|[a] March 2009|
Back down the mountain the next day, I logged onto the Abe Books site and tracked down a copy of William Edgar Geil's The Sacred 5 of China. My electronic receipt made clear that it would be delivered to my door by the time I returned to the United States. In the meantime, I finished my whirlwind visit to all five sacred mountains in a two-week period, and filled my ethnographic jottings notebook in anticipation of a long winter's write.
|[b] Mt. Tai map (from The Sacred 5 of China)|
Moreover, he knew the classical cosmology of it all. Mt. Tai, the mountain of spring, was followed by Mt. Heng in the south—the mountain of summer. In the very middle of the book came Mt. Song, the central mountain, and the pivot of the four quarters. From there, Geil proceeded to the spectacular vistas of Mt. Hua in the west (just an hour today further down the road from the terracotta soldiers, but the better part of a day by donkey caravan for Geil and his entourage in 1919). He finished the book with the lonely little mountain of the north, Mt. Heng, which is cold much of the year and was actually outside the borders of China's dynasties during much of their history.
It was impressive, and powerfully more so because it contained some of the beautiful hand-sketched maps of mountain details that could only be found by working through many dozens of original texts from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. William Edgar Geil had gotten hold of them and put them into a single volume. That feature alone made the volume worthy of study by students of Chinese culture. It crossed my mind again that there must be something...some reason...why I had never heard of him during a quarter century of study. Had I just missed something that everyone else knew? Was this a hidden gap in my preparation that would have embarrassed me in conversation with other "sinologists," had I admitted that the name Geil had never crossed my pupils before that autumn?
|[c] Mt. Tai temple (from The Sacred 5 of China)|
|[d] June 1919 (from The Sacred 5 of China)|
To begin, Geil's photograph showed a spectacularly barren landscape. I could recognize the twisting stairway to heaven—to the 南天門, the South Gate of Heaven. Not much of the rest seemed possible. How could only two little tufts of pine trees be visible? It looked like a moonscape—all rock, and no water. T.S. Eliot might have mused about this very scene as he drafted the first section (edited with the help of sinophile Ezra Pound) of The Wasteland.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
|[e] June 2009 RL|
Accidental 6e Accidental 6f Accidental 6g Accidental 6h
|[f] Lush RL|