23 March, 2004

Stunned and gleeful

The weather is blue and pure, some drifty clouds.
The sun is strong – everyone is reading, lying around in the grass of the oval. Frisbees and dogs. Lots of smiles. I spent my lunch break out there dreaming, loving the season.

After class today, my professor reached out her hand to me and said, “congratulations.” I didn’t know why. I sort of laughed at her: “. . . for what?”
“You’ve won the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award for the English department,” she said.

How strange.
I may even get to give a speech at graduation.

I was confused, then surprised – I had to get her to repeat herself a few times – “The Mortor Board gives them.” I don’t know who that is. I didn't know what was going on.
I walked outside and everything was quiet. It’s about five o’clock.
Holy Shit! I wanted to find someone I knew, someone I could tell. What does this mean? It sounds good. I wasn’t even going to go to graduation. My Dad said he wanted to come out and visit.

I feel a bit manic.
Who knew?
What a nice day. I need to find Hanna..

14 March, 2004

Devil or Seraph

I think this is one of the most important parables I have ever read.
Not that it is true. To me that isn’t the point, but understanding what it does to our daily awareness of the world: where is our attension?
Is it truly here, or are we projecting to an afterlife of dubious veracity?

Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence: [from “the Gay Science”: the heaviest weight]

What if a demon crept after you one day or night in your loneliest solitude and said to you: “this life, as you live it now and have lived it, you will have to live again and again, times without number; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and all the unspeakably small and great in your life must return to you, and everything in the same series and sequence—and in the same way this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and in the same way this moment and I myself. The eternal hour-glass of existence will be turned again and again—and you with it, you speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash you teeth and curse the demon who spoke? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment in which you would have answered him: “You are a god and never did I hear anything more divine!” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon you actions as th egreatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?


I have a girl whom I am enamored with. Her name is Hanna. Never met anyone quite like her. She is calm and coy, so relaxed and down to earth. She’s angelic. I don’t think she has an evil bone in her body.
I, of course, must find it.
She runs two hours a day. She is small and slender and can dance up a devil’s storm. She goes and goes and goes. She’s a listener.
Her smile is what really got me. Her upper lip is split and she smiles all the time. Beautiful eyes and short short hair.
Always happy.
I love how she just stops over unannounced, just to say hi. Won’t take her backpack off, but will stay thirty minutes anyway. Just chatting.
So coy though, I have to work to steal a small kiss… I can’t help it. I’m hooked

04 March, 2004

This is a long non-fiction piece that I just finished. Well...finished a draft anyway. It is somewhat literary, very Joycean, very different than anything I've ever written. The style still needs to be smoothed out, but it was great fun to write.


“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” – Albert Camus

Very small and colored like a watermelon. Not green, nor red either, more like a blaze orange, colored like watermelon-flavored candy. No burden at all. I bought it for $7: a fake Lowe Alpine pack, small and flat, flat and orange—a book bag. It’s contents for my foray: two pairs of socks, a windbreaker, first aid w/ toothbrush and paste, a light fleece sleeping bag, snacks, sunglasses, hat, and a camera, rolling tobacco, one extra shirt. The essentials. I was quite pleased with myself. Very small. Going light, I float down the trail, running, legs like wheels spinning, arms ruddering left and right, tempering my gate to the terrain: da dada dada da dada da. I also have some sunscreen, iodine, a water bottle, and my Moroccan scarf. The scarf I wear tucked under my hat, draped over my neck and wrapped around my ears. Protection from this high-elevation sun. No clouds: too far north for the monsoon. The Mustang: high mountain desert, parched. I’m pale as Hamlet’s father. Sunglasses, hat, scarf, long-sleeve shirt: open, nylon pants, running shoes worn with dirty black boot-gaiters to keep the gravel out as I run or hike—this is my style, a bit awkward; I imagine it is quite funny, juxtaposed with native yarns and wool. I don't care; actually, I like it—it’s damn efficient. This is Nepal after all—not Tahoe. The cobbled street by the airstrip is empty and pressed by heavy morning air. Left or right? Left is west to the river and then south. The sun is just peeking out over the rubble of mountain tops. On the steps the men are still slow to take to the street, distracting themselves with talk.
Which way is down?

