A Little Trip to Big Sky Country

Congratulations to the newly weds Aislinn and Roy Brown!

I was in Big Sky country, aka Montana a few weeks ago to celebrate one of my best friend’s wedding. Aislinn is from Alaska, I’m not exactly sure where, but she talked a lot about Juneau so for the sake of this article, we’re just gonna say she’s from Alaska. We went to Gonzaga together and then L’institute Catholique in Paris where we both studied French for 9 months.

The Adventure Crew in France

The whole group of Gonzaga students in Paris got pretty close and went through a lot of very interesting adventures as we traveled through Europe together (there were 13 of us). This included some trips through the rest of Europe, both organized by the school and by ourselves so we got some good chances to travel and see the world. We also became friends with a lot of foreigners, mostly British folk because of the lack of language barrier.

College ended after another year back in good ol’ Spokane, Washington and Aislinn went to law school after. But she visited me in Boston with Nathalie and Molly and Brian and I got a chance to visit her and meet Roy in DC during her second year. Molly and Brian were part of the Gonzaga in Paris group and Natalie stayed at the same foyer as Aislinn and Molly. I think Natalie was doing an internship at the time, but I kinda forget.

Into the Treasure State

A bunch of us from the Paris group headed up to the wedding in Montana, including Anna and Kelly/Kelly’s fiancé Greg. Molly and Nathalie met me at the Missoula airport and we all hitched a ride with Kelly down over to Helena, where we had an AirBnb.

This is one of the few weddings I’ve ever been to (I think maybe 5 so far?) and I was pretty stoked to spend some quality time with my best friends from college. Before I knew it, the wedding ceremony was over and we were on a bus out into the middle of nowhere for the reception, where I got my hair cut (I’d been growing it for 5 years) and spilled wine on my shirt within 5 minutes of getting my first glass (I hadn’t even taken a sip yet!).

The wedding reception was super fun, but I get tired really early nowadays so I was basically passed out at midnight and on the bus back to the AirBnb. Fell asleep around 2, on the floor (I like to sleep on the floor for my back).

I haven’t been able to travel like this in quite a while, so I’m very grateful to be able to see a new places and fly on a couple of planes. There’s nothing quite like spending time staring out at the clouds and the land from an airplane, or seeing a new landscape that you’ve never seen before from a car. Montana was beautiful and the name ‘Big Sky” is definitely appropriate for the area that we stayed in about an hour north of Yellowstone.

Nothing to do for a Little Time

I got a little break from having to do anything. It was much needed for my yoga instruction, probably even healthier for my yoga practice and then probably was most essential for my landscaping work. Not having to dig any holes for a week was really nice. I got to recharge my batteries and get ready for more work! And everyone needs a little break from reality sometimes 🙂

I got a chance to see some wildlife during the trip, including some red-tailed hawks, a golden eagle, and some deer (so far) like 3 bison and a moose and her daughter. The flowing River outside of the Rainbow Ranch in Big Sky was breathtaking and getting a great view of it from the room is definitely a first! No bears or anything ridiculous either, which was nice.

Good Food and Good Company

We did a decent amount of hiking and got to eat a lot of midwestern comfort food, on Monday the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill and a pretty fancy last night at Horn and Cantle. Wednesday I spent the day flying back into town. Got to hang out with Nathalie until I left and got back around 9 o’clock. I think we left the hotel at 8:30am.

So it’s definitely not easy to travel to Montana, its quite a good distance away, but the nature and less populated spaces made it really easygoing and picturesque.

The Wanderer, Part 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-first part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 30

Tas almost never dreamt anymore. Occasionally he would have a dream in the early morning, but they were nothing supernatural. His arm occasionally, but the wyrm remained dormant and he hadn’t experienced any fading into shadow or dreamwalking. He was beginning to grow much tougher in the winter cold, always pushing against the wind and the falling snow. He was strong now, and Tas knew that Ice made him much stronger. The wolf was like his eyes in the snow, they worked in unison now.

Yao was finally tiring from the hard work on moving through the snow each day. Tas could tell that he was busy planning their next move. Though he had no idea what it was.

On the way out of the door, Tas wacked Yao in the head with the end of his stick, causing a big yelp from the old man and a reflexive grab of Tas’ collar. Yao pulled him in tight and laughed, though Tas could see that the old man was weary. “You’re tired, Yao. I’ve never seen you so physically deflated.”

“Yes, I am tired. The time has almost come for us to leave these mountains and to move on. You have gotten strong in the past months and your hunting is now better than mine.” Yao glared at Ice. “The wolf makes you inhumanely good at finding prey.”

Now Yao turned to Tas more seriously, as though he’d been waiting to ask something that was now finally coming up. “Have you dreamt lately? Has the wyrm wriggled free in your dreams?”

“No, Yao, nothing. I haven’t dreamt in months!” It was weird, now that Yao mentioned it, he couldn’t remember the last dream he had. “And the wyrm has been completely meaningless for me. I’m not sure if it is even still a part of me.”

“Oh, it most certainly is Tas. I am worried, the absence of action is the same as drastic action in cases of shadow magic. You may be sitting on a time bomb… with a demonic nightmare just waiting around for one night when you slip too deeply into your sleep. It’s just like Melkar to wait as long as he needs to in order to surprise me.”

“Then we will just have to be ready for him.” Tas said eagerly, scratching Ice behind his ear while he said it.

