The early morning light today took me back more than forty years. Light has a nostalgic effect on me like music seems to have for many people. It must be genetic for my mother was that way too. In fact, looking up into the sky can carry me back to truly primordial times, but that’s another story.
This morning the light and the early morning hazy sky brought back memories of arriving at the top of Bokor Hillstation Casino. I was told about this resort, high in the mountains and cool enough to grow strawberries, they said. This was prewar Cambodia in 1964, a time of peace and enough remaining French influence to find good French bread, albeit with a few weevils baked in(1), and flan (my favorite sweet). Now, if I could add strawberries to that I’d have me a good soul-food supper.
I reached the junction in the afternoon, left the main road, and continued hitch hiking toward that that mountain top resort. Hitchhiking around Cambodia was slow going in those days. Not that I didn’t get rides; there were just so few cars on the road. Nevertheless, I thought surely there would be traffic headed towards a resort. I’m not sure if I passed up any rides early on. I always like to spend an hour or so just walking along the road before sticking out my thumb (waving my hand, sign or what ever would draw attention).
Not one car passed, and so I walked all night up that mountain road. A memorable ‘highpoint’ of this side trip was hearing water babbling every time the road crossed a brook. Normally I’d just hike down and have a drink. However, that night was the blackest I’d ever seen; it was a dark as a cave. Clouds hid the starlight, there was no moon, deep in the jungle far from towns, and no flashlight(2).
I reached the top at daybreak. I saw then why no one would be heading to this ‘resort’ that, or any other, night. The photo above is fairly recent, but looks much like it did nearly fifty years ago. Actually, I think I remember eating there, so there was activity, and I don’t remember walking back down, so I must have gotten a ride. My word, memory is a fragile thing.
The only other time I experienced intense thirst was finishing up a four day hike, with a few friends, over the Catalina mountains near Tucson. I spent much of my teenage years hiking those mountains and desert foothills around Tucson, and don’t recall ever taking water with me (perhaps my love of traveling light is genetic). I’d always find some spring, creek, puddle, or cactus to quench my thirst. Our water difficulty occured on the last day as we left the mountains and trekked out across the flat waterless plain. Looking back, it seems like youthful folly to hike unknown area in the desert without water. But hey, isn’t that what our time of youth is for?
Speaking of Water—A Philosophic Detour
I can’t let a whole post go by without an Observation, now can I? Water has long been a fitting spiritual metaphor. Here’s another angle which I’ve never seen used:
Thought is like water flowing into a bottomless space—the Silent and void. So, to paraphrase chapter five, much thought leads inevitably to silence. Better to hold fast to the void. This sounds good in principle. Alas, the brain has a mind of its own, and thoughts can’t help but bubble up into its neural space. After all, nature abhors a vacuum. Space just attract stuff, whether empty shelves, open fields, or billions (or is it trillions) of synapses ready and waiting to fire. I’d say this process of mind filling up space is what produces the illusion of time itself. Indeed, when I cease to think (for the short time I’m able) time stands still. That is what I know to be eternity.
(1) Abundant French bread was not something I expected to see in S.E. Asia. I first ran across it when I entered Laos. Laos, along with Cambodia and Vietnam were ex-French colonies, hence the French bread. As I was eating my new found food-prize I noticed small black bee-bee size things, first wondering if they were raisins baked into the bread. Soon I realized they were weevils. No problem, just don’t look too closely. Now-a-days that helps when eating from the garden; when aphids and other critters are out of sight, they are out of mind.
(2) A flashlight would have been frivolous extra weight to lug around. In those traveling days, I carried all I had in one small shoulder bag. Traveling light is worth it! Things are a lot easier to drop by the wayside than thoughts. Although, thanks to the Tao Te Ching, I’ve managed to drop enough of those too by now.