Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Life has an hourglass figure.

She is beautiful and round, succulent as a plum and as light as feathers. Down a road, through a patch of overhead hanging jungle, the silvery green bamboo leaves turn in the crisp wind. They turn in oblong, attached at the stem, fluttering.

On a dusty trail I looked up to find a stream, a bridge and a tree. A valley vista in harmonious longing.

Every second a grain of sand through the hourglass. Falling. Never to return.

One night in the H’mong village of Ban Houey Sala after dinner the smoke from the cooking fire died down.

 It’s been ten thousand years since the Agricultural Revolution and sedentary settlement and yet no-one in these parts has figured out that there is a relationship between intense wood smoke inhalation and respiratory disease. No one has, therefore, decided to build a chimney to evacuate the smoke. 

And so families sit around the fire soaking up heat, coughing and spitting their lungs out onto the beaten earth.

High on that mountain top, in a place with a superb 3G Internet connection, I decided to go for a walk in the darkness. It is not often that we get the chance to admire the stars on a cloudless night far from urban light pollution. It kind of freaked my guests out that I wanted to walk outside at night, although I don’t know why. They seem to have a fear of the outdoors; their rooms have no windows and only one door to the outside world. During the day, while the mountains are glowing their scintillating green and the sky is as clear as a virgin’s teardrop, their interiors are as dark as a prison.

The sky was full of a million necklaces. Was that the North Star I saw as bright and as steady as a torch up there? I am not the first human to stare up into the frozen expanse to marvel at the creation of it, but this time I was struck by the roundness of it, the sheer colossal inclusiveness of it.

I am not the first to stare off and marvel at the size of us, and that night I was stunned to silence by the power our own earth exhilarates in the midst of all this vast loneliness. Here we spin, all green and blue, teeming with life and passion, love and drama. Here we sit where birds devour insects and mosquitoes sting men; all of us chomping away on this great default ride of a sphere and for no other foreseeable reason than to exist.

For the life of me, as deeply as I reach into my intuition, as silently as I sit in the midst of this great tumbledown of incidence and circumstance, I cannot find in any of it one single reason, one single sound or echo that could even remotely bring sense or meaning to the whole show other than to say, “life will find a way”.

The beginning of wisdom may not be the fear of God, as it says in the Good Book, but rather accepting that there is no more to be frightened of than there is to find solace in.

The mountain wore a mantle of fog the next morning. By the time I had my coffee (packed with milk in my saddle bags…) enough mist had cleared in the middle distance to trace the outlines of the winter trees, fog coiling around their branches and leaves like algae in a lake slithering around lotus roots.

All of creation is there, then, to be beautiful and savage, fleeting and persistent.

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