Monday, August 27, 2012

The Circle of Life

Mountains of the Moon

“The earth will see you on through this time”

Sometimes when roaming in the deep forest I imagine a scenario that goes like this. Consider for your enjoyment a felincpa roamer is wandering the crisscrossing network of trails and takes a left turn. After some time he immerges into a familiar valley but something is different. The traveler is in the same place but four hundred years in the past. He notices the roads and power lines have vanished leaving only a shadow of a village. Okay Zone fans will realize this idea is a copy cat episode of the airplane flying through the portal into prehistoric Manhattan. We all shivered when the cockpit crew saw the dinosaurs and we never knew if they made it back ALL the way to the present. When I wander in the oak grove it might be 20,000 B.C or a distant planet. Time and space are stretchable in the twilight zone. Today I meditated on a rock overlooking the western valley trying to conjure up a Karmaling Dream Moth to swoop through the corridor and pick me up. Riding on its translucent wings we’d fly over Yangtse, Tawang, Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh, Kashmir, Lahore, and finally Kabul where I would shoot a golden arrow of light that would destroy the demon of war and restore peace to the region forever. All countries would be abolished and kind monarchs would coexist happily under the tutelage of Guru Rinpoche. From here good will would spread to the four corners of the earth and religion itself would transform into compassionate awareness, a world full of Buddha’s and Christ’s. But alas the KDM didn’t manifest and discord prevails. A mere few hundred miles away in Assam tribal groups slaughter one another in a frivolous effort to secede from India. The world’s hell creeps into Shangri-La which hides away tucked between the jungle and abode of the gods. Not even these natural barriers can protect the Dragon folk forever. But there is hope! Over a meal of pork bits I realized the irony of preaching peace while consuming a slaughtered animal. Vegetarians are far more evolved humans than their murderous counterparts. Civilized people are taught not to kill each other but most eat animals without recourse.  In room #113 watching lions devour zebras on the Serengeti and Syrian civil war on TV one could argue that its jungle law everywhere.
Outside my own mind, earth functions like a Swiss watch. I took some time out from class with 7A to do social work and purge paradise from the scourge of plastic. The rain rained, flowers drank, crickets chirped, cow’s moo, dogs bark, rooster’s crow, kids play, Booty meows, EIEI-O!  It takes a long time to absorb this landscape and culture. I mention them together since ubiquitous prayer flags and chortens dot every pass and ridge. I like how god is represented in nature and today I found a voodoo bonpo statue made of wax and pine bow’s near a chorten. The vertical white prayer flags are my favorite for their simplistic elegance and purity. Some poles are slanted over or fallen but those standing are always flapping up towards heaven. Father Mackey who observed prayer flags for years never saw them blowing any direction but up. I imagine those who leave Bhutan miss prayer flags at least on a subconscious level. They are a wonderful punctuation of the landscape here along with the chortens overgrown with moss on forgotten trails.  Becky and I concur that we will never live like this again. What would L.A traffic sound like right now? Instead I am hearing crickets and cheery Sonam next door. The lonely spaces in the soul are filled by birdsong and rushing river. Slowly I try to detach from my former life which is important to embrace my new life. Things take time in Bhutan yet time isn’t real just ticks and tocks attempting to measure cycles, birth and death. Jamie if you’re reading this someone in Becky’s class ate their spelling test today, some things never change in East Bhutan, eh?


“May the force be with you, always…” Obi  -Wan Kenobi 

The last time I was in Yangtse a Jedi marooned robed monk fended off a pack of dogs with his wooden saber at the old Yangtse Dzong. Without his mastery of the force I would have been bitten for sure and had to call Scotty in Yadi for rabies counseling. Below the gutted Dzong sits a giant cypress and the path to Lhuntse, leading deep into the shades of green. Before coming to Bhutan while napping one afternoon I had a dream of a hollow with twisted golden oaks and syrupy sunlight with a river running nearby. I haven’t found the exact place yet but know it is in Bhutan. Once on the aforementioned path I found a similar hollow and also a vaguely reminiscent spot on the flat section of trail leaving the shire of Jhonkhar.  In my dream I lay in the amber grass and dreamt of a pixie princess, alas a dream within a dream…At some point deep in “The Mists” Morgain slips into East Bhutan and can’t escape the pixie realm where she comes close to losing her memory and purpose. She can barely see herself out into Britain before completely dissolving into the enchanted otherworld.  

I finally returned to my de facto hometown to track down my bank statement. I was paid for two months and celebrated by going to Bumdeling a 13 KM mud track connects Yangtse to the wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to the enormous national butterfly and the winter roosting spot of the Black Necked Cranes. On my hike I was stopped by a ranger who demanded my permit. After begging him, he allowed me a free pass for the afternoon. Bumdeling stretches all the way north to the Tibetan border which according to the ranger is a four day climb. The park is home to tigers, red pandas, and the northern region of the park is snowbound for much of the year. The mouth of the park is an open valley with the emerald Kulongchu rushing through it. Along the shore Horse and cattle graze the fields. Hiking in the valley has become difficult since Bunky and I roamed here in April. At several points I shook off my boots and hoofed across swift streams as a light rain fell. Wind blew the fern throngs along the banks and eventually the elements sent me jogging back to the taxi, waiting in the tiny village.  After my hike I took the long ride to Trashigang through the lushness near Chorten Kora where a white monkey swung in a tree. Passed the rough and tumble gorge harboring golden Gom Kora, across Chasm, and into the friendly hamlet of Trashigang. On my evening walk to the Dzong I sat in the courtyard overlooking the river where a stout deer joined me resting on the ledge. In Trashigang I did some earnest shopping acquiring a tent, sleeping roll, bananas, garlic, fiddlehead fern, Oreo’s, and Coke. Besides the Dzong I hit all the hot spots including the chorten, Phuntso’s, The K.C, and the bakery garden. While dinning solitary alfresco the server remarked that I looked sad and asked “where my friend was?” 

At night I perched on a thrown overlooking the ravine and the illuminated Dzong. I felt like Lucy after her first snowy steps through the wardrobe into Narnia. In a recent conversation Rebecca highlighted the fact that Lucy, Alas, and Dorothy all returned to their alternative realities. The three protagonists suffered for their soup becoming marginal characters stuck between realities. After all, you can’t go home again after seeing the other side. In Lucy’s case her return might have had something to do with helping Aslan’s crusade. Like all BCF teachers in the space time continuum she was called to help. Our portal is not a tornado, rabbit hole, or wardrobe rather a dragon disguised as a Druk aircraft. But like the fictional trio, we are the chosen ones. As this tiger returns to his far eastern territory atop a mountain below several others, he must reaffirm his mission which isn’t mere survival. As the pieces fall into place I will fill you in. But the real truth lies in the classroom as it occurred to me that teachers are a lot like the herders on the road, moving their herd in the right direction.
Back in my community of Tsenkharla I got a rare invite to Sonam’s for dinner and gifted half my veggies to them in return. I want to tackle my washing but have no running water.  At the time of writing this a troop of boys came by chanting, clasping a plastic silver trophy celebrating their second place finish in Yangtse at a football competition. I gave them a 300 NU donation since many of the students are in my class. Of course the next day I had to give 300 to the girls as well. Giving back to the community financially is necessary as a teacher here. I like giving to the students more than for faculty events but WTDL, when in Rome… So I will leave you here and settle into my Sunday night activities of preparing lessons and cleaning hut as my orbit spins further away from your celestial body. Take heart, I know that someday I will swing back around and we will be together again. 

