A storm-warning here gives weather sudden celebrity: like the old days the elements become something to reckon with once more, briefly. Concrete covers most of the earth, and half the indoor plants are forged from plastic. Beneath umbrellas, beneath artful perspex walkways, beneath a film that shrink-wraps each thought, we manage mostly to avoid all touch of the rain, but can’t quite help breathing it into deserted cells.
A prayer of twin palms pressed up right against a window forms an impromptu cage. Next — moth-wings stutter inside tight cupped hands as the insect begins tap-dancing six feet over vulnerable stiff scared skin. In a moment of inattention, it escapes past the interlocked knuckles of my thumbs and flits forthwith to an adjacent white house-wall. There, moth-eyes in gloom blink instantly open cross a whole wide wingspan, their mackerel-blue irises pinpricked with star-sparkle gold. Now, they outstare me — the non-plussed observer — awed and outclassed by this fearless and unflinching stare.
A cold wind. Standing ovation in the trees — Autumn’s moon-dry rustle of leaf on leaf on leaf. Thunder in the chill brick bridge when trains pass larger than life overhead, white-hot catenary sparks sizzling fresh air with the stink of electric scorch. Then pin-drop quiet, plump as moss, and moss universally shock-absorbing all that could never be green back into greenest tactile patch-working clumps.
A hovering wasp rippling fine grains of dust with the fierce fan-force of its wings precisely zooms into land by what’s left of a smash-wrecked moth: one large upper flight-panel dappled with antique swirl. Further off, yet another flat piece of debris footnotes blank brick where a post-mortem sun shines on. The wasp now wrestles with its unwieldy catch. Using forelegs and jaws, it bends the sheet neatly in two, all the better to airlift it back home to base, intact — whole hangars there stockpiled with similar, edible, loot.
You couldn’t stand it ― crawling hour after hour down the famished tunnel of your hunger mostly for a mouthful of dust. At first sight, do I rightly get under that skin you are absolutely certain never to wriggle out of? Legless, lipless, no browed, ruthless ― my denudity creepily never fails to unnerve. Of course, I am poison’s Greatest Living Treasure and venomously adverbs every single move I make to the point where I, alone, am the sinuous hairline crack that fractures and flaws even the most generous “Love of Nature”. Slithering or coiled, I bring you lightning Sudden Death, and am always prepared to pull ― despite decades of cautious caretaking ― just that light from under your feet.
大抵每個山友都有一份行山路線名單。這份名單，或長或短，或詳盡或簡略。 Nearly every one of my fellow mountaineers has their own wish-list of hiking destinations. This wish-list may be long or short. It may be highly detailed or little more than a sketchy outline.
最近朋友分享了她的行山名單，當中概分了遠程、短途、陰天和晴天路線。我也有類似的目的地清單，簡略分作九龍、港島、西貢、新界及大嶼山等區域，以配合行山當日的天時地利人和，從中篩選一條合適的路線：天晴時挑選風景較佳的地點，天氣不佳時則選取以歷史文化為主的行程。完成目標後，將它們從名單中逐一剔除，再不斷刪減增補。 Recently, a friend of mine shared her wish-list with me. It was roughly divided into long journeys, short trips, and routes for clear and cloudy weather. I myself have a similar list of destinations, simply drawn up in terms of the different areas of Hong Kong: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, Sai Kung, the New Territories and Lantau Island. From this list, I choose a suitable route in order to fit in with the season, geographical position and the availability of people to accompany me. If the weather is fine, I select a location with exceptional scenery. If the weather is not particularly good, I pick a route for its history and its culture. As I complete my objectives, I tick them off my wish-list one by one, constantly crossing off and adding things as I go.
或者生活繁忙的城市人都很精於計算，每事都考慮機會成本，衡量付出與收獲。在有限的假期和時間裏，我們都偏好探索新的景點，甚至在可行的時間內多跑幾個山頭，而且從不重複，務求提升效率。此舉原也無可厚非，但與之同時，個人對達成目標的渴望，也多多少少揭露了一點功利主義。 Given their hectic lifestyles, the people of this city tend to be very adept at calculation and, in everything they do, weigh up pros and cons, as well as consider outlays and gains. Since our time in general ⸺ as well as holiday time ⸺ is limited, we tend to explore new vistas, even where feasible making our way to the top of several mountains, never going to the same place twice, to ensure that our effectiveness improves. Such behaviour cannot really be criticized but, at the same time, this individual thirst for achieving goals reveals more than a hint of utilitarian self-seeking.