Summer. A break from my studies in Montana. Freedom again to breathe and learn in different terms, terms of my choosing. I arranged to teach English—a volunteer job—in Samtenling Monastery just outside Kathmandu. I could teach, read, write, plan—all on my own time, all with no pressure, no weight, all in a new place. Kathmandu is the capital, lying in the central valley of Nepal, rising up from India. Everest is to the northeast, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to the northwest. Haze and humidity veil all but the nearest hills. Everything green but the city: dusty, and dank garbage, rotting, being eaten by cows in the gutter. Many smells, none pleasant. A Bakery. I planned to work for two months teaching, and then spend three weeks roaming. My first trip to the continent, no explicit plans. I was torn between trekking and wider travel, buses and trains, to India or China. Everest is out, hidden under summer clouds. Nepal sulks under the shadow of civil war. Maoist rebels versus a corrupt king.
For three days classes were canceled for pujas, long Buddhist prayers: Wednesday through Friday and the weekend was free. Part of me had adapted to the comfortable life of tea, yoga, reading and writing. More tea. I thought: I could stay, relax and get work done.
No. Get out and go.

Okay. . . I have time restraints. Something fast. I know I want to be alone - no guide. Three weeks I’ve been here. Still I’ve never seen the Himalaya. Everest too long; Tibet too far. I need to do something simple: I’m out of practice. Annapurna? Annapurna could be perfect. Access and grandeur:

Ancient dusty roads linking villages and hamlets, one after another, mountain after mountain, donkeys in train, in a loop around the Annapurna Massif. Perhaps the most popular trek in the world. Thirty plus days to make the entire circumambulation. But I could fly to Pokhara, then fly to Jomoson, the Mustang region, dry, desolate, rocky desert. No cars, no tvs. From Jomoson it is a downhill dally, south along the winding Kali Gandaki, the world’s deepest gorge. Four days back to Pokhara max. The flight alone, to drift over the glaciers, headwalls, and black arêtes, to see what only a mountaineer could—that alone would be worth the trip and expense. To walk the gorge between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri—two of the six tallest mountains on earth, both over 8,000 meters. Village to village. Drinking tea and sleeping in cheap guesthouses all along the way. Talking to smiling dark eyes. Not rough, but a pleasure, a stroll, downhill all the way to the bottom.

Wednesday I boarded an early flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara. I watched the security man unlatch the padlocked door. No use for the metal detectors or x-ray machines. “Do you have anything dangerous sir?”
“Have a nice flight.” The flight was thirty minutes. Mountains slowly emerged from the background of clouds amidst and behind them: white on white. Never in my life. Of the gods. Up and up.

The Himalaya, standing there, clouds gathered like effervescent scarves around their necks, headless with bodies of bulk. The day’s moisture rose slowly, the glaciers slowly melting and inching down, and the mountains lifted imperceptibly. Dark shadows grimaced. The enormity. So far away, and I still can’t see it all at once. The weight fell on my nose. The foothills resembled the great Rockies of my home in Montana. The lush green slopes, great green turtles in a herd, prefaced the rising clouds. Then, above the clouds, a moment, they parted, and there I saw the frosted pick of Annapurna, like a ghost against the blue, then gone, swallowed by cloud.
The only flight to Jomoson had already left Pokhara before I landed there. In the morning the winds are low in the Kali Gandaki gorge and rise throughout the day. I was tempted to veg and read, eat some samosas in the shade by the lake. Pokhara, the second largest city of Nepal is shady. It hugs Phewa Tal Lake, always calm and sleepy. The buses were on strike and the drivers huddled together by the shore in a mob; kids fished with handlines off a narrow, rickety, wooden pier. Rowboats, no motorboats. Fishermen sleeping out in the breeze. I could have done the same way, no dusty Kathmandu, horns, smog, and rot.

A free day. I fly out early in the morning to Jomoson. What to do? Action.
I stowed some things in my hotel, packed water, snacks, and sunscreen in my watermelon pack, and strode north, around the lakeside, past cinderblock shops and tin shacks, chickens and goats in the weeds. Sarangkot was a mountain just north of town and a shrine was built on its summit. A green turtle of a mountain. Up and down in an afternoon. Good for the lungs, hard on the legs.

Everything was living: insects, birds, every niche filled and fought for. Rice patties by the lake now, oxen moved between pastures, women with twitches urged them on. I crossed narrow mud dikes and up onto a stone path winding into trees and shade. The base of the turtle. Stone gutters and walls. Huts came toward me through the trees. The walls kept in the animals. As the mountain rose, the jungle thickened and my breathing grew audible. Soon I pulled on vines and plied through mud and roots to crawl up the gangly slope.
Crash and cracking.