(Fern Canyon interlude)

“Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you, it’s late September and I  really should be back at school”

We all mark time differently. For the most part the world revolves around the Christian Calendar. But in the orient including Bhutan we are in the year of the Male Water Dragon that started in February or in my case when the cardboard monster crept out of its curtain with beaming red eyes. Of course any participant in worldly affairs must adhere to JC’s calendar. If I had to invent my own version of the passage of time, I would have B.C and A.D too, except mine would stand for “Before Canyon” and “After Canyon.”  The canyon in question is “Fern Canyon” in Humboldt County, my own Avalon. I hesitate to even write about it but you are my close peeps so I will relent. I took four separate trips to The Canyon with my four best friends, which makes me think of the four friend’s legend in Bhutan where the elephant, monkey, rabbit, and peacock cooperate by standing on one another to obtain the fruit off the highest branch.  My first voyage was with John, followed by Tyler, and Marty respectively. A few years later I returned in early October with Morgan to solidify and consecrate our love in a hollowed out redwood. For the record AC begins after my fourth trip with Morgan. Since I am focusing on Bhutan’s landscape I won’t attempt to describe the natural cathedral, only to say if you go, carry an open heart and a flashlight. For an instant alone in Bumdeling amongst gigantic ferns I was transported back to my origin where I could hear Rabes singing Maggie May.

Waking up is hard to do

“Wake up; it’s time for a revolution” Julia Butterfly

Weird Al should have composed a song called “Waking up is hard to do” a spoof on the song “Breaking up is hard to do” Isn’t it? I have never been a morning person even when I worked at Trout Creek and had to rise at 4:30. I need to get up earlier to allow more time to compose myself before assembly. I usually wake up at 7:30 or 8 and report to school after a frantic bucket bath and dressing. It’s rare I take breakfast until my first free period. I cherish the night and do my prepping after roaming in the evening but would benefit from a schedule adjustment. Plus it gets light at 5. Trashiyangtse is the land of spiritual awakening but first one must get out of bed. In Mare’s mantra of shifting perspective it can be necessary to change both physical and mental habits. Pooh! The reader will see if the author is capable of such change. So far you might have only noticed that I seem crazier or perhaps you even think this blogger has lost the plot. Is It?  What does that say about you my reader? Isn’t it? (Insert sound effect, BONK!) Perhaps you have a better idea of my predicament than I do? And I am sure you have a better idea at when to use than or then than or then I do. How am I doing anyway? Is the author happy, sad, mad, or glad? Two of my family members commented that I seem all over the place. Perhaps they are on to it. Tisk tisk snickers Sangay Dempa, remember the middle way? We are all on the path now so enjoy the circle of life! Oh and put out that colortini and go to bed. 

(Happy Birthday Dave Malone! Interlude)

“Just a few more miles to the blue horizon, my love don’t give up on me”

It was four years ago that we collided on that Thursday at the Aruba in Vegas in the wee hours of your 56th birthday. That night was a blur of sweat and neon and I’m still thrashing on the scorched sidewalk after you hooked me. Morgan was across the desert on The Playa doing god knows what with god knows who, while we were hurtling through interstellar space. You stood in command, the fan from the boat blowing your hair as you strummed and picked your guitars, serenading a crowd of affable degenerates pausing only to sip your cocktail. That night was charted in the stars of a distant galaxy and the ancient light shown on our astonished faces. I woke up in the atomic dawn of old town with the transvestite whores beneath the Morgan’s Termite billboard. Hats off to you brother, you are a swampy bluesman with a heart of gold and an unforgettable smile. Our time together was the best of all…Rock On!!!

 Born Cross Eyed

 “Goodbye, goodbye I don’t want to see anybody cry, I’ll meet you some morning in the sweet bye and bye” Bob Weir

Although my congenital nastagmus will never be corrected or cured my reading glasses do help. Though the frames slide off my face on occasion. I feel lucky to have the vision I do and that is part of the reason I feel compelled to help the school for the blind in Kaling. My visit there in April was a revelation for me. The students were inspirational and could provide lessons for all of us. I even aspired to transfer there but transfers are not permitted until after three years of service and the chance I would be accepted in Kaling is unlikely. In Bhutan you get what you get don’t pitch a fit. But even if I was only granted one visit to the institute, my impressions will last a lifetime. I fondly recall Dorji the famous teenaged singer guiding me around campus and laughing together as he bumped into another boy crossing canes. Or the albino kids trying to explain the game of blind ball to me. And the students proudly showing off their brail tablets and pokers. I am trying to find out any needs the school has and will keep the reader informed of areas we can help.  People often ask me what things look like through my eyes. I can’t explain what I see since I have never had “clear” vision to compare with. Generally things are fuzzy and my acuity is poor. I also tilt my head to the side to find a gazing point for my peepers that allows me to see better. I can see well enough to do what I love, including hiking and skiing, but I will probably never drive a car. My eyes shake especially when I am nervous or uncomfortable (so basically all the time) and they have been affectionately called “dancing eyes.” For my entire life I have felt shame for this disability and still don’t like talking about it much. I know in reality there is nothing to feel shame about but this is why being a human is complicated. Self image is so vital to the ego that we perceive as necessary to survival.  I sincerely feel this personal challenge gives me a unique empathy as a teacher towards my student’s struggles.  Spending any time with people with severe disabilities is a valuable life lesson. Most of us are very fortunate.   

Dead Eyes

“Get up in the morning with the ding dong ring, work school or the corner it’s the same damn thing”