“Yes, Tas, we will. You have gotten stronger, but it may be time to return to the monastery. Fei could help you to learn how to use the dreamwalking now, instead of simply avoiding it.” Yao’s eyes sparkled with possibility. But Tas was enjoying his time in the snow and he loved the thrill of the hunt. He would have to pack lots of jerky with him to go; he didn’t think he could return to the old ways of only small amounts of rice each day. His body had grown quite a bit and he was no longer a child. He was now a young man, as Yaina liked to remind him.

They set out into the day with the scolding morning winds, ripping through Tas’ furs as if they were napkins. Yao’s face immediately sank to the snow and they trudged off together, separate from the main pack of hunters, but moving in the same direction. Ice led, as always; Tas bridged the wolf and Yao and made sure that everyone was in the proper position in case of a stampede or of a herd moving though the area. Tas trudged slowly using his spear Ice began to take off in search for a scent while Tas and Yao looked for tracks. Ice always found something first these days.

This was the coldest day Tas had experienced. They all had to keep moving to stay warm; even Ice was grimacing against the wind. Yao lagged a little, but he looked the least affected by the conditions.

After a few more minutes, Ice picked up a trail and they moved through the icy desert until they stumbled onto a small cave. Ice stopped at the mouth of the small rock formation and sniffed before they arrived. He looked excited, but also very wary. As Tas approached the rocks, he could see that the opening was large enough for a bigger animal.

As Yao arrived last, unusual for the old man, but Tas knew that the cold was taking its toll on the old man. They would have to leave this place soon, as Yao had said.

Yao scoffed as he reached the mouth of the cave, and began to peer down expressionlessly. Tas couldn’t seem to make out what the old man was thinking, even though he knew Yao better than he knew himself at this point. Or at least close.

“There is something dark down there.” Yao said slowly.

“What do you mean?” Tas said slowly. His mind instantly rushed to Grethatch, Melkar and the nether-magic that they had encountered at the monastery. “Is it from the nether?”

“Yes.” Yao said instantly. “I can taste the shadow in the air.” It smelt like rot and dampness to Tas, but he didn’t know better. The only nether beings he had encountered were once human; except for the wyrm, which hadn’t so much as moved since his last nightmare.

As Tas thought about the wyrm, it began to squirm in his arm. He was terrified; it was obviously responding to whatever was down below.

Suddenly a sound echoed through the cave; a raspy and chilling breath that made Tas’ heart shudder. His eyes began to go dark, though they were still open and a loud ringing sound took over his hearing. He looked at Yao, who seemed to be yelling, but was making no sound. Another breath and now Tas was shaking uncontrollably. He could feel Yao’s hand on his face, but Tas had to focus completely on breathing, because he was grasping for air. Then Tas felt Ice lay next to him and with a sigh that broke through the shaking, passed out.

 

 

 

The Wanderer, Part 29

The Wanderer, Part 29

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-ninth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 28

 

Yao and Tas readied their gear for tomorrow, another day of hunting in the ice-cold mountains. They took turns to wash quickly, then dressed to eat with Yao’s cousins, the princes. He was even looking forward to the meal.

After washing from the day of hunting, Tas found himself missing Ice; he hadn’t ever felt this way. He just wanted to spend time with her, but knew that he would be busy tonight. But he was happy that he had a new friend. Yaina had taken well to the news that there would be someone new around to take care of and was already feeding Ice before Tas had a chance to think about it, much to the glee and confusion of the small pup. Ice would miss and accidentally scratch Yaina, but Yaina didn’t seem to mind. After a few cuts, she rolled her sleeves down and that kept the pup’s teeth from cutting her skin. She was even more keen to care for Ice when Yao had announced that she was an orphan now and needed a new mother. Tas said his goodbye to both Ice and Yaina, then adorned his furry cloak and followed Yao back into the icy wind.

The walk back to Yaina’s was a brutal ordeal and Tas was exhausted to say the least. But it was still early in the evening and they would feast with the cousins, Idril and Adal, and hopefully regain their energy. Yao had brought the unnamed male pup with them and they were all huddling close as they strode against the wind to the palace.

They arrived a quarter of an hour later at the huge structure, iced stone walls rising high into the night. There were three blacksmith forges surrounding the castle, running on wood from the immense forest behind the outcropping that housed the foundation. The mountain was still full of huge trees and Tas couldn’t help but wonder what kind of animals they might encounter in dark woods.

The group of three knocked on the iron door then Yao entered; he led the way into a dark antechamber and seemingly empty hall. The room was enormous, so big that Tas couldn’t see the ceiling in the darkness. But he could hear a dim sound in the back of the castle and Yao had continued in its direction. Tas scuttled to catch-up and found himself in another hall. Yao was just slipping through a doorway to his right and he followed the old man quickly, grabbing the door before he closed it and shutting it behind him.

The cousins didn’t notice Yao at first. They were both taken off guard and erupted into expressions of exasperation when they saw him sneaking a leg of elk from the table. They welcomed Tas and Yao to sit and feast with them, without question. Tas had never eaten venison before, but it was delicious and he enjoyed himself enormously while the cousins and Yao discussed the circumstances under which they had found Jaar; Adal named him immediately, but Yao kept Jaar in his jacket while he ate.

They all ate fairly quickly and the twin’s meal was taken away by their two maids while Yao was the last to finish. Tas took his time finishing the stew; it warmed his insides and seemed to finally get rid of the cold from their long day of trekking through the snow.

Finally Yao removed the small pup from his pocket so that it could eat some of the remains of the elk and both of the cousins hushed with astonishment.

