What kind of world have we created, when the least hint of something primeval and powerful, like a mighty thunderstorm or a snowfall, fills the television screens with panic-stricken geeks howling of doom and disaster?
Earth to Wimps: ENJOY it!
There’s nothing funnier (in a sickly way) than to be visiting back East and seeing the reaction to four inches of predicted snow, something that Telluriders would be whooping and hollering about: “We interrupt this program for a bulletin” – worried-looking white man with big hair standing in front of satellite weather map speaks in tones normally reserved for Attack on Pearl Harbor or Hindenburg Blimp Disaster. “Dana, that storm we told you about is still moving east out of the mountains and gathering strength.” Points to equivocal swirling mass on map: “The National Weather Service is predicting up to five inches of snow by midnight in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs and the District of Columbia, with the possibility of six inches or more west of the Beltway. Dana?” Cut to clone of weatherman, with fatter face and silver pompadour like Elvis’s ’do on steroids: “Thanks, Scott. Hey, time to get out your salt, your snowblowers and snow shovels, and make sure your antifreeze is topped off and, hey, check those wiper blades…”
Then there’s a list of everything that’s closing early, including schools, concerts, churches, synagogues, gallery openings, lectures, you name it. The regular programming is interrupted every seven minutes the rest of the afternoon, with increasingly shrill prognostications of Apocalypse…
Then it snows one point six inches, the weather stays above 35, and 310,000 suburbanites disgustedly throw 310,000 brand-new $19.89 snow shovels in the dumpster in the garage.
Man wasn’t created to live in a world like the one he’s created; human beings go whack-o in their man-made realm.
Getting back to fall, nowhere is it any more intense, palpably real, than it is in the mountains. In the cities and ’burbs it can go by unnoticed, but here it hits with a bittersweetness impossible to mistake or ignore.
The morning of Sept. 6, I woke up unusually late, just after 8 a.m.; I’d survived yet another quasi-insomniac night, not falling asleep until after 3 a.m., tormented by the book deadline I’d been struggling with all summer. I didn’t even have to open my eyes to realize everything had changed: Something about the temperature and content of the air, the quality of the light… I don’t know, but I instantly realized that I had gone to bed in the summertime and awakened in the fall.
Sure enough, when I went outside a leaf or two skittered across the road, and the neighborhood aspens bore clusters of faintly yellow leaves that weren’t there the night before. As usual, I felt a mixture of sadness that another summer was winding down toward the end, and the jolt of anticipation that autumn brings: phosphorescent mountains of brilliant yellow, blazing fields of snow, icy skies so bright you can see right through into the core of the Milky Way, where stars are born and die, blacks blacker than black, and fires brighter than the whitest white. The Japanese call the feeling aware: beauty made more intense by the knowledge that it is impermanent.
I suddenly remembered another first day of autumn, long ago, in another, distant range of mountains. I had been on the road for nearly a year, several months back on the East Coast, working construction and saving up money, and then a flight to Europe, and onward, overland. Orient Express from Munich to Istanbul, boat through the Black Sea, buses through Iran and on across Afghanistan, over the Khyber, the ancient conqueror’s trail, to Pakistan and India. Two months in Dharmsala, at the Dalai Lama’s school, and then to Katmandu, where I loaded a pack on my back and set off on foot toward Everest.
It was monsoon season, a time of soggy lowering skies, trails turned to mud, collapsing bridges over raging whitewater, jungles alive with bloodthirsty leeches. I made it to Namche Bazaar from Lamosangu in eight days, and climbed up to a monastery called Lawudo, high above timberline, in the crags and clouds. While I was up there, the sands ran out on summer; nights grew colder, and nomads began bringing their herds and flocks down from the high passes. It was time to think about home: Telluride.
I made a last trek up beyond Namche Bazaar to Everest Base Camp, and then headed down, hurrying now. Crossing the footbridge below Tengboche Monastery, I stopped suddenly. I felt the year accelerate suddenly, in its race to the end.
Summer had seemingly gone on forever, full of infinite hopes, dreams and adventures; but now it was over, it was autumn, and time was running out.
Grey beards of moss hung from the autumn-yellow tree branches; a cold wind blew down out of Tibet. Telluride was 100,000 miles away, across teeming cities, black deserts, dead seas, and jagged peaks, lawless tribal turf, the cold slick neon world of Europe… and then the whole forbidding North Atlantic, and half another continent to go. I realized suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was actually homesick, and if a wizard had appeared trading seven-league boots for souls, I would have flogged mine in an instant, to stride my way to the headwaters of the Rio San Miguel in a few short hours.
From that moment on I was racing the fall around the world, trying to beat it to the mountains of home before the first serious snows fell.