My students are exhausted after their educational meet in Yangtse. Several were dozing in class with their heads flat on the table. As a teacher one sincerely hopes that by preparing interesting activities that students will be engaged. Of course that is the challenge. The Harris line of 80/20 is hard to obtain but a balance must be struck. Remember the Harris line is eighty percent student activities to twenty percent direct instruction from the teacher. Most typical Bhutanese instruction is about 5/95 so students are not adept at group work. Meanwhile girls pick their noses and spit on the dirt. Have I mentioned before that Bhutan is a dirty place? I am the worst offender in my dirty clothes and feel like the peanuts character Pigpen or the late GD keyboardist, it’s a pick em’. Even if I had water it would be challenging to keep up. I don’t want to end up like the former BCF teacher who never washed her clothes and bred mice in her spare room.  I do an adequate job of keeping my body and hut clean. Laundry is the biggest challenge since water comes at unpredictable times and for short bursts. Perhaps one advantage of wearing a gho is not changing outfits, therefore less to wash. Students wash their uniforms once a week. This is a challenging time in the semester as students habits can deteriorate and a teacher must be vigilant to cove the syllabus and prepare the student for the final. Final Exams are worth 80% of the total grade and that is not negotiable as we must adhere to the system regulations. Joy!  I wonder what my legacy will be when I leave here. The trash piles up and I tire of picking up after the community. My speeches and pleas seem to go in one waxy ear and out the other and my recycling bins are AWOL, WTDL.  So why not enjoy the moments and greenery imagining that I am a mountain king surveying his vast domain and semi-loyal subjects. It seems in times of distress one must triple their effort to persevere.  We all have to find the motivation to endure and thrive in our professions. Luckily for teachers our motivation is sitting right in front of us each day.  I can’t say I love my job as much as Dave Malone but maybe someday I will. I am satisfied and enjoy my new career. I especially find gratification in the interaction with students and hope that I am teaching them well. At least I am certain they have relaxed and seem more willing to speak. They are not sticking their tongues out at me anymore like geckos. I pride myself on having students willing to take chances in speaking English. The flip side is that this confidence and comfortableness leads to silly and undisciplined behavior on occasion, another challenge for the teacher/author to conquer.
In a country with so many varying ethnicities and languages, English has a special niche. On the surface Bhutanese culture seems homogenous with the gho and kira and ritualistic practice of Buddhism. But scratch and an observer finds diversity. All the more reason a singular cultural bent is essential for the Bhutanese identity. Even though Sharshop and Dzonka speakers can’t communicate their dress and mythology binds them tight as there rainbow belts. Ah the Sharshop’s, who will always be the wacky clansmen from the East. The power will always flow from Thimphu and the Drukpa lineage of my revered Divine Madman. It’s important that Sharubse College is in the heart of the wild east. This will help keep the country honest. The royal family also has its roots in Lhuntse and the Queen is from Trashigang. It was my dream to come east for reasons I can’t put into words. Most of the highest peaks are located in the northwest while the east is a verdant paradise of deep forested canyons and green valleys and of course the rocky wasteland of Tsenkharla. As Jamie eloquently illustrated in her book, I too have been called home. For me culturally I remain confused but the land comforts me eternally. Not as my mother or lover rather my best friend who I am getting to know slowly. Love has so many branches but friendship is the trunk. Although I consider myself a loner I have been fortunate to make many wonderful friends who are scattered around the world. And thank you readers, for taking a moment to catch up with the tiger.

Here’s some bonus material. I try to stick the freaky Deki stuff in the end..As Judge Smails would say, Well we’re waiting!

a walk in the woods

“When all music is stilled you shall hear the singing of the stream and enter the living shelter of the forest” John Glascock Baldwin

One of Bobby’s favorite and oft used phrases is “we like to take the song for a walk in the woods” He repeated this idiom to every local reporter across the U.S.A while touring with his band Ratdog. My iconoclast hero was referring to the jams that wander off from a song. Of course the song is the thing, but in Grateful Dead tradition the band would stretch out and jam therefore walking a tune in the sonic woods. Ratdog jams often lurked into some dark and disjointed woodland but more often than not immerged to reveal sweeping vistas. I did my loop to Tsangma and Zongdopelri, than descended into the cypress grove. Three trees in particular interested me the most. There are two gorgeous cypress trees in the heart of the grove that stand close to each other their wispy feathers interloping. This is where I can actually meditate in the cool duff. The trunks of these trees are a rich brown with amazing lichen and moss growing on them. The third tree is the queen of the grove which I hugged for a long spell. Yes I am a literal tree hugger and this beauty gave off kind vibrations. I have only named one tree in the whole world and that is “Cassidy” a stout redwood that is the century of Friendship Bridge.  But I felt compelled to name this queen “Stella” after the Garcia song.  Through the branches sunlight glowed, playing with shadows on the mountain displaying true love just as my purest relationships have. Love represented naturally as moss growing on a stone, or sun meeting shadow on the crest of a ridge, or the silver edge of a cloud scrapping fathomless blue ozone. This is Tim’s bell! From the grove I can see the scorched riverbed where I struggled to the sacred pool and Dagme Chu. The pool is a portal much like in the Magicians Nephew but I didn’t have the glowing ring so teleportation was not in the cards. Although I often do feel like Captain Picard energizing on a strange new planet or maybe Commander Data exclaiming, “Interesting.” Or sometimes I feel like Sam (sans Al & Ziggy) in Quantum Leap moving from one leap to the next.  I know what you’re thinking my life is a TV episode. On the way back from my wooded stroll I scouted some primo camping spots and scolded a village boy for throwing a rock at a dog. Some nearby teachers started defending the boy and mocking me a bit about “trashes.” They must think I am aloof and arrogant keeping to myself and roaming alone in the forest gripping about an issue they scoff at. It’s hard to know where I stand with the populous, and I try not to dwell on it.
I remember Murph at Regeneration asking rhetorically, “How great is it we get to do this?” He had just whooped cancer and was pumped. Well that trickster’s message was actually addressing life on this planet for all of us. Yes Murph, “we are truly blessed yo!” At this point the phone rang and it was Becky telling me about Pema Chodron an author my friend Lisa informed me about recently. The link is that both Becky and Lisa hail from Colorado via the east coast. Pema is an American born woman who embraced Tibetan insights. She writes about topics including the six kinds of loneliness and being comfortable with uncertainty, two future blog titles I’m sure. At my door Sangay Dema and Tswering Choden the most adorable village girls came by for some candy and attention. The two have matching cropped hair and purple outfits and always want to look at my pictures and food stores.  Lightning flashes across a moonlit sky knocking out power leaving only the distant lights in rural Tawang to flicker like stars at the edge of our universe.  Becky remarked that Pema suggested befriending ones loneliness. Mare said the same thing once in my mom’s laundry room when I was a moody teenager. Now that I am a moody thirty something it still applies. Oh well, hang it up and see what tomorrow brings…

Tuesday Blues

“Tuesday blues had em’ all week long, kick in easy, but they come on so strong”

The best Tuesdays were bluebird powder days at Alpine Meadows taking face shots in Gentian Gulley while the rest of the world was working. Hmmm the tables have turned, sort of. In those days my concern was picking the freshest line and inhaling it through the thick clumps of pine and boulders, maybe hitting “The Lounge” for a siesta. Now I am in a remote corner of Bhutan implementing ESL lessons, yes this is ESL teaching folks. But it’s not a bad life especially if you like interesting work. Each day I have the opportunity to walk the beauty way and practice in the wild. I tend to complain a lot (have you noticed, wink) but if I shift my perspective or do a quick kick turn the picture clears up. I mean I live in the most beautiful place on earth and have an opportunity to teach a group of remarkable kids. If I could get out of my own way things would look bright. This is also my chance to payback the universe for the bounty it has bestowed on me, although I must admit to my faithful followers that I am still ruled by desire. Oh desire, it’s everywhere. The desire to be liked, loved, to fit in, to go out, to possess, to control. Thus the main attraction DESIRE, starring Homo Sapiens, playing at a theater in samsara near you.  Gosh Buddha you ask a lot of the devoted. Can’t I just stuff some money in a basket and rush back to catch the second half of the 49er game. And since I’m watching the game how about some chips and “special” salsa, and some grilled delights like Steak, chicken, ribs, desire, desire and more desire!  Don’t forget the BBQ sauce.