山行的足跡，不過是山體形成的悠長時間裏的一個剎那的點。看着手裏的路線名單，一個個地點不期然被硬分成好幾個檔次，不禁會問：到某地急登短遊，又如何能讀懂一座山？一份名單，既是清晰目標，又是無形枷鎖。對山的體悟，不免會被名單所限，被地點所困，被數字所惑。不過，有多少人，還是執意走遍香港所有山頭，摘下台灣百岳，挑戰世界高峰。 The footprints we make walking over mountains amount to little more than a split-second in their long-drawn-out formation. With a wish-list of routes in one hand with its individual destinations rather arbitrarily divided into any number of grades, one can’t help wondering: how can we ever hope to understand a mountain in our rushed ascents and abbreviated excursions? Any list, no matter how explicit the objectives, is at the same time a set of invisible shackles. Any true personal insight into a mountain is inevitably limited by a wish-list, restricted by specific locations, confounded by numbers. But for all that, many people are still bent on walking to the top of all Hong Kong’s mountains, ascending all the well-known ranges of Taiwan and challenging tall peaks throughout the rest of the world.
愛山樂水不是難事。隨着個人的體能技巧、心理質素的提升、裝備的改良、步道的完善和資源的配合，逐步達到目標的人已不在少數。將目標一一達成，無疑能豐富一個人的閱歷，甚至能成就一名傑出的登山家，但是我相信，一個真正的岳人，不該只是一名計劃的完美執行者。他不以一張亮眼的履歷來定義自己，而是體現在對大地的感悟。他所展現的，是堅毅精神，是視野胸襟，是素養態度，重責任多於權利，尚集體利益多於個人得失。 To take delight in mountains and rivers is not difficult. With the increase in individual physical strength and skill, an enhancement of mental calibre, improvement of hiking gear, the perfection of pathways together with the coordination of resources, many people have eventually managed to reach their objectives. Undoubtedly, reaching your goals one after another enriches your experience, and might even make you into a superb mountaineer, but in my view, the true lover of mountains should be something more than a Perfect Executor of Plans. Such a person is not defined by a dazzling curriculum vitae but realized through true insight into the Earth. What such a person displays are resoluteness and spirit, vision and a broad mind, cultivation and attitude, with an emphasis on responsibility over rights, and the common good over any personal loss or gain.
他會懂得山的語言，與山對話，能夠在熟悉的環境中尋覓新鮮感，從平凡的景物中找尋趣味，在狹窄的小徑中感受大山大水。他的腳步，順心而行，他的路徑，隨心而寬。 People like this can understand the language of mountains, and so are able to converse with them, and have the ability to discover fresh new feelings in familiar surroundings, delight in mundane scenery, as well as experience mighty mountains and rivers on narrow trails. They walk where their own nature happens to lead them, and their paths grow wider along with their own hearts.
我總覺得，最難攀越的那座山岳，不載列在一紙名單上，而是懸繫在心頭。 At any rate, my feeling is that the most difficult mountain to overcome is not written down on any list but can only be found in our own minds.
A red bug on a leaf of emerald-green clover — I addressed myself to Almighty God: Dear Lord, could You please move over!
Because sometimes it is the fine details in an act of artistic creation
that bring me that rich-rare gift —
(do You remember it?) — elation. Despite a lifetime’s long-drawn-out light-years
how much exaltation did I ever get for all my darkening cares?
How much? I scratched my head, perplexed. I believe I began to rave: A bug and a leaf of clover — just for now, that’s all I have — I said out loud to myself — here on a hotel laundry wall. And — preposterously — I tell You it is enough.
Photograph: 香港粉嶺麻笏圍 Ma Wat Wai, Fanling, Hong Kong (2016)
At first sight, it was all blue morning right to the top of the sky,
but then I glimpsed
at the edge of my field of vision like a towering cliff
a stiff, slow wall of fog.
I turned my back and shrugged,
being far too dry in my habits by now
after days and days of relentless Summer scorch
to be in any good humour for such vapour-caper.
After breakfast coffee
we took the dogs out in their energies for a walk in the cloud —
the sun was our only light at the end of the tunnel —
it was just rising over Pete’s back dam,
a bleak disk eclipsed by too many smoked-glass filters.
Along Quartz Chip Hill
it rained a rain too fine to feel, a nimbus rain
that maddeningly could never moisten one single growing thing.
We followed our loyal pilots with their curious, quivering tails
up a claw-pitted kangaroo track through emerald coffee bush —
spiderwebs everywhere made droplets into jewellery —
then let gravity pull us irresistibly down the slope
in the direction of Jung Road,
deserted, dead-ended, one-house street.
Without warning, the fog began to vanish into thin air,
taking with it something of my personal mental fog,
and there in its place, suspended wide in the West
was a technicolourless rainbow. We recognized at once
the distinctive broad arch —
perhaps one of triumph over powers that plague us of indistinctness —
but were shocked at its failure
precisely to achieve all the colours of the rainbow.
As far as promises go, it was decidedly a weak one
that left acres of room and to spare for doubt to move in
and yet the paradoxical novelty of its albino plainness
was, in a way, a kind of blessing in disguise, omen incognito, and a sign that this world —
no matter what we think we have to do with it —
will only ever be true
to its own wilder, wilderness-self.