“Yao, where did you find this glorious little arctic wolf?” Idril moved closer and started to pet it softly and tenderly, much to Tas’ surprise. “Of course, he will only be small for a couple of months. These are wolves.” He started to examine the  long teeth and their eyes were silver as ice.

Adal picked the Jaar up, a little less tenderly, but that didn’t seem to upset it. It licked Adal’s nose, then he lowered it slowly while giggling. “What an interesting little guy. He’s so small. He’ll be a hunter soon?”

“Yao, this is the perfect age, thank you for your gift. He will be fun to have on our hunts,” Adal stared at his husband. “It would seem that destiny had a hand in this. You bring a white wolf back with you from your first day of hunting? We owe the gods a great honor! Who could have predicted it?  We are honored to receive it Uncle!”

Yao smiled fully and embraced his cousin. But Tas was more interested in what Adal said about the gods; he wanted to know if he meant it. It seemed to Tas that everything was going very well, but as soon as Yao turned his back on his cousins, he expression turned dark and they left immediately, leaving the pup behind in the arms of Adal.

“We will return tomorrow night.” and Yao left without a backward glance. Tas shrugged at the stunned cousins as he left, then follow Yao.

They left through the same entrance and entered into the cold night without a backward glance. Yao trudged off into the darkness, forcing Tas to catch up; Tas was still confused.

“What’s the matter Yao? Why were you so quick to leave?”

“It hurts me to leave the poor wolf there; he will be cage and most of his life will be as a slave.” Yao looked back at Tas with tears in his eye. “I fear I have condemned that poor wolf to a life of enslavement.”

“Not all beings get to be free.” Tas said suddenly, surprising himself. He remembered his home and the small farms around it; many animals were locked up there. Many of his friends were slaves. He knew that what he said was right.

He returned back to the house, happy to greet Ice, who was still awake, but Yaina was startled as they entered. It was late now and Tas took Ice to his room, where they all slept in a warm feather mattress and comforter and kept each other warm in the cold.

 

Confucius – the Chinese Philosopher and Founder of Confucianism

Confucius_portrait

“Study the past if you would define the future” – Confucius

Confucius and Confucianism

Confucius or ‘Kong Qui’ is a celebrated Chinese philosopher that lived in 500 BCE. His thoughts, philosophies and teachings were further developed at the end of his life into the religion of Confucianism which received official sanction shortly after his death. Much of the work commonly attributed to him is considered by scholars to actually be groups of people compiling teachings that he influenced, but only many years after Confucius’ death (you’ll notice this parallels virtually every other older religion). This implies that all of the Confucius quotes you’ve read are probably big groups of people compiling oral traditions that have been passed down for some time rather than original sayings from the sage.

Some scholars consider Confucius to be Socrates equivalent in the East, but this seems relatively unfounded due to the vast array of influences of Eastern spirituality at the time of Confucius. It is sure that Confucius had a profound effect upon the way people though about the home, of ideal government, family, proper social interactions, ancestor worship and respect for elders, and even helped to propagate an early version of the golden rule, but Socrates was unique to the West. Nonetheless, Confucius had a profound impact upon Asia, especially China, and his philosophical influences are still evidenced around the world.

The Life of Confucius

Confucius had a very interesting and elaborate life story, especially map of lu - Confucius Home Statefor someone who was supposedly born on September 28, 551 BCE in the Lu province near Qufu (see the picture on the right). Confucius’ father was named Hong He and was an officer in the military until he died when Confucius was three. He was raised by his mother in poverty; she died before she turned forty. He was educated at a common school about the 6 arts of rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics. At 19 Confucius married and had a son one year later, and later two daughters, one of whom died during childhood. He was a member of the Shi class between the rich and the common and had a great deal of respect for tradition. Confucius’ mother died when he was 23 and he spent three years in morning, as tradition dictated.

Confucius had a successful political career for a time. This career ended in a political entanglement that forced him into exile. Confucius left with the political enemy and legitimate ruler of the state that was ousted by rebels. Confucius eventually left his ruling duke to travel and further expound his political beliefs in the courts in central and northeast China.

The old man returned home from his travels after many years of expounding his political beliefs but never seeing them taken seriously. After he returned, Confucius divulged his wisdom to disciples and would sometimes act as advisor for government officials occasionally advising on war and crime. He would eventually die at a reported age of 72. Confucius left behind a legacy that would be remembered throughout China and Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and would eventually spread to the west with the help of Jesuit priests.

Confucian Philosophy

The philosophy of Confucius is considered by many to be a religion. It is secular so I agree, but it is also a very powerful philosophy. Confucianism has its roots in ancient Chinese tradition and emphasizes the family. During his life, the sage discussed spirituality, the nature of god, and the afterlife. He emphasizes a mean between giving too much and too little when being generous, a reciprocity of actions where one acts as they would be acted upon, and traditional family values.

Confucius also believed in a strong sense of self, where one would cultivate ethics, morals, virtues, and most importantly knowledge. He believed in ruling by example with truth and honesty; if people were led this way, he argued, they would naturally incline themselves towards their superiors. In essence, Confucius’ philosophy was idealistic in a way that was similar to Plato, defining heavenly forms and bodies and using things like astrology to help guide his decisions.

Confucius’ most revolutionary philosophy is his lack of belief in the concept of Democracy because he didn’t believe in the ability of the masses of humanity to govern itself. He believed that people were not created equal therefore did not all have the right to govern themselves. Not everyone had a right of self-government.