As a younger man I always looked at Jesus and Buddha with a suspicious eye. Why from my perspective their lives looked boring and tedious. After all I am ruled by adventure and excitement not enlightenment and service. The Guru Rinpoche and Divine Madman have shown me the spicier side of spirituality and teaching has shown me a glimpse of service. But what of poor JC, I mean did he die a virgin?  Then again so might I. What is left for one who transforms carnal and earthly desires? Some fool on a hill acting like a raven. Who am I without sex, hugs, and rock n roll? Just plain old sir. That begs the question once barked at me in a dark closet, “This is the real me, how do you like it?”

Kinney Near the border

Chorten Kora


Trashigang Dzong Est. 1667

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Busy Timmy

(He’s a big boy now)

Legend has it that I was named after the children’s book Busy Timmy, which was my big brother Tyler’s favorite book. The little protagonist, Timmy was a toddler who was becoming adept at doing tasks “All by himself” Today I went roaming on the west side of Tsenkharla Mountain along a drainage canal. This is a relatively flat walk that winds around the hillside for miles. I remember talking this stroll in winter and how spooky the setting was. Now the oak groves have come alive with lush ferns growing from mossy twisted trunks. The canal is lined with fluffy dandelion blooms waiting to be wished upon and the canopy is alive with birds, while the understory shelters crickets. I always go too far and have to walk back in the dark. The sun broke out before sliding behind a ridge, briefly illuminating farmhouses. The Kulong Chu whooshed in the canyon of god’s furry pocket. This is my Bhutan walking in solitude.

Life in the classroom is better, and I try to pat myself on the back once in awhile and also realize where I need improvement. I am seeing progress in certain students where others are content to just coast. This is the reality of a teacher. Today I read aloud the Dauntless Girl to the class and enjoyed a synergy as I tried to bring the characters to life in this ghost story. During social service club only ten of my fifty students appeared but we had a blast picking up trash. They complain a lot but some are sincere in their efforts. If I had to do it again I would only allow fifteen go getters in the club. Students from all my classes are going to Yangtse for a culture, quiz, and sports competition. This will disrupt my classes leaving me with only half my students but I am happy for the ones going. As for me I hope to take a casual day and go hunt for my last two months pay in Yangtse town. The schoolboy life remains busy for Timmy as I push on towards covering the material and preparing my students for the next grade. As for tasks I have plenty to do, “all by myself” 

It’s been an interesting year in Bhutan and as we come into the homestretch I am learning valuable lessons in and out of the classroom. There are challenges teaching here along with rewards. Overall the students have great personalities where some are better learners than others. Some students put in tremendous effort while others are prone to doze in class. My reaction to the ladder has softened as I realize the strains they are under. I have an easier time laughing at my students instead of reacting in frustration. Next mission is learning to laugh at myself. My friends continue to inspire me around the kingdom, Sabrina for opening her home to a Bhutanese teenager and Rebecca for being content in Phongmay. I can only hope that I am inspiring a few of my students. Being a teacher is a learning process and I am still adapting to the role. It takes many hours in the classroom to find ones voice. At least this is true for me. So much is learnt by trial and error and making mistakes. Oh and I have made my share of them. Facilitating the actions of 120 students each day is draining and at times exhilarating. The moments where their curiosity shines through or you can see the learning happen is the best. As a teacher it is possible to plant a seed in a student’s brain that does not blossom for years to come. A teacher must have patience and faith. I need to work on patience and I am still unsure what faith is all about except to say I need it. Having faith in myself has always been a challenge for me and I hope to learn how to enhance my belief in my abilities. Confidence and flexibility are both important and one good quality I possess is to recognize I am not an authority on knowledge rather a facilitator of the learning process for my students. Practice patience and perseverance is my mantra for my fledgling profession. My sage Aunt Mare always suggests adjusting ones perspective in difficult moments. Or put another way, stepping out of one’s self and shifting five degrees. This often makes things seem hilarious if you’re looking at the specter of yourself from an altered vantage point. For instance watching Tim lose control of a lesson is comedic as he manages to redeem himself more often than not. We all are trapped in our thought bubbles, most of the time wearing personal blinders that interfere with clarity and compassion. I am about as self absorbed as they come (another challenge) but life in Bhutan will flip up the shades for even the most egocentric. I realize that my students are all individuals with fears and dreams and it is my charge to help them towards their goals. I try to live in the grace of my benefactors who reached me here and my students who will hopefully reap their merit.


Tyler and Marty I learned from Becky that there is a purple hippopotamus atop a car wash in Munsee Indiana. She discovered this beast under circumstances similar to us. How can a car wash with a pink elephant in Seattle and a purple hippo in Munsee coexist in the same universe? Is it a random occurrence? And how many other multicolored animals atop carwashes prowl in the night? If you really want to bake your noodle, consider if I hadn’t met Becky in Bhutan I would have never known about the Hippo in Munsee to begin with. It’s all inexplicably interconnected pink elephants purple Hippos, me and you. It was great to talk to my skuzzy cuzzy and bra on the phone. I was happy to hear that you spent some quality time together on Mount Tamalpais and at Terrapin.  Life is a trade off as I give up seeing my niece and nephew, burritos, Bobby, and running water. But I gain a commanding view and 120 students. I love you guys and miss you both. Both of you sounded well and happy which is all we can hope for.  

“The wind and the willow play tea for two, the sky was yellow and the sun was blue” Scarlet Begonias

One thing Bobby has taught me through his music is that the universe is a quirky psychedelic place that must be venerated and enjoyed. Grateful Dead songs are often dark but also adorned with encrusted gleaming jewels that make it all worthwhile. A common theme threaded through the music is the mutable nature of existence therefore I think Guru Rinpoche would make a fine Deadhead. I ran into the drunken monk from Gom Kora festival who said he was on tour which was appropriate since he looked like a tour slob. I have to admit talking to my bra and cuz have made me homesick and hearing them talk about eating cheeseburgers makes my tummy homesick. At least they paused to think of me before devouring the sumptuous cow flesh, preferably with a nice dill pickle. My brain sends phantom signals to my taste buds that tease my stomach, which grumbles woe is me. All I can offer up is a colortini and some verbal pictures as they fly through the air!                