Thudding hooves on clay, leaves and twigs. Buffalo, its great rump parted the foliage and all else. It disappeared, leaving a wake of noise and vibration.
Right there in front of me.

Out of nowhere. I never saw it until... Good that the mountainous regions of Nepal aren’t occupied by cobras like the lowlands in the south can be. I couldn't see past the next palm frond. Or the spider-web across my nose. Towards the top it flattened and spread into grassy meads, opening the sky and view. Under the shade of a cottage I napped for an hour, spent and satisfied.

Phewa Tal Lake winked at me as shadows from the west tucked over Pokhara. Rolled a smoke. The fishermen were too small to make out. Afternoon clouds mustered, a sign that the trail may grow slicker yet. I threw my pack around my back and skipped and jogged down the stone steps, somewhat invigorated, happy with my load, and dipped back into the jungle as rain started to patter on my shoulders. No more buffalo. Never reached the top. No point.

At the bottom, more tired and absorbed in my mind, I was crossing the rice patties, looking at the back of my head. The rain had stopped and cooled the air. A small bird dropped into my sight, resembling a magpie in color and size, a small bird, and it dove into the path ten meters before me. As it did, it clawed at something, prey? It missed and my eyes focused as a blurry object thrashed toward shelter.
A snake—sleek, brown, long, and conspicuously flat.
It slithered into some shrubs along side the trail, leaving its tail exposed for another instant before retracting it into the rock and shadow. A cobra?
Flat—brown and flat. What was that bird thinking, a snake that size?
In town a woman told me cobras come into the patties after a rain. I stopped to play a game of pool with some locals. They shot well. Tried to hustle me, I think. Nice try.

After dinner I read and journalled on philosophy and synchronicity. Quiet meal. Good tea.
“I need a 4:30 wake-up.”
The woman looked none too pleased: “That’s awful early; you don’t need to get up for a trek that early, surely.”
“I have to catch a plane,” I said, “and I surely do need to wake up that early.” She’s not going to wake me. I know she’s not going to. No way.

Cool air blew through the window. No blankets, just a white sheet on a stiff mattress. My feet wouldn’t stop bleeding. Anticoagulant from three small leaches in my socks. First aid kit. Too excited to be tired. Four-thirty wake-up. Six-thirty flight. Not enough wind. Turned on the fan. Around, around, around: wa wa wa wa wa. Nepal. The Himalaya a morning plane ride away—hours, only hours to go. I’m here, I thought. Life is now, no waiting. Waiting and waiting, so much waiting; people always waiting. What’s the point? Now I’m there, on the nexus, point of inflexion. I don’t know what else life can be? How do I feel? Great—but the same somehow. I could be going to see my mom, have a date, or a real good lecture.
Go to sleep.
Don’t look at your watch. Sleep. Dream about boats and mountains.
The wake-up is not gonna come. I’ll wake up. All the five a.m. pujas, the great deep horns, bellowing as orange dusty light enters the window by my head; all Kathmandu wakes with the monks at daybreak.
1:56. 3:29. 4:16—close enough. 4:39—no wake-up. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad.
By the gate, the doorman snored on his cot. “Where’s my wake-up call?” Short, louder than necessary. I’m not mad. Not mad.
Snort. Rub. “Um.”
Hold my tongue. “Call me a cab.” Breathe.

Crisp morning, dark, no cars or sound on muffled, darkened streets. Crowd in front of the airport gate waiting, unloading. Loaf of sweet bread for breakfast. I share it with whomever as we wait. Jogger slips by without a sound. Boxes of supplies for the north. Several men with white-smeared faces, red dots: stern men, heavy shawls over one shoulder. Northern men, mule-men, barefoot. My watermelon pack. Biggest roach I’ve ever seen in the airport, black against white tile floor. I caught it in a cup and took it out: impressive critter. Will to Power. Must’ve taken a very chances to get that fat. We boarded and were airborne in less than three minutes. Twin engine plane, three seats across. Ear plugs for the noise. I sat by the window, not a cloud in the sky. I felt my heart pumping in my ears.

