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Field Notebook

Fall, 2007
Tibet


Running the Gyalmo Ngulchu
Running the Gyalmo Ngulchu
We gather at the edge of the flooding river, debating whether it's gone up half and inch or come down. We need it down six feet.

"The river is too big, we shouldn't do this."

"I came to run this river."

"The line is drawn in the sand. Are we in or are we out?"

"Hesitation causes fear, and fear is dangerous."

"At what point are we going to do something stupid out of impatience?"

"I've always had a good sense for these rivers. This is a bad idea."

Travis crouches with lanky familiarity on a polished river boulder. The final decision falls on him. He says he needs to think.

Shit, it doesn't make any difference to me. Water keeps running downhill, curving through unseen canyons and if one more mystery is left unsolved in the world, all the better. I take off for the mountains, climb alone on a terribly steep yak trail, feet muddy in sandals. I paw up a clear, chortling stream hemmed in by ferns and rhododendrons. There I meet a young yak. I reach toward its wet cushion of a nose and it licks my hand into its mouth. Then I tell it good-bye. I need to make it back to the monastery in time to sit with Jembar, who is chanting every afternoon in his own chamber, keeping the universe from falling apart.

Every day, late in the afternoon I go to the top floor of the monastery and sit in a room hazed with incense smoke. There, one of the older monks sits chanting behind a drum and a stack of scriptures, and every day he gestures me to sit closer. Today he offers me a seat on the bench beside him where I position myself on a thin, ratty cushion. The slops of parchment are a foot long and four inches tall. From here I can see elegant hand-written script, six lines on each side. Quick syllables pass his lips, hand reaches ahead and flips the sheets, their edges darkly oiled from touching. He seems to enjoy my presence, and after he is done he smiles at me. We laugh. Then, we sit and say nothing. Outside it is raining, the river in flood.

(Photo: Kyle GeorgeĀ  www.kylegeorgephotography.com)


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