Click here for the table of contents (second post) to the Round and Square series "Longevity Mountain."
Longevity Mountain 1 Longevity Mountain 2 Longevity Mountain 3 Longevity Mountain 4
Longevity Mountain 5 Longevity Mountain 6 Longevity Mountain 7 Longevity Mountain 8
Longevity Mountain 9 Longevity Mountain 10 Longevity Mountain 11 Longevity Mountain 12
|[a] Backlook RL|
One volume is planned for each mountain, beginning with the southern peak, Mt. Heng, in Hunan province. The reasoning behind this choice of a starting place took me months to develop, but suffice it to say that these books will take the reader up and down each of the five sacred (sometimes called "Daoist") mountains and around the lunar calendar in an exploration of Chinese life and culture. As an introduction to the series, I have included an introduction that is based on a recent book proposal and a full "sample" table of contents. These are followed by nine "scenes" from Longevity Mountain that are meant to give readers a sense of the project as a whole. Photographs used in this series were taken during my travels, unless otherwise indicated. My photos are marked "RL."
|[b] Wild RL|
|[c] Steep RL|
|[d] Natural RL|
The rock carvings on this stretch of path are formidable, and I take my time, wanting to savor each section of this beautiful mountain, all but forgotten by the buses, motorcycles, and cars that race up the road. There are temples and carvings and little places for rest that I have come to enjoy. This is my favorite stretch in the entire climb—from about 800-1000 meters. I will reach the South Heaven Gate by 4:00 p.m., and there will be plenty of time to gain the summit from there.
Gaining the summit.
|[d] Daylight RL|
If this area could hardly be called a poetry forest, I still like to think of it as at least a thicket of verse. The first text is carved into a boulder the size of a small kitchen, and reading it requires a little bit more perspective than the path can provide. I step to the edge of the stone on the path and, keeping one foot steady, feel around behind me for secure footing on the other side. As often as not, there is nothing much to feel but cliff—or at least ridge. In many cases, overgrowth gives the appearance of extra room, the way one might imagine solid ground when stepping onto a thick canopy of maple leaves.
|[e] Nanmomituofo RL|
Right next to that small-font text, on the same boulder, is a phrase that needs no particular perspective. I would want to say that it is shouting, but for the larger context. No single translation can possibly do justice to the ideas on the big rock, but I like to think of it along these lines.
Glory and peace in the calming Pureland Buddha
|[e] Compassion RL|
The humid rock betrays real moisture within, and I make out a small altar and red ribbons in the wet darkness. Long-spent incense sticks jut out of the rock in the center that looks like a cork about a third of the way out of a bottle. I am heartened as I look to the very back walls to see that the rock seems to be of the same kind as the natural stone altar rock just down the ridge. In the front is a humped tangle of incense sticks, wrappers, and ashes. It is the size and shape of a new grave—about six feet long and three wide—and it crosses my mind that it might be… No, it couldn’t be. Could it?
Staring at a large stick that would work well for digging potatoes, I hesitate. At length, I decide to leave this gravest of questions to a different kind of anthropologist, noting instead the way that humanity—most likely living humanity—has shaped all of these various just-off-the-trail sites. I take my leave of the Great Compassion Cave and its inhabitants, and continue on my way.
|[g] Onward RL|
Up to South Heaven Gate
Just short of the South Heaven Gate—something of a checkpoint signaling another hour or so to go to the peak—I have along conversation with a vendor about stone, writing, and culture.