Through the door to the cockpit I stared through the windshield as we approached. Pearly slopes shimmered prismatically: all colors, a rainbow in white. The racket of my mind dulled and died: too much. What to make of it? Venus or Medusa? Spur of crust or a cleft in the sky? Violence of nature. I couldn’t think of climbing them or even photographing them, or noticing anything. White and black. I tried tracing lines, but I’d loose them. Snow and ice and black rock, shadow and light, pyramidal form, earth and sky, base below and still looking up toward it. The window separated and protected me. So compassionateless: great voids, heaving stones. Heading west, Dhaulagiri dominated the entire windshield. Pilots have a good life: see from a distance. Up and down safely.
Twenty minutes: one instant. Gone. Up and down. Like all the other times.

I stand on the airstrip, slowly eroding into the Kali Gandaki river. Jomoson, nothing between me and the morning breeze. About 7:30. Left or right?
Which way is down?

The road to my self, no sound from my soles. I need some water. Traded my orange whistle for a policeman’s whistle. Young guard wanted it when I registered as a hiker in “the Annapurna Conservation Area.” Permit: twenty bucks. Now I am legal. Didn’t know about it; glad he stopped me.

Follow the road. No thought necessary. I’m hiking north when I’m supposed to be heading south. Relax. All down hill—the river only flows downstream, rolling stones smooth down to Pokhara. Dirty sandstone escarpments to my right roll pebbles and grit continually onto the road. No ruts. Only wheels are from a rare tractor. River on my left; rock on my right. Blue sky, silver fringed. Everything beige, pale-red: rocks, sand mountains. Everything crumbling: old and dry. But the water looks cool grey, milky and thick, too thick to seem just water. Little refraction. Soaks up light; light and ice and rain and grit and everything else. The sump of Annapurna—feeding green pastures and patties, irrigation, willow trees, all huddled tightly, like a snake’s skin, to the sliding river. Blue, beige, green, grey: all stark in contrast to the next. Want some tea to wet my throat.

Southward bending at last, funneling into the mountains from the Mustang plain. Heading into shadows. A bit more comfortable now. The gorge slowly tightens its heavy clamp. The greenery has given way to wide gravels and sand bars, streams weaving in and amongst others. Alaskan river. So I imagine. So wide and shallow, silver hair braided. The sky is turning as grey as the waters, not so turbulient. Willows hang from the eroding banks melting beneath them.

India collides with the Eurasian plate, but neither plate give, both pressing, both rock-hard. Subduction and orogeny: mountain-building. I stand on the frontline, rising beneath me. The plates crinkle like test-cars into a wall. Ripple up, bend and raise. Amazing to think of brittle rock bending like a wrought-iron bar. They grow beneath me. They are baby young compared to the Appalachians. The Himalaya, from Thailand, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tajikstan, Kazakhstan. Chomolugma, the Great One, is the greatest of all, seated in Nepal, the highest seat from which to fall: raising rocks up to the heavens. We call it Everest after an Englishman who discovered its height. Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Cho-Oye, Lhotse, Makalu, Kangchenjunga: hard to take our lives seriously in such immensity? I don’t live under them. They do. Amazing what people can become accustomed to. I live under something and I don’t see it either. Perhaps I can see it from a distance.
Where am I? Map.

Marpa already? Too early for lunch, I think. Still morning. Perhaps now that tea. I wouldn’t mind some writing. But my legs itch too much; I want to move. They feel light and jittery, cool air tickling their hairs. Shorts for the morning. Not too bright yet. Too much light oppresses me. The scarf is keeping the cool from my neck. Still little sound: squawks and creeks, childish laughter. Chickens in the road in the distance. Water pumps and women with buckets and linen. Toward me, thin men with canvas-covered loads, towering loads, three-plus feet over their heads, plod forward. Padded straps suspend the weight over their foreheads. Plastic sandals on their feet. Mules of men. Piston legs and tradition in their blood. Over and over again. Up and down.
I fill my old Gatorade bottle (no Nalgene) and walk on. A few smiles and stares. No trekkers. I hardly notice. Miles away down valley I see the clouds thick beneath me.
Where am I going? [Down—into what?]

Hell, I’m half way there already. Almost time for a dal bhat. I can taste the curry. I bet they make a mean dal bhat up here. Don’t know why. More passion. Why do I love the rural? Why do I think this is more natural and thereby more pure, more authentic? What isn’t natural if it comes from nature?—everything comes from nature.
I don’t care; I feel at home here.
South America, Asia—I don’t care—if it is traditional and poor then I will be comfortable. Maybe I like to suffer. Then where is my burden? Life is more beautiful.

