.

Thorong High Camp

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on May 20, 2012 at 6:00 am

We arrive at the base camp to the Thorong La, the world’s highest mountain pass. All vegetation is left behind. Occasional piles of snow spot the trail. It is not a hard climb this morning until the last hour. We gain all our elevation, around thousand feet, in the last hour. It is tough going and Tim is failing. He did not recover this morning as I was sure he would. Scott is moving well. I am moving well. But Tim has to pause and catch his breath. I know he is miserable. It is a terrible feeling.

At base camp he finds a bunk and crawls into his bag. He goes to sleep immediately. Our guide, Ram, has given him something for his stomach, which is giving him fits.

Base camp is a timber and rock outpost of maybe twenty bunks. There is a common room where the trekkers eat and frequently relax playing cards. There is no heat, no electricity. We wear all our clothes. Surprisingly they have tuna sandwiches for sale. Tuna and eggs are safe. Both are sealed and full of nutrition. I guess that I’ve shed ten pounds or more since beginning the trip. Yesterday I ate a bowl of porridge for breakfast with toast and black coffee. Lunch was a fried potato cake. Dinner was a bowl of soup and a hard-boiled egg. Appetite falls off at altitude. If an entrepreneur could figure out how to simulate altitude at a strip-mall diet center, a fortune could be made.

Altitude sickness has little rhyme or reason. It does not necessarily seek out the weak or old. Nor does it grant the experienced a pass. I feel badly for Tim. This is his trip and he is off his game. He should have run up the mountain that last hour. Instead he was bent over and retching.

Mid afternoon the blue sky disappears and a cloud descends on camp. Snow begins to fall, heavily. Someone is playing christmas music from an iPod. Though spirits are high I sense in all of us a weight of dread. We climb to the pass tomorrow, to almost eighteen thousand feet. If the snow continues in this fashion our work will be that much more difficult.

Thorong La Pass

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on May 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm

May 14, 2012
Thorang High Camp (el. 15, 700)
4:00 am

Trekkers begin to converge in the high camp great room. It is still dark and we wear headlamps. There is a young man from Israel, a couple from the UK, a couple from Italy, via Seattle, a couple from France, a gentleman from Germany, and the three of us. There are also two guides and four porters.

Tim is still in his room. I checked on him first thing. He is up and about, getting ready for the morning climb, but still not in top form. Someone in the room asks after him. I say he’s better, but not one hundred percent. A guide looks at me, smiles, and says, “No one is one hundred percent at altitude.”

The snow storm left a half foot of fresh powder. We assume it will be deeper as we climb. The sun is not yet up, but I can see stars and know the sky is going to be clear above us. Excitement fills the room.

At 5:30 we gather outside and Nat from London breaks trail. We are all grateful for this. It is hard enough to climb, harder in fresh snow, most difficult to break the trail. We stretch out behind him and begin.

It is bitter cold. Within minutes my fingers are numb. I see people adjusting their gear and clothing for warmth. I think the pace brisk but welcome it, as it helps us warm. The sky to the east is growing pink above the mountain and I know that once the sun comes up we will be fine. I look back and check Tim. His head is down and he is moving in lockstep with the group. I know he is working harder than normal. Scott is immediately behind me and says he is terrifically cold but fine.

In an hour or so I reach back for my water bottle. The water is laced with ice and I have to hit the side to break it up.

The sun is up and we are now comfortable, except for the work we’re doing. I feel my eyes grow misty. I become emotional. I am climbing a mountain in Nepal with my son and my nephew. It is a beautiful morning. We move through a white crystal expanse. My lungs burn and my legs churn like powerful pistons. I am overwhelmed by a love of life. A deep and powerful sense of existence fills me.

An hour later and we embrace on top of the pass, 17,700 feet above my home in Portland, Maine. We celebrate and take pictures. After fifteen minutes we begin the downclimb. The next six hours will be for me the most painful of the entire trip. My old joints resist downclimbs with a singular determination. But for now we are full of ourselves and of each other and of the stuff of life.