                                                             Class 7 Boys

                                                           Tsenkharla Dzong in forest

Bee and Flower

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just Like a Swiss Watch


“May be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I’m enjoying the ride…”  

I read in Dave’s blog that he moved out of his sick room and into the jungle. As he put it he said goodbye to his concrete walls. Reidi, me, and up until recently Dave live in concrete cells on campus that were designed to house sick boarders. Life thirty yards from the hostel can be hectic. Overall students respect my privacy but several visits occur each day. Mostly students wanting help with homework or looking for Karlos. The real issue is the noise and boys peeping in the windows through the curtain. I feel like a lion in the zoo. There is a lot of hooting and hollering, singing and shouting as you would expect. I also share a thin wall with Karlos and Sonam and endure Sonam’s antics as they endure my Ratdog. Late at night after lights out the sounds of nature return. Good on you Dave for escaping. Today it rained hard and my students were being silly. My eighth period was simultaneously interrupted by a teacher wielding a sign- up sheet for another baby shower tonight and a teacher who was quizzing my students for a competition thus cancelling my class. Things happen without notice as any BCF teacher can attest, WTDL.

It was great talking to my dad this weekend and hearing about his “Bucket List Trip” or was it his “Hell in a Bucket” trip? That’s a classic biker Bobby song for those uninformed cats. Ironically my life revolves around buckets in Bhutan and my nickname as a child was “Drool Bucket” Here’s a little known fact, My first word was bus! As in Furthur bus, as in bus come by and I got on, as in Cowboy Neal at the wheel, as in The Greyhound WOOF WOOF!  Anyway, my father remarked that one of his Milwaukee friends was interested in Bhutan and gave him a copy of Beyond the Sky and Earth. Jamie your book is an international sensation. For us teachers it’s a holy scroll but it is also a fine piece of travel literature. The copy sitting next to me is from our school library and falling to pieces from use.  I was sad to hear about my mom’s shoulder surgery only being a moderate success. The decay of the body is the pits. My mom is so active and I hate to see her suffer. This was a hard lesson I observed when my dad had his stroke. Seeing him in the hospital barely able to move or speak was the worst moment of my life. Watching him recover and endure has been the most inspiring thing in my life. Although he may never reach 100% physically he is 100% mentally and can still drive a car and fix things. Two things I will never do. From birth we are all breaking down. Lord Buddha always preached the impermanence of life and getting old is our reminder. After death some believe we blast off to heaven, others say we zip into the bardo, but all agree our deeds are judged by god. Except those pesky and rational atheist who accept the truth with firm resolution. Back on earth my day was brightened by two friends. I briefly chatted online with Allison who hopefully reads this; I am happy you are still teaching in Sonoma. Also, thank you Sabrina for the kind comment left on Tiger. Sometimes I forget how much I do love this country and will try to stay optimistic. Brina, I know you will take the lessons Sonam and Jimmy taught you to heart! For those of you confused read Dave and Sabrina’s blogs to catch up. All the BCF blogs are awesome and I enjoy the glimpses into others lives in the Kingdom, they can be found on the Bhutan Canada Foundation website. Ours is a wise and passionate GROUP, two epic qualities found in teachers.    

Another dinner for another baby shower let me set the stage. The men and women sit on the floor Indian style in separate rooms. I am usually requested to sit near Principal La. Some of the women serve the men in this order. Tea, beer and Ara, and then a buffet dinner. Almost all the talk is in Dzonka until I become the topic of conversation, this time, the rural myth of my midnight masquerade to Tsangma.  Sometimes I feel uncomfortable and an outsider but you already know that. At these moments I just observe the culture wishing I had large print subtitles. They seem to talk a lot about how much things cost and the internet. I walked home alone in a Scooby Doo episode past the slumbering village, with the question where am I? Rattling around in my overactive brainpan. This is your brain; this is your brain on Bhutan, any questions!

(U.S. Blues Interlude)

“Back to back, chicken shack, son of a gun, better change your act”

 My favorite U.S. blues was at the Wiltern LG in L.A! Seeing Bobby in downtown Los Angeles was a big deal and on December 10 2005 Ratdog was flying high. They had a geared up psychedelic lightshow projected on a huge screen warping and woofing all evening, in a fractal third eye treatment. (see Cleveland Mandy story) U.S. Blues was the final tune of an epic dervish between the band and audience the likes of which may never be seen again. Such characters as Todd, Heather, Mandy, and of course Julie were in attendance. During the encore Weir had a twinkle in his eye while his handlebar mustache tickled our noses. Meanwhile Hippie Bill waved a huge stars and stripes behind the stage. Summer time done come and gone my oh my…

Dark Star (2nd Verse)

“Shall we go, you and I while we can, through the transitive nightfall of diamonds”

The rain pelts my tin roof as I plummet deeper into this dream. So far in fact that my life prior to Bhutan seems unreal. Is this the bardo? The realm between life and death or one though and another. Or the timeless moments of orgasm. Music and love now a faded photograph in the storage locker of my mind. Only nature remains and therefore love never goes away, rather transforms. A teacher must have the capacity for love. But what of romantic love, the ultimate illusion. My cousin and I used to debate on this topic. He served that relationships are merely self indulgent for the ego. As a romantic I volleyed that lovers attend the universal body. It was always a draw and we’d settle for Jack N’ the Box at dawn. Cousin Larry if you’re reading this have a Bacon Burger Basket extra crispy for me. Yes and yes. Here in Mepos its Billybobkas and emadatsi, oh what I’d do for a BACON-BURGER-DOG!  I gaze at the sky but when I look through Becky’s cloud portal all I see is that damn pink elephant spinning in Seattle and hear you and Ty laughing… 


Monday, August 20, 2012

So Close To Heaven

The Wrong Road

“Hey mister can you help me I’m looking for the wrong road, I know it used to be around here before the development come” Zeke

Greetings Earthlings,

After class I went roaming to the temple. But instead of the beauty I was absorbed by the new road plowing through my heart home. My wagon trail that resembled the yellow brick road with glimmering pyrite stones and grass has turned into a dirt swath. All my clover and grassy knolls have been hacked away. Where the trail and forest seamlessly blended is now an embankment that drops off into the disrupted forest. One used to walk from the “golf cart” path to the yellow brick road to an endless array of trails. Now at Tsangma’s a logging style road connects the gate and travelers wall up the emerald diamond hillock to Zongdopelri. Upon my arrival from the temple one hopped a small path to my bonpo meadow. Now a fence stops the traveler and protects the temple of technology known as the Tashi cell tower. The simple trail remains but a monstrous dirt road burrows down from the deciduous woodland above the second temple. These roads defy necessity and I almost cried at the alteration in my paradise. The heavenly views remain but it is different now.  At my temple the carved wooden phallic, chest high orange marigolds and towering sunflowers, enclosed in a nifty woven bamboo palisade renewed my spirit.  From the attic a mild breeze blew in the portal from the east. For an instant I saw the image of a smiling Guru Rimpoche floating out in the valley over the Dawang Chu. On the way home the villagers told me that there will be a small Tsechu or religious celebration for the next three days. Tsechu’s are multiday celebrations that honor the Guru Rimpoche. The larger ones at Dzong’s and temples include masked dance.  

