…and then there’s the sheer miraculous nature of it; the razor sharp mountain peaks creeping out of the wide rice-fed plains. The roads are difficult, sometimes sand and sometimes gravel.
Every now and again heaven and a local Central Committee send a perfectly paved stretch of road in the middle of nowhere and life breezes along – huts and villages, side roads, rice paddies and mountain views pass by in dust free bliss.
Villages of wooden huts, a stream, most times with not even a temple. Last night’s rain patted the dust down for a while and the sky is still overcast, but now the air is again filled with the red earth. By the side of the road the dust cakes the shrubs and trees but you can see how quickly the leaves grow because at the end of every branch there is one leaf, pristine and new, standing solitary and bright green above its darker damaged siblings.
I pass by an abandoned roadside market, bamboo stalls crumbling and falling at odd angles back into the earth. Falling roofs, rotten planks – the strategic placement of this market has evolved and soon nothing will be left of it save vague memories in the minds of a few old ladies. This is the archeology left for thousands of years by the Lao. No stones, no mason bridge works, no ancient brick structures. Only now are they making a less temporal claim to the land by using concrete and bricks and mortar. The rest has been left to decay.
I awaken after a long and dreamless sleep; the mountain now backlit by the rising sun presents her steep cliffs to me, a wall of massive strength and power.
The streets are already beating with children on their way to school and agricultural machinery en route to fields, matinal fires are lit to stave off the morning’s encroaching hunger sending their smoke rising in a profusion of activity through holes in kitchen roofs. The sweet burning smells of bamboo and jungle wood fill the air periodically. They come in snippets, with the passing of a breeze before giving way to the fresh morning scent of dew rising off the meadow.
In the distant valley beyond the garden, mist rises and hides the body of another mountain, there in the distance, her shoulders are barely covered by the morning misty lace and her face is a thing of beauty rarely seen; sometimes glimpsed and often guessed at in the miraculous distance.
As you can see, the play of smoke and mist, light and shadow play a large part in the hide-and-go-seek of these mountain mornings. All throughout the plain there are these mini-mirages, tiny ephemeral temples of mystery obscuring a view for a second or more before being dispersed by a wind or left behind to haunt the place while our own movement takes us down the road to yet another white smoky pillar of forgetfulness.