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
zooms into land by what’s left of a smash-wrecked moth:
one large upper flight-panel dappled
with antique swirl.
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,
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.
● 《山友的路線名單》 / 羅榮輝著
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.