Saturday, September 14, 2013

OM MANI PADMI HUM

Browsing in a thrift shop the other day, I picked up a copy of Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard. Originally published in 1978, in my hand was a 1996 edition, the cover image a snowy, shadowy mountain landscape. I read (and traded) an older edition (with a similarly snowy mountainscape- see above) while in Northern India in 2007, some months before I went on my own small trek in Nepal, the setting for the book.
I have already read The Snow Leopard. I own far too many books. But when I found a faded photograph nestled between the pages, a forgotten bookmark, I gave in. The photo is a glossy 3' x 5', landscape. A coniferous tree and a few power lines occupy the lower right corner. Thirty-five ant-sized birds (canada geese? It's difficult to tell) spread across the blue sky in the constantly evolving formation of migrants, some moving forward and others falling back. A thirty-sixth is entering the camera's field of vision. The blue of the sky is darker around the edges. The date is hidden among the branches and electrical lines:  '94 10 24.
The Snow Leopard is, basically, the story of a journey Matthiessen took in 1973 with field biologist George Schaller to study the Himalayan blue sheep. They hoped to catch site of the elusive, titular animal as well. The journey Matthiessen, a Zen Buddhist, depicts is as much inner as it is geographical. Travel writing like this is just my cup of tea.
Much as I like the book though, it was the poor-quality photo that hooked me. It didn't seem right to separate the two, so I paid my $1.09 and brought them home.

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