For thousands of years colorful Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags have beaten like birds’ wings in the lofty breezes of the high Himalayas, vivid expressions of hope that windblown blessings might flutter down over the myriad creatures and vast country below. The prayer flags in this photograph were given to me by a friend years ago, were unfurled yesterday, and now hang motionless in the still air just below the ceiling of my reading and writing room a scant 315 ft. above sea level in rural Pennsylvania. It’s a far cry from here to the Himalayas, but as I reverently open the covers of a virgin notebook to begin this travelogue, I too hope for blessings to drift down upon the open, undiscovered country of these empty pages. For an empty notebook is a magic mirror waiting to reflect the vast, unexplored lands of worlds both “external” and “internal” (if such designations seem meaningful to the reader) that the pages will one day document, containing in its emptiness every possible story. A filled notebook is absolutely irreplaceable.
“To lose a passport,” the great British writer-adventurer Bruce Chatwin once wrote, “was the least of one’s worries. To lose a notebook was a catastrophe.” Chatwin, who was partial to the same sort of small, black, pocketed notebooks I prefer to scribble and scratch around in, only ever lost two of them, and he got sexy, evocative stories about Brazilian secret police and ill-fated bus rides through Afghanistan to show for his losses. So far I have lost only one notebook. It was picked up by a poor, troubled woman in a tiny Pennsylvania river town who, in a fit of angst I will probably never understand, cast my notebook out into an alley behind her home because, she claimed, the notebook was causing her repeated anxiety attacks. A thorough search of the alley several days later turned up nothing but asphalt and weird vibes. C’est la vie, I guess.
And so, dear readers and pals; and so, kind (and hopefully somewhat relaxed) finder of this notebook, please let me assure you that this perfectly innocuous notebook was purchased by me in broad daylight in a perfectly non-hazardous little book shop in the almost wholly propitious little town of Woodstock, NY, just 10 miles or so from where an enormous gaggle of hippies once had themselves a big ol’ famous field day in a big ol’ famous field. I did not buy this notebook from a caiman-headed voodoo priestess in some bone-bedecked, back alley wall hole in the French Quarter of New Orleans; this notebook has never been to the tomb of Marie Laveau. Likewise, this notebook was not purchased on my sojourn last year in Transylvania and taken out for greasy pepperoni slices to the vampire-themed pizza joint at the foot of Bran (aka “Dracula’s”) Castle. In other words, this notebook more or less grew up in a nice middle class family and is neither inclined nor able to harm you in any way, unless boredom and confusion can be considered harmful. No, this fledgling notebook has taller fish to fry.
The fact is, this certifiably non-anxiety-inducing notebook (Oh finder, please take note!)is bound for the distant city of Kathmandu, Nepal, which my friend Jerry Lapp, owner of Lancaster PA-based adventure travel company Skychasers Trekking and Tours, refers to as a “living museum.” From Kathmandu the notebook will travel to the Mount Everest region of the Himalayas, coming to rest for a week or so at 7100 feet in a tiny village named, with endearing understatement, Hill. There myself and a team of fellow intrepid trekkers organized and led by Jerry and local guide (and two-time Everest summiting mountaineer) Ang Dendi Sherpa will do our best to embody the maxim that “many hands make light work.”
Those of you who allow at least one eye to wander occasionally through the world news headlines may remember that in the sweet departed springtime of this year, while we were smelling flowers and making love and tossing hamburgers onto barbecue grills, Nepal, one of the poorest countries in Asia, was dealt a titanic tectonic wallop by two blockbuster earthquakes in late April and early May. The quakes registered at shattering magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.3 respectively (according to USGS data), and some of the aftershocks were nearly as severe. More than 9,000 people were killed, more than 23,000 were injured, and entire villages were leveled in the world’s highest mountains, where rebuilding supplies are scarce and must be carried up the steep mountain trails on human backs.
In response to the need for rebuilding Nepal’s devastated homes and tourist infrastructure, Skychasers has organized a not-for-profit October relief trek, for which costs have been kept as low as possible to encourage the presence of more helping hands and trekking feet. A cruel irony of this disaster is that many people fear it would be inappropriate or callous to trek for recreation in the wake of catastrophe, the very time when tourist dollars brought in by Nepal’s vital trekking industry would prove most crucial. Our trip will include hands-on, hammers and nails reconstruction work in Hill Village followed by several weeks of high adventuring over the numinous ridges and passes of the Himalayas and will be (literally) capped- for a small team including your humbled and eager correspondent- with a summit attempt on a real deal, glacier capped Himalayan peak that scratches the beards of the gods at 20,000+ feet above sea level. Skychasers has asked me to act as chronicler of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and as those of you familiar with my kamikaze verbosity might have guessed, a team of wild Himalayan yaks couldn’t drag my pen-clenching fist away from the pages of this sanguine, serene, mood-stabilizing new notebook (Oh book finder, be brave, and you will probably make it home alive and in time for dinner!).
And so, friends, as we await the end of the Himalayan monsoon season to begin this Next Great Adventure, I extend to you a warm invitation to clamber aboard my latest travelogue, which will shove off with the usual clank and clatter of busted rudders and loose canons one month from today. Stay tuned, feel free and encouraged to share, and if by chance you stumble upon this (now just slightly less) new notebook, lost and alone like a disoriented child on the dark side of Disneyland, please try not to get all worked up about it. There are people in the world with much more earth-shattering problems.