traveling east and west in the disguise of sandstorm (michael ondaatje)
After a busy summer of bike racing and lab benchwork, tomorrow - er, later today - I hop on a plane destined for Delhi, where I will rendezvous with a fellow adventurer who also has mountains on his mind. Then we'll launch on another plane to Leh, a small city located at roughly 11,000 feet in Ladakh. To say I'm excited at the prospect of being flung into the foreign again is akin to saying the Himalaya are high, an understatement bordering on the ludicrous. On that note, I'm headed to India because of ludicrous borders, namely the disputed L.O.C. separating Indian- from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The Siachen glacier is awkwardly sandwiched between the two nations, a vast rampart of ice and rock and military posts (the glacier is a high-altitude battlefield currently under ceasefire.) Science and environmental conservation could potentially play a pivotal role in resolving conflict in this contested wilderness, and I'm headed to Ladakh to speak about the potential of science as a force for peace on Siachen (my grad thesis research) at a workshop organized by the Himalayan Club.
Why wilderness? Why care a whit about Siachen, a useless wasteland of snow, ice and stone? Because among other compelling reasons (scientific, environmental), and from a purely aesthetic perspective, in wildness is the preservation of the world (Thoreau). And because:
We would become nothing without deep and pressing country, places we can never name or possess. Our insides would weaken if we did not have such things. Our minds would become bitter and self-absorbed. I had many times tried to invent a valid argument for the preservation of wilderness and could never find it within the bounds of my language. But I knew that without these places we were risking ourselves as a species. We need these anchors in the land... If we didn't have places like these, we'd die without ever knowing we were dead.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere
So before Geoff and I participate in the workshop, we're trekking into deep and pressing country ourselves, seeking anchors in the land. