A luminous mountain morning. Mist and fire smoke, sun shafts and dark ravines: a peak of Annapurna poises on soft clouds. In fresh light, to the peeping of baby chickens, we take breakfast in the village tea house, and are under way well before seven.We set out before 4:30 this morning, my daughter (still in pajamas) dropping me off at the Akron airport for an early flight to Florida, where sunshine and happiness await. But they'll have to keep waiting because not long after I'd checked my bag and made my way through security, the flight was cancelled. "Sick flight attendant" was the excuse, but it did not appease the angry people who'd braved early-morning 20-degree temperatures to seek warmth and enlightenment in Orlando.
A child dragging bent useless legs is crawling up the hill outside the village. Nose to the stones, goat dung, and muddy trickles, she pulls herself along like a broken cricket. We falter, ashamed of our strong step, and noticing this, she gazes up, clear-eyed, without resentment--it seems much worse that she is pretty.I feel sorry for the ticket agents forced to deliver the news of the cancellation; it's not their fault, but as the face of the airline, they'll soak up the anger that soon fills the terminal like an airborne toxic cloud soiling everything it touches.
Pine, rhododendron, barberry. Down mountain fields, a path of stones flows like mercury in the sunlight; even the huts have roofs of silver slates The path winds around the mountain to the bottom of the pine forest. ... This is the way of foot travel in Nepal, steeply up and steeply down the labyrinthine valleys. The down is hardest on the legs and feet, which jam at the knees....Other flights are available, but not from here--not today. One flight leaves from Youngstown and another from Pittsburgh, both costing a fortune but nevertheless filling up quickly. A couple taking their two small children on their first visit to Disney World grab the last remaining seats on a flight to Atlanta with a later connection to Orlando. I could have shoved ahead of them, but that would make me a monster. Besides, I've been to Disney World.
Today we have been walking for ten hours; there are signs of blisters. Gyaltsen, who is carrying my backpack, is somewhat far behind, and since I have no sneakers in my rucksack, I walk barefoot. My feet are still tough from the past summer, and the paths are mostly rain-softened, for we have descended once again into a lowland.What about tomorrow morning? I could leave a day late and still enjoy some Florida sunshine, but oops, tomorrow's flight is already filling up and a winter storm threatens to cover the area with ice and snow late tonight. Looks like I'm staying in Ohio.
Eyes to the ground, alert for sticks and stones, I can admire a cocoa-colored wood frog and the pale lavender-blue winged blossoms of the orchid tree (Bauhinia) and the warm loaf left by a buffalo, deposited calmly from the look of it and even, perhaps, in contemplation.The cloud of anger spreads and grows denser; I have to walk away, to find a less toxic place to wait. I hesitate to call my daughter, who is no doubt enjoying a little snooze after our early-morning drive, but even more I really hate to call Dad and tell him I can't find a way to get to Florida this week. He'll be disappointed. So will I.
But since the encounter with the crawling child, I look at paradise askance. Along the Modir, my feet are hurt by sharp rock shale, and where we make camp in the village of Gijan, we pick off leeches; while taking rice supper in a local hut, GS investigates wetness in his sneaker and finds it full of his own blood.But I'll survive this disappointment. An impending storm and a few more days with my grandkids means sledding, maybe, and snowmen, snow angels, snowballs, and hot cocoa. I'll watch my grandson test the strength of his legs, help my granddaughter build a blanket fort in the living room. I'll feed on their laughter.
The mountain sky is bare--wind, wind, and cold. Because of the cold, the Tamangs squashed into the Sherpas' tent, but in the night gusts, the tent collapsed, and at daybreak all are singing from beneath it.I have a long morning of phone calls ahead, joining a long queue of disappointed passengers trying to find refunds or new flights, and I won't persuade the airline to refund the full cost of my trip before waiting more than an hour listening to hold music so horrible that whoever selected it ought to be sentenced to two weeks in a small cell with a toddler and a drum.
In the glory of sunrise, spiderwebs glitter and greenfinches in October gold bound from pine to shining pine. Pony bells and joyous whistling; young children and animals jump as if come to life.But it's a new day in Akron and the sunrise over the parking lot paints pink streaks on the sky. They call this a terminal, but the journey is far from over. Where will the path lead? For now, it leads as far as possible from the toxic cloud of anger.
With the first sun rays we come down into still forest of gnarled birch and dark stiff firs. Through light filtered by the straying lichens, a silver bird flies to a cedar, fanning crimsoned wings on the sunny bark. Then it is gone, leaving behind a vague longing, a sad emptiness.