The Legacy of Confucius

What did the ancient Chinese sage leave behind? Confucius was mourned shortly after his death in the town of Qufu and it became a place of pilgrimage. His birthday became a day of celebration of several hundred years until more recently China Confucius_Monumentdecided it represented its feudal state and banned the ceremony. In the 1990’s it re-allowed the ceremony and celebration. It is now considered to be a veneration of ancient Chinese tradition and culture.

Confucius’ descendants are repeatedly identified and honored by imperial governments. They lived a long and prosperous line that has been verified across several families today with a common Y chromosome. In China there remains a huge interest in the Confucian family tree. He is also often referenced in temples with Lao Tzu and Buddha.

References:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Bio
  3. Quotes Attributed to Confucius
  4. Stanford

The Wanderer, Part 25

mountain

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-fourth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 24

The Wanderer Continued…

They walked all morning while the sun rose over the horizon and then proceeded to cross the sky changing from a deep red to an outstanding whitish yellow that Tas couldn’t stare at. The snow around them reflected the bright light, but it was still freezing on the hilly paths. Most paths that they had taken were completely frozen over, and occasionally they would see a hut built into the side of the mountain as they climbed.

Yao whispered behind him, “these are Bahar’s nobility.” As they passed several built together, then they could see a  bigger group of what must have been 7 enormous huts built into the mountain. They turned a corner to the right, on their path around the mountain and Tas saw a huge castle-like structure and surrounding townhouses looming in the shadows of the giant mountain that rose above it. There were many spires, but of them only two were high enough to travel at least quarter of the way up the huge mountain to stand against its imposing majesty; they were attached to a gargantuan cathedral build into the side of the granite cliff-face with stained glass windows to play with the light of the sun. Tas could tell it was the kings’ castle, but also enjoyed seeing the capital town as a whole.

The buildings in the city were only a couple of stories, except for the three that were much larger than the rest, but most of the others looked like they were different parts of the same building. The castle, the tavern, and the stables were larger and far more detached than anything else and the castle imposed its huge spires over the rest of the village. As Tas and Yao walked through the small city they found a tavern and Yao moved inside while Tas chaffed at his heels. Yao immediately moved towards the back of the bar with his head lowered; Tas followed the old man into the shadowed corners at the far side of the bar.

As soon as Tas sat, Yao made a motion for him to stay seated, then got up to buy drinks, most likely the local ales. Yao would likely come back with enough beer for them to drink as much as they wanted and then would share only a small dinner. But instead of coming back with just beers, the barkeep came as well. The beers the keep carried were large though.

“So you’re Tas, Yao’s charge?” Tas nodded at the burly and muscular man with hair growing particularly long out of his shoulders and back.

“He is my teacher.” Tas said happily, smiling at Yao and not giving way to any of the ways that he felt betrayed to left behind; he didn’t have time for those feelings right now.

“I’m Sarjin, I own the bar here in Bahar. Nice to meet you, Tas, nice to meet you. I hear you are quite the student? You have traveled far with Yao, haven’t you?” He waited for Tas’ reply.

Tas initially nodded his head at everything Sarjin said, but when it became his turn to speak he could, or wouldn’t; either way, he was silent. Yao scoffed.

“He travels where and when he wants with me Sarjin. How do the details concern you my friend?”

Sarjin shrugged. “They don’t.” The way he spoke made Tas hair stand up, as if Sarjin wanted it to mean more than what he said. “I was just hoping to make a friend.”

“Well my name is Tas.” He was sick of Yao talking for him; it was time he made some friends of his own. “and I’ll be your friend.” Tas stuck out his hand to grasp Sarjin’s. The hairy man laughed, then gripped Tas’ hand hard enough to completely stop blood flow.

“Good to meet you boy. I’ll be your friend, but probably the only in all of Bahar.” Sarjin let out a chuckle as he let Tas’ hand go.

“No.” Tas said simply. “Yaina is my friend too.” She is my favorite friend.” Tas looked down at his hand “She doesn’t hurt me when we talk.”

Sarjin looked at Tas with a peculiar glance, one that Tas couldn’t explain or understand. Yao took over the conversation.

“I am going to meet my cousins right now.” Yao took a step closer to avoid being heard by anyone other than Tas. “Is there anything I know should? Any recent…events?”

Sarjin took a moment from pouring another man’s beer and took his money into the register. Then he leaned back over to Yao’s ear, “Its been oddly silent up there, old man. I’m not sure what is happening, but I’m sure its unusual.” He nodded at Yao, then said loudly, “thanks for stopping by old friend” and went back to serving. Yao left looking pleased, but also a bit confused.

They continued for a time to a large steel gate that led to the top of one of the tallest spires. Tas looked straight up along the heights of the pole to see it rise into the sky. Three guards waited at the gate and asked Yao what his business was. But all Yao had to do was say his name and they let him pass. Tas walked in behind him, boots clanging on the hard stone floor.

They walked through a dark corridior for a while, the only light came through the small slits on the side of the walkway. Then they came to a flight of stairs. It was unending. Yao set off first, looking like he was avoiding thinking of the innumerable steps before them altogether. Tas followed, but more curious as to how many there would be rather than dreading the walk.

They arrived at the top after about 30 minutes of climbing, each was panting, though both were weathered by their long days hiking through the mountains. Another decorated guard waited for them at the top, then took them through a corridor and into a waiting room. They walked over a velvet purple carpet that looked pristine in the candlelight. There was minimal sunlight because of the massive stone walls.