Backwards Down the Number Line

“Every time a birthday comes
Call your friend and sing a song
Or whisper it in to his ears
Or write it down just don´t miss a year” Trey
Out in Phongmay our heroine Rebecca celebrates her 35th b-day which makes it an auspicious day for me. She stumbled into an omen as she trudged up a mountain with some students and was caught in a torrential super cell. A mitzvah or blessing in the form of sacred rain. A great big happy birthday from the maker, a force that existed before humans could conceive their gods. Happy birthday Becky I can’t believe it took 34.5 years to find my twin in the remotest corner of our earth. Meeting a true blue pal is one of the boons of this adventure. I cherish commiserating with you on the phone or at the K.C, or when you inquire “How are things on your side of the mountain?” I can always count on you for a laugh out loud when I am so often stuck in my brain. I could go on and on but I will just say thank you for being my BFF (Bhutan friend forever) the first time we met was in the Bangkok airport when we all nervously weighed our baggage. You were in your cadet cap and orange long sleeve t-shirt and a bit aloof about the whole airport movie. We started slow as we all crashed through the thunder gates of the kingdom. The friendship solidified in the conference room of the Dragon Roots when you remarked that my “Steal your face” ski hat was a nice addition to my gho. Much like a tribesman flashing the secret symbol I instantly knew I had stumbled into a kindred spirit. We roamed around Thimphu talking about Ratdog, Phish, and SCI, and we found a common history that would be the foundation for our alliance, even if we never found the “Big Cypress.” In addition to our separate circus endeavors, arriving in Bhutan solidifies many fast friendships. But ours goes beyond a companionship of circumstance, if I was a religious man I would say providence sent you into my life at this paramount juncture. I only hope that my presence in your domain returns a fraction of the substance you give me.  Just a few of the highlights so far include Autsho, Drametse and the ancient monk (with the dancing skeletons) circumambulating Chorten Kora, slipping into the bowels of the Trashigang Dzong, the star lightning and the magic bird. Oh and of course when the drunken soothsayer in the capital sentenced us to “The terror of life” or was “The Land of Terror?”   
While I am sending out b-day salutations, happy b-day Julie and Geeska if your tuned in.

Episode 1: Peaking

“I don’t know what called to me but I know that I had to go, I left that Vermont town with a lift to Mexico” Yankee lady

Today was a spectacular sunny day. Tsenkharla is at its pinnacle of beauty. I went to the temple circumambulated three times then descended into the pine and cypress grove. I followed a new trail that followed huge rocks, ferns, and fragrant shrubs. A mild breeze caressed the canopy as the Dawang Chu snaked impossibly through the pristinely rugged valley. A Raven surfed on a pine bow riding the wind.  The grove is a secret world of thick duff and moist sweet air. There is a palpable peace as I nestled between my favorite two cypress trees on a bed of pine needles snuggled by wispy ferns. The birds and crickets and other evening creatures come to play a melancholy piece as the light inched its way east through Arunachal. The mountains unfold narrowing until a ridgeline at the horizon finally stops the verdant valley. Or does it? A Butterfly leads me to an outcropping of rock above the deciduous zone until I am enveloped in sticky cobwebs. Bhutan is endlessly diverse a thought that conjured when a lone dandelion rested in the shade of a tall cypress. We have a dry and high niche in the broader ecosystem of the Far East. No leaches, less rain, and surprisingly fertile soil.  But the grove seems a luxury on the dry side of the mountain, towards Yangtse waterfalls rush and monkeys leap. While in Phongmay the humid forests lavish cascading terraces. But Tsenkharla is my place which has exploded with plants and animals. On campus I revel in the row of thick cypress with trunks like redwoods and feathery needles surrounded by a plethora of flowers in bloom. A garden of Roses, dahlias, geraniums, sunflowers, bells, stars, trumpets etcetera. The wind rustles the maize crop which towers twelve feet high, and a colony of insects rules the land. When walking, the forest exudes animistic qualities as I find myself talking to the ferns or listening to the wind’s ancient tale. It can flip to another dimension where demons, deities, and pixies romp, switching roles before embedding themselves into trunks and rocks. It’s all fluid like the liquid serpent masquerading as the river below. The design of the universe is more comprehensive and complex than linguistics can categorize or mystics can imagine, A FORCE so NATURAL that the gods can only marvel from their cushy cloud thrones scratching their white beards and asking “Who created us?” Meanwhile the two avatars Guru Rimpoche and Jesus exchange insights while crossing the borderline, Jesus on his way out and the Guru checking in. It’s all one chip off the old techno colored sugar cube constantly melting and reforming into steamy jambalaya.   

Time plays tricks stretching and expanding into the ether while ultraviolet rays zip through the ozone to warm a body. Each night I look forward to sleep on my hard cot where I lay and dream of the mountains and each morning I resist getting up. In class we are reading an essay called “Reconnecting with the Earth.” All my students help their parents in the fields and couldn’t believe American kids have never farmed. The savvy students can work the fields, sing and dance, and speak several languages. They are miraculously adept at life and enjoy a rich sense of humor.
The author wonders how his comrades are fairing around the Kingdom. He got a text from Sarah who hasn’t had electricity since a massive flood consumed Gasa. Perhaps her Antarctic stint has prepared her for such occurrences. Everyone is challenged in Bhutan and the author would like to pause to congratulate the hardworking group. His mind wanders back to his first afternoon in the kingdom, walking down the old valley road in Paro, laughing with Sheal. They got separated from the group and were lost looking for the lodge stopping a lone Drivers Ed car with the instructor dribbling bloody dolma juice down his chin. He directed them back up the hill past the twig arrow Iman had constructed to show the way…

“Cows is giving kerosene, kid can’t read he’s seventeen, the words he knows are all obscene, but it’s alright” Touch of Grey