Whistling. A mule train coming up the road, around the rocky corner. From Beni?—the end of the concrete, sixty miles north-west of Pokhara and the bottom of this gorge. That’s my end. In Beni I’ll catch a bus back to Pokhara Sunday morning, from Pokhara bus or fly back to Kathmandu. Teach at twelve o’clock Monday. A few days ago I was writing lesson plans. Sentence structure, simple grammar and reading Siddhartha. Then the news on Tuesday. Flew out Wednesday. And look now, look at this rocky road. [I scoop some sand and grit from a shelf of rock.] Nepali rock. Himalayan rock. Plate Tectonics. Uplift and erosion.

Montana is far away. Native Americans around the Great Lakes carried loads on their heads that way, called them wanigans. I’ve canoed there and used them; a lot flatter country. A shame the rock is all so crumbly. Shale and siltstone. Terrible climbing. I wonder if I’ll see any yaks? Not yeti country here; too dry, too populous.
The sun rose and fell amid passing clouds, peaking from behind Annapurna as I found Kalopani around an eastward bend in the flow. The guesthouse near the water looks quiet. Everything is quiet. Children out at play run homeward in the twilight. My stomach gurgles like eddying water—lunch had met expectations but the miles and hours readied me for another plate: rice, dal (curry), vegetables, spices, nan (frybread)—and all I can eat. And tea of course. From the roof, I roll a smoke and watch the shadows roll out along the river. A drizzle comes and goes. A taste of what’s below. At the bottom.

Friday morning, after a warm sleep through an alpine night, my legs twitched and flexed, like sleddogs in the harness. My lungs and head lagged behind in the heavy morning air and sunshine. Warm milk and cereal for breakfast. A little tea and chocolate. Time to pay: “Kati ho?”
“Eighty rupees for room and. . .”
“I’m sorry, say again.”
“Eighty rupees.”
“No, you mean eight-hundred rupees I think. Here, take it. Thank you. Dhanyabād.” Eighty couldn’t be right. Supposed to be a little more expensive out here, tourists and all. That couldn’t be right. That is less than two dollars. This seems more fair, just more difficult to say in English. Very fine room: two shuddered windows overlooking the river, stone walls and wood.

The man’s eye’s peeled. “Dhanyabād, thank you, thank you verry much.”
Perhaps it was only eighty rupees? Still worth it. Comes and goes.
Miles roll by too easily, need distraction. Too soon these former dreams, now living, will flow into memory. I want the steps to slow, the hourglass to freeze. In Lete, a tiny hamlet, just a strip along the road, along the river, I pass a bookstore the size of my kitchen: very small. For tourists I suppose. All I brought with me was philosophy: a twentieth-century French Existentialist. Better for thought than literature. The peaks have drifted behind the mass of their own slopes: I can’t see them for themselves. (There is philosophy there I’m sure.) I want to bring them back. Lift myself out of this canyon and look from the apex down. I gaze through the titles. Almost all English. Some fine classics: Snow Leopard, Touching the Void, Hemingway, Hesse.
There it is.

One of the two popular accounts of the Everest tragedy. Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is the best known, but The Climb is written by Anatoli Boukreev, a guide and legendary climber—both of which Krakauer is not. Anatoli’s version is the story I want.

The miles needed distraction. I arched against a willow and allowed the pages to turn themselves. Anatoli never failed in any attempt to climb a peak over eight-thousand meters. Who’s ever done that? Mule-man. He trained and worked. He knew what he wanted, knew what he loved. What the hell do I want? I am walking in Eden and I am reading and relishing another man’s account of Hell. Grass is greener. Can there ever be enough? Can you ever be at the right spot at the right time? Does human consciousness allow it? Or is it only reflection that places such value on experience? Happiness ephemeral? Time for dal bhat.

Up and down, up and down. He was the hero. He saved lives. Everyone was coming down, exhausted. Stretched for the highest summit on Earth. Climbed too late: 2, 3, 4 o’clock. No more air canisters. Anatoli went down early to recovery and to bring more air if necessary. A storm. When the storm hit, climbers got lost in the white, in the dark. No one came down, so he went up. No one else. Some came down, too exhausted. But Toli loved the mountains, a Kazakh. Up and down; up and down. Three trips up Everest to save lives. His friend died up there—too high to save, too late. Scott Fischer, still there. Toli loved the mountains. Others died as well, but Toli found the lost group before daybreak. After the disaster, a day later, he climbed Lhotse, Everest’s conjoined brother, in one single push, alone, faster then anyone before him.