After another few minutes, a guard entered through the door at the other side and took them into the courtroom, bigger and more extravagant than anything Tas had ever seen. Two men, both iron clad and in full raiment greeted them, obviously the kings. Yao bowed to his knees and Tas followed suit.

Each had a fur cape, one was dark blue and the other dark red, but each had an unmistakable silver crown adorning their shortly cropped heads. They also had sleek steel armor connected by fur coated leather joints.

“Oh get up you old goat. What a pleasure it is to see you uncle!” The one in red embraced Yao while the second waited his turn.

“You’ve gotten older since we last say each other.”

Yao frowned, “you have obviously gotten stupider! Iril you should know by now never to insult those wiser than you.” His eyes twinkled with mischief as he spoke.

“Yes, Iril, I’m afraid I have to agree with Yao, you have gotten rather idiotic lately. He has a new girlfriend.”

“And you don’t Adal?” Iril smirked and waved his brother off.

Tas didn’t know what to think of these two men. Yao hadn’t told him anything about them besides that they were his cousins.

“Come you two, join us for dinner.” Adal said and led them down the stairs at the end of the hall, his heavy armor clunked down the stairs.

Tas looked at his master, who smiled, shrugged, then followed his two cousins down a much shorter staircase to the dining room.

The Wanderer, Part 24

Baharian villages

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-fourth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 23

Tas found himself in a dark cellar, with dusty casks, kegs, and wine bottles stacked up the dark stone walls that encircled him. His vision was flawless in the darkness, he could see himself well and there was just a tiny bit of light pushing through the crack in the bottom of the door. A flickering candle on the other side, most likely. He quietly undid the bolt on the door and moved through it to the dimly lit corridor on the other side.

He grabbed the candle on the wall to light the hall after he softly closed the door, then walked slowly through the corridor; he was sure by now that he wasn’t awake. His skin was translucent and he had no general idea of where he was. And Yao would certainly not have access to where he was because Paj was back at the monastery. He was alone, back in the dream world.

Tas decided to sit for a long moment and meditate. He had never meditated inside of a waking dream before, so he decided this was as good of a time as any to try. He sat with his legs crossed and began to listen with his eyes closed, trying not to be distracted from his natural breathing.

At first, he felt a sense of being light; almost like he weighed half as much as usual. It was easier to maintain a fully erect posture and he found that the meditation came easily. But slowly, everything became much heavier, to the point where it seemed to bring him down with it. Each breath was a labor, intensely freeing but like he had been chained down. His concentration was so intense, but he was losing focus. It was like he was limited in some way, but he didn’t know how. His breath grew shorter and he began to panic, he couldn’t breath now! What could he do? The world around him began to go dark. His dream world was literally falling apart, melting into the dark ground beneath it until Tas woke up screaming into the dark night.

He was gasping for air, sweating when he realized his dream and lay back down to settle into his mattress. He was in a cold sweat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. The air was absolutely freezing, though the fire by his head kept him warm. He was still panicked, he had no idea that this would happen as a result of meditating in the dream. He needed to talk to Yao about this.

He got up to look outside through the small window by the door and found that it was still completely dark. The sun hadn’t yet peaked over the horizon to commence the day’s light.

Yao was scuttling around the small room, preparing hot water as he moved seamlessly over the rugged wool floor.

“I had another dream last night.”

“Good.” Yao said nonchalantly. “Was it exciting?”

“Not particularly.” Tas rubbed his head again; he was still sweating. “I meditated in it.”

Yao turned his head with a surprised expression that quickly faded. “You meditated during the dream? Why did you think to do that?”

“I dunno.” The sweat finally stopped pouring from his forehead. “But it worked.”

“How?”

“The world began to melt around me. It was like I hit the eject button on the dream and it was forcing me back out into the world.”

“Interesting.” Yao said in a very peculiar tone. “It seems that you are getting better and better at traversing between the dream world and this one Tas. Be careful, you don’t want to get stuck somewhere that you don’t belong.”

“Well, I guess I will just have to keep moving then.” Tas grinned at Yao’s dis-satisfied frown in response. “What are we doing here anyways? You’ve never said anything besides getting to safety.”

“We are going to train and hunt here in Bahar for the remainder of winter. Which is 5 more months of the bitterest cold you’ve ever felt.” Yao raised his eyebrows and smirked when Tas’ put on a melancholy expression and let out an exasperated sigh.

“We are also going to meet the kings this morning. My cousins, both of them, though they are simply brothers. Kings are not allowed to marry in Bahar. You will find that they are very different from myself.” Yao smiled briefly, though Tas couldn’t tell why. “Afterwards, you will hopefully be assigned a hunting party with the younger hunters your own age. They will teach you what you need to learn to survive in the high mountains. Or they won’t and you’ll die.” Tas sniggered. He wasn’t going to die from some cold, not after everything he had been through. Yao’s slight grin was telling of his own sarcasm.

After they finished their tea and Yaina came to make them breakfast and help Tas to find some clothes to wear. Tas tried to insist that he would be fine with similar garments to Yao, but Yaina would hear nothing of it. She wanted him prepared for the cold.

“The is your first time in the snow,” she said with her gentle and soft voice. “You’ll need some time to adjust before you’re like him.” She scoffed as she looked over at Yao, but the old man wasn’t paying attention. He was deep in thought, looking out the window at the white cold world outside. “Plus,” she said softly into Tas’ ear, “you need to look your best for the kings! First looks are never forgotten.” She gave Tas a firm nod.

