Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Good Day

Alas, I still have no camera, but I hope to remedy that before we embark on our Spring Break trip at the end of this week. We are going to Bumthang, to the east of us, and I am really excited about it! You will have to bear with me with this post, first because I don't have pictures to add to it at this time, and secondly because it is going to break the rule of being in chronological order. I promise I'll post at an upcoming date about our trip to the Paro Tsechu festival and our camping adventures by the hot springs in Gasa, and our recent encounters with the King and Queen! I know, it's a cliffhanger, but I hope you'll stick around and not be too bothered by the out of sequence story-telling.

I am doing this because I positively must tell you about today before the magic of it seeps into the rest of the days here and I neglect to tell about it in its own marvelous singularity of one wonderful experience among many.

This week is midterms, meaning regular classes are canceled in order to make the scheduling of the exams function smoothly. This also means that I have had more time to put in extra hours at my internship at the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC). Today, this was especially excellent. Most days when I have work in the mornings, I have to hurry on my way back in order to make it to class on time. My route to and from work is about a 40 minute walk, first down through campus from my dorm to a shortcut through some of the staff housing neighboring campus. Then, after cutting through a gap in the fence by their houses, it is down a narrow horse/goat/person path that follows the ravine of the river through the woods, with the river to my right and the apple orchard uphill to my left. After many minutes this way, I meet up again with the dirt road, pass a farm where the dogs are sometimes very scary and I must walk very slowly, up the hill for a half mile or so, and then up and down along the paved road for another mile or so until I get to the NBC.

So far, at work, my task has been to examine the preserved plant specimens in the Herbarium and to transfer all of the information on the specimen sheets into digital files so that we can analyze them later. The NBC is particularly interested in mapping where the specimens have been collected in order to assess how thorough the collections have been so far. For now, we have to do all the data entry first, though and then we can begin the analysis and get into the related projects. Even though this is a little tedious at times, and the Herbarium reeks of camphor (they use mothballs as part of the preservation process), I have been learning all kinds of plant names and characteristics. Some of the specimens are very old, as early as 1914, but some are very recent: 2011. As I work, I really like to imagine what the collection teams were doing and seeing and feeling as they collected the specimens. How did they choose this particular sample? What brought them to this valley, or this riverside, or this garden? What did is smell like being next to this tree when it was in bloom? Was it hard to collect this one with all its thorns? What was the view like at 4300 meters where they found this shrub? How did this team get the task of collecting these plants?

It is a lot to think about, and it makes the work fun. But, I'd like to focus now on what happened after work today. Since I had extra time, and felt especially spirited while walking back, I decided not to take the path by the river up toward campus. A few days ago, I had overheard someone talking about a way to cut through the orchard, and I wanted to try this out. Feeling a tad sneaky, I found a small path leading from the road into the woods beside the orchard. This was a very good decision.

I went out of sight of the road and changed from my kira into western clothes, knowing that during this walk I might go through some brambles, and I wouldn't want to snag the beautiful fabric of my kira. Once I had changed, I made my first exciting discovery of the day. Just as I looked up, there was a giant exoskeleton of some grasshopper-like insect still clinging to the trunk of a tree. It was a pale gold color, and still in perfect replication of the creature's body. I admired it for a few moments, then zipped up my pack and went on my way through a gap in the barbed wire fence had been knocked down.

The apple trees of the orchard are all in bloom right now, and the pink blossoms radiate an intoxicatingly sweet scent, giving a luxurious hint at the fruit to come later in the season. I took many nose-fuls as I walked through the haphazard rows of trees, following the paths where the grass had been trampled low. I slowly made my way uphill in the direction of campus, often stopping to admire a low-lying flower I would nearly fail to notice. Primula, dandelions, and what I believe are wild strawberries poked through the thistle and grass here and there. I also found some sage, and gathered a few leaves that I hope to dry. I may try to do some pressed flowers and herbs while I am here.

As I walked through, investigating some insect-eaten stumps as I went, I tried to keep my ears open for birds or other critters. This was hard to do, as I was making a lot of crunching and crackling noises as I went through the long blades of dry grass. Some areas had very short, lush grass though, and I was able to be quieter there. I tried to move even slower and more cautiously, but I still heard crunching, and when I made my way around a little bend toward the next level of the orchard, I found someone I should have certainly expected to see, but hadn't considered at all. To be honest, it was actually two someones, enjoying a meal in the orchard. Cows!

One smaller brown cow and one enormous black cow ripping away and chewing up the grass very selectively. As I have made a custom of doing when I come upon animals, I put out my arms and made a deep bow. I'm not sure what the animals think of this. I think the giving up of eye contact means something to them, but at the least, the cows didn't seem to mind, and they permitted me to come and sit below an apple tree near them. The big one paid me very little mind, but the small one gave me many wary looks. I put down my pack and took off my shoes and sat cross-legged under the tree, looking at the blooming trees around me, and taking care to situate myself so that I was facing the same direction as the large golden statue of Buddha on the next mountain down the Ngabiphu valley. I don't know if that has any significance, but it felt right. I watched the clouds look like they were going to gather thicker, and possibly rain. I watched the ants and hoped they wouldn't crawl into my pants. I tried to get in the meditation pose I had learned from Lama Shenphen last week, focus loosely on a clump of grass in front of me, listen to the river as it whooshed down the ravine, and think about my breathing.

I couldn't seem to get into the mood of mediation, so I gave it up for the time and thought about the wonderful things I'd already seen today, and that I liked how fresh air and cows smell.

I got comfortable and watched the cows eat for a long time. The small one had a really funny way of wrapping her tongue around the end of a branch and snapping off a bud, and letting it crack and crunch between her teeth. Both cows were tethered to a tree by a rope tied around their horns, so they only had a certain circle of motion, but the big one came right up near me. She was taller than I was, even if I were standing, with a muscularly broad body, and full, drooping udders. Eventually, I decided I should get up, and I did. As I was going away, I gathered up a handful of grass and approached the small cow, who had stayed in the same small area since I'd arrived. Now, she had lain down, but I went toward her with my offering of food, no better than what she could reach herself. She sniffed it and turned away, so I put it down, but in doing so, noticed that her tether was tangled in the branches of the shrub she laid beside. I worked at the rope for a minute, untangling it and putting the slack near her so she could see it. As I walked slowly past her to go, I paused and put out my hand for her to smell again. She put out her long brown tongue and gave me a rough and very wet lick. I smiled, and went on my way.

A few weeks back, my best friend Emily Baldwin sent me this link about the importance of nature and wild places. The author used one quote from Willa Cather that I positively loved. It was to "know what it is to be 'something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins.'"

I am wishing all the grasshopper, apple, cow, and pumpkin-hood in the world to you.

Much love,


  1. What a wonderful story.. would make a lovelychichildren's book!

  2. Primera, I laughed at the phrases "the magic of [this week] seeps in" and "this week is midterms" being so close together.
    Segunda, there is a book you need to read that I will lend to you when I see you next. Run, by Ann Patchett. Your writing in this is so similar to hers, mainly in the cataloging of specimens.
    Tercera, thanks for the shout out on that link! I loved that quote and the article and just the entire theme of it, too : )
    y ultima, I love you dearly!!

  3. You have a really wonderful way of describing things. As I was reading, I felt like I was sitting right there with you under that apple tree taking in all the beauty of nature.


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