I remember the way Dhaulagiri looked through windshield of the plane to Jomoson. I know, behind the scree slopes to my right it looms, like Cerberus or Thanatos (Death, the Grim Reaper) in the shadows, waiting to snatch me up. Annapurna is on my left, the same. Gates of Hades. The river Styx flowing through. Their loftiness I can feel hanging over me again, dragging it with me, again slowing my step to the bottom.

My belly satisfied once again. The sun leans on my left side as I start south. Through a doorway I can see her wares as she waves me in. Always distractible and easily swayed after a meal: why not? Hate leading people on. Being white, I am leading them on:
I have money; I will buy.
I never do. Stingy as hell. I don’t need anything. Don’t want to carry it. Coins and beer labels are all the memorabilia I need: anything I can paste into a journal. I like rocks, small ones that fit nicely in my hand. Photos of course. I love National Geographic. One thing though: prayer beads. Buddhist prayer beads, you carry them in your hand, a necklace of 112 beads with two small dangling strings of five mini-beads. For counting mantras. Recite a mantra, move a bead; recite a mantra, move a bead. After a round of 112, move one of the ten mini-beads. A full cycle is 1120 mantras.

Yak bone. She has one. Her brother brought it down from Tibet: more yaks in Tibet, I guess (I haven’t seen one yet). She wants my watch. I don’t much care for it, but a man’s got to catch his bus and get to work on time. I walk to work. I give her a hand-kerchief and some rupees: a pretty good price for her.

Om…mani…padme…hum—one. Om…mani…padme…hum—two. Om…mani…padme…hum—three. I hear the chanting in my head. Around the Stupa, where I live in Kathmandu, a music shop plays it loud for all the people to hear as they circle the Stupa, reciting the mantra: Om…mani…padme…hum. Om…mani… padme…hum. My fingers learned how to move the beads forward. Om…mani… padme…hum. The bone was cold and smooth. Not white, more yellow tarnished with brown flecks. The thread woven heavy and strong. Silk tassels dangle from the two five-pieces and the center bead: the beginning and end.

I walk through the riverbed to cut corners. Rock to rock to rock. Narrow streams apart from the main channel dance together, merging and parting. More brown then before. Mule trains pass on the high trail. Porters with their “wanigan” loads slosh through the stream. Some pass me by. Mule-men.

The rock is changing as I drop lower and lower. Metamorphosed. The pressure and heat of the plates. Weight of overlying rock. A gneiss, a schist maybe, I’m not sure. Dark and hard. I drop my dusty pack. The cliff band along the road looks perfect: vertical, a bit undercut, textured, angled beds sloping south, mixed thick and thin beds, not too dirty, solid—and long. The rock is cool to my fingers. The feet are a bit slippery. Ommmm. Right to left. Foot then hand, one at a time, a spider, a gymnast. Never more than two feet from the ground. Right to left. Lean in. Ommmm. Left hip in, reach up left hand. Crimper. Cross right leg. Flag left leg out, no hold, for counter-balance. Match right hand with left. My forearms tense. Right to left. I rest on the big cupped jugs. I move left to a pinch, a small lip of rock above my head. My fingers slowly start to release, but I rock over to the next lower ledge, a bigger hold. Ommmm. Squatting, my heart picks up pace. Right to left. I cross my right hand, leaning left, stand on my right foot, my left finds a pocket far left to counter. Down the road, just above the bottom.
A foot gives way, dusty hold. To burnt to hold on. I push off and land.

Take a deep breath and smile, hands on my head. I shake out my forearms. I turn and notice two porters, loads dropped, sitting on boulders in the river bottom watching me. Have they ever seen anyone climb before? Have they ever thought to do it? What do they see when they look up at Annapurna? A god? A mountain? A curse? Can they see it anymore? They balance their loads and go on. I do the same. Not my fault I don’t have a burden. I didn’t choose.

How could Krakauer criticize Boukreev? He thought Anatoli was mistaken for leaving his clients and descending to camp IV to recover. He couldn’t help any more. How else would he have been capable of such a rescue? Scott Fischer was up there, so was the other team, Krakauer’s team, and the other guides—too many other people in fact. How can you criticize the man? How can the hero be misunderstood as a villain?

The canyon has closed in, the wide braided-stream now flows deep in a single galloping current. Suspension bridges nearly one-hundred meters, connect villages on opposite banks. Beige desert rocks and the Mustang are far north now. Mountains are thick and dense with life and shadows.
Om mani padme hum, 666.