Tas heaved on the furs and other jackets, gloves, boots, and a couple of old metal pauldrons that glinted in the sun and were surrounded by what must have been wolf fur. He strapped on the leather under armor, then began to strap his boots while Yaina helped with his pauldrons and boots. Tas stood up only to be immediately reseated by his own weight. Yao laughed loudly.

“Well boy, you’ll get stronger in no time! But right now, we have to go see my cousins and we can’t be late, so get on out of the door and leave my niece to her own work for the afternoon.” Tas hustled out of the room and into the cold mountain air. It was freezing outside.

He turned and saw Yao talking softly to Yaina before joining Tas in the snow. As Yao left he smiled at Tas, “get a move on, if we’re late to see my cousins they won’t hesitate to behead us.” Yao didn’t give the faintest hint of whether he was joking or not, so Tas just put his head down and followed the old man as fast as he could. They trudged off leaving a path of broken snow behind them and getting a light dusting from the sky. Enough for Tas to feel like he was in the fairytales he had always heard from his mother as a child.

Modena & Verona, Italy | Zurich, Switzerland | Paris, France

mountains_w_path

The past few days have been a blur of beauty, incredible meals, unforgettable architecture, and time to share with my sisters and mom. I think I will look back on these last few weeks fondly for a long time in the future; so much has happened in such a short time.

Two days ago, we arrived in Modena, Italy with the specific purpose of eating lunch at Osteria Francescana, recently named the second best restaurant in the world with 3 Michelin stars. I will write a whole blog about it later, when I have my blog’s storage situation figured out, but it was a 12 course meal paired with wines and quite literally the coolest and most luxurious experience of my life; quite a contrast to Dhaka, Bangladesh. We moved on to Verona for the night, had a great pizza, then left for an eight-hour drive to Zurich today where we ate yet another pizza. Zurich speaks German, but is an interesting mix of Italian, German, and a smidgen of French, though my French has been all but useless here. I am really looking forward to speaking my second language tomorrow when I meet up again with my best friend from Paris. He’s probably the biggest reason I was a French minor to begin with, then later decided to go all out with the major and switch from International business, so I could spend a year in Paris.

Suffice to say that I am very tired of traveling at this point, but also very happy to see some great friends over the next few weeks. It’s ironic how traveling comes in waves and you simply have to go with the flow, disregarding how you feel oftentimes.

I am excited to feel the French side of my personality return to the foreground of my mind; over the past couple of weeks adjusting to my family has done the same for some deep seeded aspects of my personality. The oldest sister is particularly responsible, but in the best way; she reminds me that I only have to be human and that there’s only so much I can do. Sometimes I can be too ambitious.

Verona and Modena beckon return journeys; Italy is a city far removed from certain technologies and has a culture of presence and amiability. I would love to spend a month there at some point in the far future. Zurich does as well, but perhaps in a trip all to its own; if this journey has taught me anything, it has been finding the gentle balance between movement and stillness, activity and resting. I should simply do what my nature beckons me to.

Fatigue is setting in at the apartment in Zurich, but the city is beautiful. Even the gas stations in Switzerland are health oriented, we stopped today and got an amazing green salad, fruit salad, and sandwich before our salmon pizza dinner. I can truly say that I am getting used to the amenities and absolute luxuries of the western world once again, though there is a newfound appreciation that is unexplainable.

My New song is being uploaded now, head over to alienmusique.wordpress.com to have a listen. A new Wanderer post is also on the way, which I have not forgotten about, but am spending a lot of time on the next major section of the “to-be” book. Thanks for reading 🙂

The Wanderer, Part 22

"White Mountain CA" by JonathanLamb (talk · contribs) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Mountain_CA.JPG#/media/File:White_Mountain_CA.JPG

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-second part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 21

Tas woke up with a jolt. Chills coursed through his body; the alpine air was fresh and crisp and their fire had died down to embers. Yao was snoring loudly and his wispy white beard floated with the wind and his loud snores. Tas’ eyes were hazy and his mind was blurred with fatigue from the day before, but the chill seemed to take only moments to wake him.

They were out of water, but during the past days Yao had taught Tas to build sturdy fires in the cold, to melt snow, and even a bit of rudimentary hunting, though he hadn’t shown Tas any of his expert trapping yet. The old man had caught three hares in a single snare two days ago, but he insisted that Tas wasn’t near ready yet and that he would simply hurt himself if he tried. Tas couldn’t argue; he had never seen snow before the days they had trekked up into the thin mountain air and he was still adjusting. He had never hunted. It was cold, harsh, and darker here, though the sun seemed to shine brighter during the day.

There was a dusty layer of snow on the ground so Tas took to cleaning out their temporary fire pit in the ground then went to collect more dead branches from the bottom of trees. He took his time to build the fire in a square with plenty of space in the middle for dried pine cones, pine needles, small sticks and some other kindling he could find. Using the flint that Yao had given him, he sparked the fire after only 10 minutes of trying; Yao could do it in just a couple, but it had taken Tas nearly an hour the night before.

The fire began to build and Tas took the small copper pot Yao had brought and began to fill his water skin first. When he was done, he woke Yao, knowing that it was time; the sun was rising in the sky and they needed to keep up their pace. Who knew how long they had until Grethatch or Melkar would find them.

