Sunday, November 25, 2007
I grew up in New Hampshire at the base of a modest but inspiring mauve mountain. Mount Monadnock is known as the second-most-climbed-mountain in the world, second only to Mount Fuji. Melville referred to Moby Dick as a Monadnock Mound, Thoreau used to climb it, and, growing up, I looked at the mountain as my sometimes inspiration and sometimes barrier to the world. I was an outsider in New England. Even when I went back to New Hampshire as an adult, folks refused to believe that I grew up there. Yet the granite of my personality was quarried from strong, New England pragmatism and sense. If someone as dreamy as me had grown up anywhere else, I would never have found balance. But, back to the mountain, when we moved to the farmhouse in Old Jaffrey Center, Monadnock filled our windows and her wind rattled their panes. I remember laying on the big rock halfway down our hill and staring up at the stars at night. Mountains are in my blood.
I was Peace Corps Nepal 90-92. Sheila and Andrea's Nepali host family called me a pahardi, a hill person. I don’t know if they meant it as a compliment, there was definitely a tension between the Terrai, flat land bordering India, and the hills, but I found a label that fit. I lived first with Gurungs in a small village, Kapur Gau and worked an hours’ walk away in Baglung Pani (which translates to hidden tiger water). At about 6,000 meters, my village was just off the Annapurna Circuit trek and occasionally a tourist group would come through. I enjoyed my transformation from craving the tourist’s company to months later squatting on the stonewall with the kids commenting on the foreign trekkers’ strange clothing. My second year, I lived down in Pokhara, a charming lake town with incredible views of the Himalayas. My Dhera was just down the road from a Tibetan Refugee camp and I would sometimes talk to the girls there about their troubles as outsiders in Nepal. I also bought things from them. Tibetans are good traders.
One last story about Peace Corps, at least in this entry. When I was getting married, a friend who taught with me in Turkey commented, “Have you ever seen Carrie look so happy?” A friend from my Peace Corps days smiled and said, “oh, I have.” He was right. I don’t want to say that my days in Nepal are my “glory days” and I certainly am not trying to relive those times, but the experience fit. Sometimes when I am walking with Cheng down the paths to a village, I return to that same happiness. I like to go there.
I moved to Portland in 2001, another city with grand, if not distant, mountain views. In 2002, I had my daughter, Coranna, and realized that it was time to stop moving. Perhaps finally settling down after years of living like a nomad or living in the mountains again, brought the Himalayas into my dreams. I remember staring up at a sky with no edges (to borrow a word from my Leora friend, David) when I was high in the Annapurna Himals. That sky overtook my dreams and pressed me to the earth until I couldn’t breathe. It could have been anxiety from a bad marriage, and I’m sure that did play a part in my starting this novel, but it was bigger than that.
In December 2003, I had taken a seminar on China, and was thinking about Tibet again. Ever since studying Northern Ireland while in College, I’ve been fascinated with cultures in conflict. I sat down to write a simple short story with a Chinese main character set in Tibet to bring some of that natural conflict in play. Suddenly all these elements from my own life and interests—alienation, brother/sister conflict, identity, journey, magic--showed up in the story, driving it much further than the required ten pages. I stopped writing and spent a year studying China and Tibet, building my knowledge. I found a way for a nomad to travel while standing still. In 2005, I took up the novel again and have been working on it since. Last year I joined a fabulous writing group, Leora, and my intent to craft something worth publishing began in earnest. Up to that, I was just traveling.