As the river bends, the gorge again widens. Patty after patty spread across the flat river bottom. Planting season. Light, white-green of fresh shoots. Men and oxen stir the mud, over and over and over, knee deep. Women in lines, backs bent over, hands full of rice sprouts, stickin’ them in one by one, acre by acre. More women behind with buckets full of shoots. Old man sitting on the wall. I gesture to him if I might join him and watch. With a small wooden pipe he puffs some ganja. Locally grown. He squats, a small man, emerald tuk not quite around his head, kind face. “Tobacco, would you like some tobacco?” I dig in my pack and fish out my pouch. I take a handful and offer it to the man. I don’t know why? Very pleased. He packs his bowl and smiles. A group of the women come over to see what he is so pleased about. I hand out a few more pinches and ask them to share. None speak English. I watch the planting for a bit more, until an ox decided the work was done and removed himself from his plow, and crawled up on to the road and trotted home. Time I did the same. Dusk growing. I ask the old man’s permission for a photograph. We nod at each other and I turn back down the hill toward Tatopani.

My legs are tired. I’m glad. I want to feel the work. Sore exhaustion at the end of the day, the second day. Earned it. I can feel each step, each rock beneath my thin-soled sneakers. Making it safely to shelter, food and warmth. A change. There is little satisfaction in the mental exertion of academia, little risk.
Nihilism is a risk. Skepticism is a risk. Influence is certainly a risk.

What is failure—a B+? An F, for “failure?” A deranged world view? When all that learning is added up—what is it? Who lives it? Nothing can be won if nothing is risked: “The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena.” I remember. An old taped and worn scrap of paper pinned to the back wall of “the Woodie”—the old climbing wall we built in a storage-closet in Tennessee. “They who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions to a worthy cause,” I only remember parts: “at best know triumph and at worst fail while daring bravely.” Something, something else. “Their place is not with the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Teddy Roosevelt.
Safety is boring. Unproductive.

Teddy would say it’s against the point of being alive: being alive is to risk being dead. Anatoli risked it. Scott paid it. Academia is boring. Mental masturbation. What the hell is the point? Live Dangerously. Little difference understanding Blake and playing Mario Brothers.
Bullshit. I love Blake. That stings to think about. Risks of the mind.
No arena.

Remember the parable on life, Nietzsche’s parable, the demon that comes to you at night, alone, and whispers to you that this life, just as it is, nothing changed even this moment, here, would be your lot for eternity: each dying followed by the same birth, followed by the same death. Each thought, each epiphany, each failure. What would I do? Would I fall to my knees and curse the demon for such a miserable damnation? How to go on? Or would I praise him as a savior? What a universe! What a merciful seraph! This life forever, indeed. What would Anatoli say? Endure the mountains for eternity?
Up and down—forever! Could I?

I‘m sore, in legs and mind. I think, beyond this next bridge, around the bend to the east is Tatopani. Yea-ha. Another day, no tourists. Wrong—I saw those three this morning, heading uphill. Lucky souls have more time than me. Then down. My feet are feeling it. Compressed socks. Marijuana growing everywhere. I pick a leaf and press it in my book: for the journal, next to the Everest beer label. Fiftieth anniversary of Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first accent of Everest – May ‘53. Sir Edmond’s first words coming down: “Well George, we knocked the bastard off!” No way to talk to a mountain. Chomolungma: Goddess, mother of the world. Mallory and Fischer risked it. Dared bravely. [So what if they failed?] I’d rather try.
You’d die.

Not if I try at the right task, by the right means, with the right passion. Even then—let me die. The trip would be paid in advance. How better to live? So answer the riddle then: what’s at the bottom? Damned if I know. I’m hungry.

There is a hot spring in Tatopani. I forgot. It’s late. Past dinner. Where did those Dutch folk recommend? My last night on the trail. Tomorrow out to Beni. Sunday, Beni to Pokhara, Pokhara to home. Monday, to work.
Tourists. The Trekker’s Lodge—obviously this is the popular spot. Table to myself. Ordered a pasta dish, pot of chai, and tried to finish up Boukreev’s book. He won world acclaim for his efforts on Everest. Great story. One of the greatest rescues ever.

I knew already that Anatoli had died.

I remember hearing about it years ago—avalanche, somewhere in the Himalaya. In the postscript, the editor said he and a strong Frenchman were attempting a winter accent up an unclimbed southern couloir of Annapurna I. A cornice, not visible from the gully where they were climbing, broke loose and collapsed above them. His partner luckily washed out with a broken arm. Anatoli was never found.