On my constitutional I was accompanied by a dozen class 3 and 4 students on their way to Shakshang which is an hour straight up a precipice from Zongdopelri. In the forest two old and drunken meme’s crept towards the temple spinning handheld prayer wheels and fondling rosary beads. They mumbled their mantras in faded ghos and gnarled bare feet. They spoke no English and one was nearly blind and carried a big walking stick. Their shriveled amber faces wrinkled in hearty laughter as they surveyed me and my troop of day scholars. It was a scene only found in the distant reaches of East Bhutan. We had another perfect day with puffy clouds layered over streaks of dragon smoke, a sapphire sky, and rainbow fragments. I am caught in a specific loop from Tsangma to Zongdopelri, to the grove and back to Tsangma. Along the way I stop at numerous outcroppings of rock, the lair of slumbering demons. Ravens croak along with the warbling of afternoon birds. While standing in any grove anywhere the energy swirls and eventually the eye lands upon the Queen or King. This grove is a mix of cypress and pine. The trees are tall if not thick but lush and comfortable with shrubs and ferns in the tangled undergrowth. The cypress needles resemble feathers that gently hang from branches like Spanish moss. Erect purple flowers dot the trail which is overgrown with thick summer grass. The pathway threads along a minor ridge overlooking the eastern valley with views of Tsenkharla and hidden heart shaped amulets tucked into the high slopes of the adjacent mountains. Once in a while one stumbles across an overgrown chorten with ancient artifacts sealed inside.  It is quiet with only the birdsong and whisper of the river three thousand feet below. From a distance the brass bell of Tsenkharla chimes to announce evening study for the boarders. As darkness falls I returned from my three hour sojourn refreshed and hypnotized but not before I plopped in the meadow by the gate to serenade a calf with “Touch of Grey.” It occurred to me that as much as I try I can never convey the beauty of my placement and my words are merely a weir against the flow of purity. There is an indefinable current here on the periphery of language and worship. While walking a fellow has all he needs in the simplicity of nature, including air to breathe and water to drink. Roaming through the final stretch of the forest I passed a traveling puja with a caravan of monks blowing whining horns and pounding drums as thick incense smoke filled the air.     
On the phone Becky and I enjoy coining one liners or catch phrases such as “The Big La” or “The Land of Terror AKA The Terror of Life” etcetera. Tonight I quipped “Peace, Love, and Curry” and she rebutted, “Peace, Love, and Emadatsi.” (You probably know by now that emadatsi is the staple containing chilies and cheese.)  And this is how the friendship rolls even after our faithful split on the street in Mongor. It should be noted that we made amends scampering barefoot up the ladders into the secret chambers of Trashigang Dzong breathing resplendent air thick with history, making it onto the deck above the inner courtyard before being discovered by the robes. Of course we would never have made it that far if not for Norrin in her tight blue shirt enthralling the entire monk body downstairs. Ah the power of a comely woman’s bosoms that not even a holy man can resist. Ahem I digress into a warm twilight in the heart of the East. Much like the kingdom the hamlet of Trashigang escapes effective description with it s traditional atmosphere and architecture with boganvia lined paths. Kids run carefree in the street offering enthusiastic “Hello’s” as the whistle of pressure cookers announce supper. As Barbara Crossette says in “So Close to Heaven” Sooner or later everyone must take the road to Trashigang.
Honey from the Bee

“Rainbow said forever she would glow, I ain’t seen that rainbow ten years or more”    
At morning assembly in between hymns the students rapidly recite mantras that culminate into a humming sound like a hive of bees. Not a bad analogy considering the group mentality of the collective Buddhist mind. I could use the Borg comparison for Trekies; “We are Borg and YOU must assimilate” Fridays are tough as I struggle through four grammar lessons but at interval I saw an interesting article in Kunsel (the Bhutanese rag) about the profitable dairymen of Sakteng and Merak. Right now Bhutan is suffering from a “Rupee crunch” The Naltrum is supposedly equal to the Indian Rupee but that is not the case currently. I know as much about economics as astrophysics so I couldn’t elaborate even if I wanted to. The savvy cow and yak profiteers are crossing the high passes into Tawang and selling to the Indians there. The natives of Arrunachal Pradesh are more akin to Sharshop’s then Hindus in Delhi. The Brokpa cross the border to trade then pick up their groceries in Trashigang and Phongmay. This indigenous community is thriving when the rest of Bhutanese citizens are struggling economically. I would love to help them tote their yak butter to Tawang which is just over the horizon from Tsenkharla. The Brokpa, who are Tibetan refugees, are an amazing community who work hard to maintain a simple and prosperous life in a harsh landscape. Although all citizens live under the Dragon Banner the country is remarkably diverse. The Druk people of the West descend from a Tibetan Buddhist lineage and are the most powerful group. Then you have the Sharshop of the East who probably migrated from Burma through Arrunachal.  The Southerners are primarily Nepali Hindus and in between are various ethnic groups, like Lepcha, Brokpa etcetera. There are underlying tensions between East- West and North- South but for the most part peace prevails. The Bhutanese government makes this a desirable homeland providing free healthcare and education to all of its citizens. When you think that parents can send away their children to be educated, boarded, and fed for free it is remarkable. Although healthcare is sketchy in rural areas and the Thimphu hospital was filthy it still makes the American healthcare institution seem barbaric. We spent over a thousand dollars treating my broken arm and I once spent four hundred dollars to cure a serious earache with antibiotics when I was uninsured. And my father who paid taxes and contributed to society his whole adult life was forced to pay all the expenses after having a stroke. America can be a cruel place. As for life in the present I try to keep up, planning lessons, assessing 120 students, marking, washing clothes, staying healthy, and figuring out how to fix my I Tunes. Keeping the house and clothes clean without running water proves a daunting task. Most of my free time is exhausted by these activities and I feel fortunate when I can roam. For whatever reason life seems harder these days and my thoughts occasionally drift towards the Bay. There are moments I feel out of place and isolated. As my consort recently wrote me, solitude can be a blessing or a curse. But what to do La, Bhutan isn’t for sissies.

Exactly one year ago I saw the guitar monk at Squaw Valley. I had recently been accepted into BCF but still had to pass my last board exam to solidify my credential and position in Bhutan. Kimock was particularly kind that afternoon STANDING and playing to the crowd with his crooked smile, the peak of KT 22 loomed above the stage. After the show I took the trolley back to Cedar Flat and watched T.V with my parents. “Do you really want to go to Bhutan?” they asked. The following week in a sterile laboratory in Oakland I was issued a repeat of the dreaded RICA exam and before starting, said a prayer to Great Spirit asking for guidance on behalf of my future students in Bhutan. I wanted to come here and help them and after the test I was weeping in the city streets sure that I had failed. But I passed and the rest is history…Now I owe a debt of gratitude to the students and must find the grace to be the best teacher I can be.

Walk Through the Fire

“Gonna have to walk through the fire, put your feet down on the coals, freedoms in the fire, throw resistance on the pyre and free your soul” MK   

Another beautiful Saturday as the high pressure keeps the rain away until dark. After class there was a lengthy dance program. The students somehow appeared in colorful gho and kira to perform traditional dance routines. As an American with no indigenous culture of my own, it is boggling to see such reverence for culture. It is an essential part of daily life and it is precisely passed on to the children. This is why boarding schools incorporate song and dance into the curriculum. After the program I had some class 8 boys over to look at pictures and hang out. I need to open my home more to the students and not be so greedy with my personal time. Tonight I am going to dinner at school in honor of Karlos’s promotion. Unfortunately that means I cannot go to Rangjoon to celebrate Becky’s birthday. I cleaned my house thoroughly and did a laundry as god gave us a whole hour of running water today. Hand washing clothes is the worst after being spoiled my whole life with a washing machine. Kneeling on the concrete floor frantically scrubbing all the items I can muster before the tap runs dry. I am not very good at it and my clothes never feel fresh. After cleaning I took an hour to finish “So Close to Heaven” which is a brilliant book written in reporter’s fashion. But Barbara Crossette has a distinct voice and love for Bhutan to enlighten the reader. When I get pouty I just remember how fortunate I am to have a rare opportunity to live here. Many pilgrims, artist, and tourists from around the globe pay the $200+ tariff just for a taste of life here. In Bhutan as everywhere ones reality is dictated by ones attitude. It’s a shame my mother’s positivity didn’t rub off on me more. Instead I am a grumpy Grossman like my father and brother. (Sorry guys you know it is true) Having a PMA (positive mental attitude) is the most important thing in life. I am only preaching this since it’s my biggest challenge.  But I hope to saddle up and be more proactive in my existence. One only has to look around to see the astounding beauty and that in itself is everything. Those of my readers in Northern California also are fortunate to live in a paradise. I imagine people scrapping by in the slums of India or Bangladesh and remember how lucky I am. Blah, Blah, Blah...
A breeze blows on our mountain top keeping things refreshed compared to steamy T-Gang, Rangjoon, or Doksom. One cool thing about this location is having towering peaks above and a gorgeous valley below. We just hover in space on the deity superhighway. Living at a boarding school is intriguing with kids roaming on campus, or having peeping Dorji’s 24/7. When I go to the forest the girls are lined up along the concrete ledge outside the hostel, encased in barbed wire like prisoners. The boarders sleep 40 to a room and never complain or freak out. Conversely many “Day Scholars” walk four hours a day roundtrip on fierce terrain to reach school. It’s like the grumpy old man skit, you know the one, it goes something like “When I was a boy, I used to walk an hour to school in the snow, and that’s the way it was and WE LIKED IT!  It is a different life than the privileged kids of Marin County that’s for sure.  

