Old Forest

Old Forest

We spent our Thanksgiving holiday deep in the woods. Taiwanese forests differ from those in the Western Hemisphere, but they are just as evocative. We spent two days hiking the trails in Shanlinxi, reveling in the company of ancient cedars and colorful metasequoias. To me, the most amazing trees in these woods are the Taiwanese rhododendrons, which grow to such scale that one would think they were oaks.

It has been said that Nature is optimistic, and these woods are proof: whatever can grow, will; whatever fails, fails; but nothing stops the next growth. Nothing. I need to remember that, and emulate it.

I drew this duotone from memory as we rested in our room on Wednesday.

ShanlinxiMemory_Duotone_15x21_Web

“Shanlinxi Memory” – Taiwan – Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper – 15×21 cm

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Inner Vision: “Emerging”

Inner Vision: “Emerging”

Emerging_AC_330x455

“Emerging” – Inner Vision – Acrylic on Canvas – 13×17.9″/33×45.5 cm

“Emerging” – Acrylic on Canvas – 13×17.9″/33×45.5 cm

The path to this sacred place is long and difficult.
Many times have I come to stand on this shore
waiting, hoping for a glimpse.
Each time, I have had to leave before the darkness falls.
Time and again, I have returned.
You knew I would.
Once more the arduous journey is taken.
Patience, persistence, openness, constancy, trust.
You emerge.
I see you.

The Portal

The Portal

Ruined_Portal_1_Duotone_297x210_Web“Ruined Portal” – 297x210mm
Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper

The approach was long and difficult. Once we got to the rope-up point, we decided to take a rest day before starting the climb. We were prepared, but that didn’t make it any easier. Some of the pitches were 5.11-5.12, so it was pretty much at the limit of my skills. I could hardly imagine how the ancients ever made it up here without decent climbing gear.

It was even harder to imagine how they had crafted the stairs we found once we reached the saddle that led to the ridge. The entire spine was set with stone steps, some of which probably weighed a thousand pounds, fitted together perfectly without mortar. The traverse of that exposed, jagged spine turned out to be the easiest part of the climb. The steps ended unexpectedly. A notch 100 feet deep and 40 feet wide separated us from the main peak. We could rappel down and climb up the other side easily enough, but, again, we wondered how the ancients had managed it.

From here, though, we could see our objective clearly for the first time: a circular shape carved into the mountain.

“There’s the ruined portal we’ve been looking for,” I said.

James sat down and stared at it across the little chasm. “Sure looks like a portal, doesn’t it,” he said. “Strange design.”

“The stories say it’s reached by a bridge,” I said. “Guess that’s crumbled away by now.”

“Maybe,” said James; “but I bet if it was built by the same guys who laid these steps, it would still be standing.”

“We can make it,” I said, eyeing a possible route. “It’s just a scramble, really.”

“You hear that hum?” asked James.

“Yeah, when did that start?” I could feel it in my chest.

“It’s getting louder,” said James.

Definitely louder. The stones all around us seemed to be vibrating. Within a few seconds, we had to shout to hear each other.

“Sit tight!” hollered James. “No safer anywhere else!”

We hunkered down on hands and knees. The hum grew more intense every second. At first, it was a single low note. Then a second note joined it, a fifth above. Then a third note began, an octave above the first: the perfect power chord.

The rocks beneath us started to move! We scuttled further away from the notch, but we had nowhere to go.

As the chord grew stronger, the first three notes were joined by a series of complex harmonics, changing the tone and adding a richness unlike anything I had ever heard before. Everything in my body was vibrating with the same frequencies.

“Look!” yelled James.

The stones were arranging themselves on both sides of the notch, reaching across thin air toward the center. The sound seemed to be creating some sort of structure.

“The bridge!” I shouted.

By the time I’d said that, the two sides had connected. The sound did not diminish; it only became clearer.

James yelled something. I couldn’t hear him. He tied his harness to one end of the rope. Then he measured off 40 feet and looped that part a few times around the most secure looking spiky bit nearby. He handed the other end to me. I quickly got on belay. Then he started walking. He was crossing the bridge! I would have been crawling. James fairly ran it. In seconds, he was on the other side.

He secured a belay on his side and motioned to me to come over. I checked my knot twice and unwound the belay anchor on this side. It would be a 45′ fall if the bridge collapsed.

I didn’t crawl like I thought I would. Before I could change my mind, I was with James on the other side.

The humming shifted and the bridge disassembled itself, each stone going back to its original position. Now there was just a notch again. Everything stopped

“Maybe the portal isn’t ruined after all,” I said.

“Let’s find out,” said James.