Tas woke Yao by prodding him with a stick in the arm; the old man shuttered awake and for a moment his eyes were wild in defense and he looked ready to spring upon an assailant. Tas had learned to stay away from the old man when he woke him from snoring. He laughed as the old man gained his bearings, then moved closer to the fire, a grin of pure satisfaction crossing his lips.

“Good work boy! Maybe your cause isn’t lost after all,” he winked, and took the pot from Tas, filling his own skin, then drinking from it. He had another small vessel full of small leaves that he added to the water, then invited Tas to share in it.

“You think Grethatch will find us?” Tas said wearily. It was undeniable that his body was tired from the long days of trekking to higher and higher altitudes. His breath grew shorter faster and he found his muscles beginning to fail him at times.

“Yes.” Yao said sternly. “He has methods of doing so that I don’t understand, but they are powerful. You saw Melkar’s attack on the monastery; it was planned to perfection. Except for his overestimation of his own strength. It is probably his greatest weakness.” Another wide, this time sinister grin returned to Yao’s bearded and wrinkled face. “The only exception might be his underestimation of me. And by extension, you.”

Tas sat and thought for a moment while drinking the warm tea, feeling his entire body elevate with the hot liquid coursing into his body. It was ecstatic.

“We have two more days until we reach the village where I was born Tas. So now, you need to learn my story. Why I am who I am.”

“I know you were born a hunter Yao, then banished, but I don’t understand why. What happened?” Tas had been waiting for this since he had met the old man. Had it been months, years? He realized he had no idea.

“I wasn’t banished boy, I was exiled. The difference was my choice to leave. There was a corruption in my village that would have strangled me if I had stayed. I did what I had to.”

“What do you mean?” Tas was confused. This was not what he had understood from the little conversation they had shared on the subject earlier.

“My people are bloodthirsty Tas. The same rage and thirst runs through my veins, but I have tempered it, mostly with Fei’s help.”

“He disappeared!” Tas exclaimed. “Do you think Grethatch or Melkar capture or killed him?”

Yao laughed wholeheartedly in response, giving Tas instant relief.

“Fei may look harmless, but he’s as slimy as a snake and quiet as a mouse when he needs to be.” Yao’s expression grew more serious, “Never under-estimate the power of a monk, they dedicate their lives to learning themselves and by extension, their world. You saw Paj’s power. Fei’s is even more potent, which is why he commands the respect of the entire monastery.”

“It’s hard to think of him as so powerful; he’s so kind.”

“Fei is rare indeed; power nearly always corrupts those who grasp it. Honestly, he is one of my few friends in this world, Tas.”

“All of mine have been left behind.” Tas said, lowering his eyes and thinking back to his village. Tears suddenly welled in his eyes as his thought of his mother and father; where were they now?

“We leave behind everything in the course of our lives Tas. But looking back is important.” Yao said with a weak smile. “The past will always be behind you and that’s where it belongs.”

Tas didn’t really understand what Yao meant, but it comforted him all the same. He thought again to where they were going, taking Yao’s advice.

“So we are going to the village where you were born? Do you think we will be safe there?”

“I do not know.” Yao said seriously, his expression grew darker. He refilled the copper pot with snow and placed it near the fire, that was beginning to turn to embers. But it was still hot.

“My people are warriors, Tas. They do not know sympathy; they deal in death, honor, and strength. We will have one chance to find safe haven amongst them. I can only hope that chance will be on our side.”

“Chance? What does chance have to do with strength and honor?” Tas said curiously.

Yao laughed again, his normal hearty chuckle that Tas had grown terribly fond of. “Everything Tas. And do not be deceived by the tenets of honor; men are deceptive and sometimes evil beings. We are easily corrupted Tas. My biggest fear is that Melkar, or perhaps his allies hold have over my people.”

“You think he might have already been and corrupted your people? What drives that demon anyways? What does he even want with us?”

“He wants me dead. That is sure. As for my people, they are not easily corrupted; but I have thought the same of friends that have fallen to the shadows. So truthfully, I do not know.”

“And Melkar?”

“Melkar is a being of hate and greed. He likely wants your apprenticeship to wound me. That is why I believe he let you live while only corrupting you.” Yao grinned again, darkly. “A big mistake on his part.”

Tas thought back to the nightmare where he had been corrupted by the wyrm. Yao had to be right; Tas should have died that night.

Yao began to pack up their blankets and packs and they put out the fire. Tas felt rested and a bit worried, but happier to know where they were going and why. He couldn’t help but think that Yao was so different from his expectations. Gritting his teeth, Tas hauled his pack, took a long swig of cold mountain water, then followed his master up the slope into the chilled air of the alpine.

 

Diamonds in the Rough

"Rough diamond" by Unknown USGS employee - Original source: USGS "Minerals in Your World" website. Direct image link: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rough_diamond.jpg#/media/File:Rough_diamond.jpg

“A diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material; it can be contaminated by very few types of impurities. Most natural diamonds are formed at high temperature and pressure. A material with superlative physical qualities, most of it original from the strong bonds between its atoms.” -Wikipedia

Sometimes, people rise above their circumstances to greatness. They are forged, hardened by pressure and time to rise above their surroundings and to become more than anyone thought they could become. I’ve been lucky to witness this in several people from all over the world. People all over the world have the capacity to be greater than their circumstances would “normally” dictate.