I am sleeping in the shadow of Annapurna, drinking its water, water from hibernal snows. That couloir, partially, is visible from Pokhara, across the southern bowl from Machupichara, “the fish-tail” mountain. He couldn’t win forever. Climbed all but one. Died where he lived. To him: a demon of providence or of damnation? Dared greatly.

One-hundred rupees for the room. Mouse shit on one of the pillows. I decide to sleep on the other bed. I finish my book. Ten o’clock. Dark night. Rain-patter on the roof. I gather a towel, headlamp, roll a smoke, put on my raincoat and head down. I have to follow a trail down to the river. From there, walk straight until I hit the pools.
Empty. Steam rising. How could anyone resist? Black night. Day on the trail, last day. Forest across the river incandescent with fireflies. Silent. The river doesn’t seem to make a sound. The pools are clean and built with concrete, round and deep, ten-feet across. Naked, I pile my clothes beneath my raincoat beneath a cedar. I ease in slow. Damn hot. In and out; in and out. I sit on the wall to cool, staring at the river I have followed for two days. A moment.

My cigarette smokes so slow in the rain, tip to stern. My sweat and the rain drench my fingers and lips, making the butt impossible. In and out of the pool. Up and down. I tear the leaf out of the paper and throw it to the wind. Ommmmm. No one comes down. Too silent. And no distraction.
The bottom?

Muesli and warm milk for breakfast. Tea of course. Full-fledged addiction. National pastime of Nepal. First morning to wake to rain. Only two seasons in Nepal: dry season and rainy season. Is this the bottom?
It’s all over. Feels over. I am no longer alone. How can it be over when I am still here? Half a day to go. My heart is deserting me. Wants yesterday again and again. No joy in where I am going. Clouds are everywhere. I see already the flight back: Kathmandu, Montana, what comes after? What is to dislike? I think there is joy in the downward lunge, a heave back toward one’s call, even if only a momentary stay before a turn. What else is there? Can only climb so high. Then turn. Only so many steeps till a slip. Success unto failure: Victory unto defeat. Where is the sympathy? Not from without.
Am I blessed or cursed?
Demon or Seraph? What about Toli?
What is my burden?
And where is my check? Time to walk.

03 March, 2004

Yes, I realize that the site is totally kooky right now.
I'm working on it.
Feb 28

I had one of those experiences today, the kind where everything becomes sterling and right. I was preparing to go to a potluck dinner at Lydia’s, but I needed to go for a run first. Widge and I decided on the Rattlesnake.
The sun had already set when we started out. The moon was in its first quarter, bright and at its zenith, lighting the snow, casting tree-shadows. My legs felt so fresh and happy to be out. Running through the trees in the moonshine was as wonderful as anything I have ever felt. Not that the intensity is that of skydiving, but in a therapeutic, harmonic, rejuvenative, and blissful sense. There was nowhere else I could have cared to be. This was it; as good as it gets.

But why, I wondered? What I realized was that it was the very fact that I don’t get it every day. I don’t o.d. on endorphins anymore like I have in the past. Now I spend a mass amount of time seated, staring at paper or a screen. Six p.m. was my first time out of the house.

So here is my secret to happiness: find a duality, two modes of life, somewhat opposite; they ought to balance themselves—but love both. For example: work and play, read and run, teach and climb, whatever. Make life a thing where you are always looking forward to something which will actually take place: I can’t wait to go for my run—then go. Running: I can’t wait to go and read my book later—then do it. To have the things we love in our lives, but to have them balanced by things quite different that help us to appreciate them. I used to ski and then climb almost everyday a few winters back. It was bliss, but as soon as I came to accept that this was the norm—then the joy wears off. There was no counter—nothing to give perspective. Now I read all day and can’t wait for a run. Tomorrow I am going out for a long ski and will be psyched to do nothing Monday but sit around and read.

If the grass is always greener. . . then enjoy hoping the fence.
I’ve got a brand new bag!

7:20 a.m.
Been writing since 11:30 last night.
Wrote an entire draft of a new story.
New style: Joycean symbolic realism.
Love it—elastic as hell.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
My neighbor just left to go skiing.
Hey, it’s Friday.
To sleep or not to sleep?
…but I am getting hungry.
Perhaps I'll read it: "Sisyphus"

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” – Albert Camus