My resistance to anything here only causes suffering as I struggle to realize the true nature of my mission. This is my time to serve the universe and learn to be happy. Buddha stresses the middle path in one’s own life. I have my work cut out for me to detangle my extreme soul. For those who are skeptical about reincarnation and for those believers, this moment holds absolute significance. Our mere existence from god or stardust is marvelous and precious. So give your loved ones a hug today as I wish I could. Especially Reed and Paige! With names as such they better be bookworms.

It’s funny how the rainbow always forms on the borderline bridging Tawang to Trashiyangtse. I had company on my rock from Dorji a class ten boy whose village is near the Indian border high on the mountain across the river. We ate from a cucumber the size of a baseball bat and he gave me the best account thus far on the lay of the land. He can reach his village in seven hours and the border an hour beyond that. That means twelve hours for me. He pointed out a blurry road barely in my visual range that is in Arrunachal and mentioned they spoke a different dialect than Yangtse which also has its own language. I also got some vague directions to a temple on the valley floor along my beloved and seemingly unreachable river. This is another auspicious haunt of The Guru Rinpoche who raged the Himalaya from Pakistan to East Bhutan. If I can hitch to Kinney I might be able to reach the temple and return in a day. A vehicle to and from Kinney would shave four hours off the trip and this is why I need a tent to overnight in the bush. I set out long ago for this purpose and got marooned down the wrong road less than an hour after disembarking. Soon I will try again…
 This Is Where It Ends

“..Not even the trees recognize me anymore” Morgan A. Neiman  

On Sunday I embarked on a bold adventure. My goal was to visit a riverside temple where Guru Rinpoche meditated on the Dagme Chu River. This is my favorite river in the world and I have been misinformed referring to it in this blog as the Dawang Chu. What’s in a name anyway? The river appears in Bhutan flowing from Tawang. I look at the river every day and felt it was time to explore the lower regions of my heartland. I commandeered a taxi to Kinney half way down the mountain where my journey commenced. I had no real directions as the driver dropped me at the edge of the village at a trailhead. The dirt and scree path dropped down a steep precipice past oaks, cannabis, and succulents. Before long I was lost which would be the theme of my day. Soon I descended past a barking dog, a white chorten, and a farm boy, to a lone white vertical prayer flag. The gruff landscape consisted of grasses and shrubs with no trees. The sun beat down on me and I wished I had a hat. After an hour I reached a solitary abandoned hut on the valley floor where the trail petered out into endless boggy rice paddies. Instead of the Dagme Chu I had reached a tributary in a vast rock bed stretching towards the main river which had disappeared from view. Here the bush-whacking began. I crawled through the marshy rice to the rushing stream where I tore my clothes off for a bath. I probably should have turned back but I wanted to finally touch the sacred waters of my beloved. This meant scampering over huge boulders and sloshing through the water in my decayed hiking boots. I crossed the tributary no less than 108 times on my approach the Dagme Chu. It was brutal hiking and on a few occasions I almost was denied. I persevered wading to my waist or bouldering on the outskirts of the bed through thorny brush. The tributary was my only guide with its huge rocks, sand, and scattered ferns, but finally I reached the raging Dagme Chu. Above the river where the disciple rejoined its master was a clear pool under a waterfall where I soaked my nude body in ecstasy before baptizing myself in the rivers olive-grey waters. I had to stay very near the beech to avoid the silver rapids that threatened to carry me to Doksom. The river is set in a gorge between massive cliffs that tower overhead. Scruffy pines cling to the vertical slopes to the disbelief of the observer’s eye. It is a harsh and unforgiving landscape at the end of all things. Here the Inner Himalayas reduce to rocky rubble with only a few scattered hapless trees. All that is left is the river and rocks and a wanderer’s soul exposed in the blazing sun. This place is not India or Bhutan rather a no man’s land abandoned by the gods, left to the toothless deity of nowhere. The boundary of the universe is not a lush oasis rather a bleached skull or broken spoke, a beauty recognized by only the most wayward and forsaken. At this point the real suffering commenced as I had to back track the riverbed and climb two thousand feet back to Kinney. I retraced my steps passed the abandoned hut, the lone prayer flag, and white chorten before getting lost again. I stumbled into a remarkable stone village that resembled the dwelling of Hansel and Gretel. Some Kinney kids hanging out by a mammoth chorten showed me the way and after much laboring I crested the ridge into Kinney village at 5 PM.  I was fortunate to get a lift to Kumdang by some friendly teachers who dropped me at the junction. The dirt road from Kinney is only two years old and has changed life significantly in the village allowing access to Trashigang or Yangtse by vehicle. In Bhutan having a road improves the availability of healthcare and supplies. I dropped by Manu’s earthen abode but she wasn’t home so I began to trudge up the 6 KM to Tsenkharla. Along the way I saw Samten my 8B student picking chilies in her family’s field. She gave me some ema before I continued on in the rain. Luckily I got another ride from a teacher and reached home before the downpour and darkness only to see another dead doggy by my door. It was one of the most difficult day hikes I have ever done due to the sheer vertical descent and ascent. If I had a telescope I could have tracked myself from the safety and comfort of my rock. From that position the valley floor seems gentle and green but upon exploration proved a daunting expedition. The day was a metaphor for my life in Bhutan, extremely challenging and rewarding.  I paid the price for my effort with sunburn and dehydration which led to a fitful sleep. I reckon that I won’t go there again even though I never did find the temple.
Tim Rinpoche     

Dagme Chu

New grass waves
To crude wind
At insanities jagged line
Beyond salvation
Where sorrow and joy
Dissipate in a parched
Cracked riverbed
Carried by recycled water
Flowing through a heart broken  
In ten thousand odd stones
Back to the bardo
The aquatic source
Found in you and me!
Cuts jade canyon  
Into crystal cavern
With the hood of the serpent
That devoured Guru Rinpoche