There’s a popular saying going around now: “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.” I have come to believe that this is completely untrue and a complete idealization; all you have to do is look at the amount of corruption in much of our species to know that people often take the easy way out. Look at the US senate, can you really say they are doing the best they can with what they have?We are lazy beings, like all other mammals we want to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun and the food it grows. (in balanced quantities of course)

This isn’t to say that people will always take advantage of everything they can; instead, its acknowledging that there will always be both sides to the equation; those that take complete advantage and those that take none and in fact give willingly with no thought of receiving. I’ve witnessed a lot of both lately while I’ve been traveling.

Yesterday was a rough day for me; the traveling and budget have gotten to me and I’m exhausted (you can read yesterday’s article on my mental fatigue here. But the equation will always balance itself out. Today I met an absolute gem of a woman on my way to the Minh Mang tomb. Her name was Rei Nguyen.

Rei was a farmer and told us that she and her husband made around 5 million dong per month (about $250). She sent her kids to a school that cost about 2 million per month, in the city of Hoi.

My girlfriend and I rented a scooter for $4 and headed to the tomb this morning, pretty excited to see the most renowned tomb in what appears to be the cultural center of Vietnam. Largely affected by the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War), we were able to see a lot of the effects of the war in our travels, most particularly the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). There was a good amount of propaganda at the museum, especially geared towards the use of illegal chemicals such as agent orange, the US’s involvement in the war, and Vietnam’s victims. This is not to say there wasn’t massive effect from illegal chemical weapons used by the US, but there was no mention of Russia, or of the civil war in Vietnam. As usual, there was a scapegoat to take the blame and the US took full brunt force of it; it’s probably deserved. (again, I’m not saying I know the situation, but I’ve seen this before in WWI & WWII propaganda, Civil War propaganda, and pretty much every war in history is necessarily affected by propaganda where one country is blamed for the entirety of the war)

Rei’s english was incredibly good for anyone in Vietnam, let alone a farmer with an education that ended when she was 12. She works 10 hour days out in the fields with her husband and eats mostly rice and noodles, though she wasn’t malnourished as far as I could tell. She was extremely kind to us, showed us a shortcut to the tomb and then invited us to her small house by the river to talk and have some tea.

The tomb was incredibly peaceful; death has a way of making the life so powerful.  We walked around the tomb for a couple of hours in the scorching heat and humidity, then returned with her to her home.

Happy_in_Vietnam

I noticed she was lucky enough to have electricity and running water; he house was small, with wooden walls and a tin roof and she graciously offered us tea while we spoke about her life and how my life was very different from hers. She ultimately ended up asking for money for her children’s school, but it was far more of an afterthought than most of what I have experienced in Vietnam. Most will ask for money, then turn their back and mutter under their breath when you refuse their service. She offered us a kind smile and sharing of words and experiences that has been unique in my trip to Vietnam.

In this trip, I’ve met people poorer than you can imagine that still show kindness and refuse to take extra money no matter how hard you try. I’ve met people who I’ve gotten along with like I’ve known them my whole life.

One sterling example of this is one of my Muslim friends from Yemen; probably the one of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met. He owns about six AK47’s at his home and Yemen and left to pursue a more peaceful education in Mysore. Yemen is currently in Civil war and he has been directly affected by it with the death of some of his immediate family members, yet still he pursues kindness and happiness relentlessly. I was with him while it started and there was definitely a lot of swearing and frustration, but it didn’t change his outlook. He goes against any stereotype I could have held against someone of the Muslim religion.

The owner of the Chakra house, Rajesh was like this as well; one of the nicest and most relaxed people I have ever met. He and I will be friends just like the day I left if I ever return to Mysore (which is highly probable). It’s funny how you meet people who you feel like you’ve known your whole life when you travel.

People are individuals and that’s how they should be treated. One is not representative of the whole, because there is so much variation in our species. So at the same time that there are all of these awesome people I have met, there are also some abominable ones.

Let me give you some examples, from history. I don’t like to talk about negatives in reality because people can change and who am I to judge them. With that said, world leaders are different and I feel at full liberty to judge their decisions. There are some terrible people in our world: Kim Jong Il, definitely not doing the best with what he has especially after his most recent execution; neither did Stalin, or Hitler, or Mussolini. Even American leaders smell of stank corruption that can ruin the people: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Nixon, Ulysses S Grant, Kennedy. Even the greatness of America has such powerful potential for corruption because of the essence of its power.

The truth is, humans will look out for themselves before others and in our modern world we absolutely HAVE to expect this from everyone. Think about it this way; even if you are about self-sacrifice, you would give to your children first and foremost the greatest opportunity to succeed in the world. We look out for ourselves before others and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply the reality of humanity. This is why the US is struggling right now, our system of checks and balances has become completely unbalanced in the wake of our economic prosperity in the 80s and 90s and leaders continue to take advantage of the people they rule just as they have since the beginning of time.

Unfortunately, this can even apply to our immediate family. You see celebrities with major mental and stability problems, likely because they can’t even trust their support systems and families anymore (this is just my observation, feel free to comment on it). It’s really sad, but that’s how money can corrupt people. Greed, it seems, is simultaneously the great human strength and weakness.

But on the other side, there are people who will give without even caring about what they receive; they give kindness freely and love as often as they can, as long as their basic needs are met. Sometimes, they even defy those. Remember to think of it as an equation, because that’s what the world we live in requires.

Writing yesterday made me feel so much better, today the same. I really hope that these comments are misunderstood, I am trying to be very objective and am applying my experiences to the greater scope of the world we live in together. I walked around today with a big smile and decided that I would kill my fatigue with kindness and it has worked. I feel a hell of a lot better.

Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/padayoga

I always love to hear from readers.