Drysuit pulled down to my waist, I clamber up an animal trail, arrive at a pasture bright with sunlight. Fifteen horses are there, white and brown, unconcerned with my appearance as they graze. They are hungry. Each has a bell hanging from its neck, each bell with a different tone ringing as the horses crop the grass. It is an ensemble of silvery notes like wind chimes, or the bells of a monastery. I sit and listen as the horses eat around me, their music quieting my heart.
Throughout the day villages open and close above us, people running to wave. Coming around a bend, a woman is by the river. She sees us and sprints back to her hut, disappears inside.
Rocks along the river are carved with messages of Chenrizig, Bodhisattva of compassion. We stop to fill water hugs at a rushing stream where a boulder big and gray as an elephant is carved with huge Tibetan script, each figure wide as my chest spelling out om mani padme hum, looping the base of the boulder at water love. The creek comes in loud, pouring down through granite boulders as if rushing over billiard balls. Grandmother cottonwood (or some species like her) hangs over the water, heavy toils of roots exposed below touching water clear as ice. Where the creek meets the river it forms an aquamarine lagoon ended and clouded with river mud.
I am rowing, long oars pushing through squirrelly currents; listening to drips off the oar blades as I sweep back for another stroke. The land steps back and for the first time we can see where we are, positioned among larger mountains. The gorge falls away, offering up a clear blue sky. Villages appear on both sides. We pull into a late-day camp and are mobbed. Peeling off my drysuit, an awkward experience as it is, I am surrounded by 20 Tibetan men standing two feet away from my. I write in my journal and they gather around, so close their cheeks press against mine as they watch my pen. One is eating sunflower seeds, his muscles rotating against mine. Prayer beads pass through fingers unhindered by talk or activity.
(Photo: Craig Childs)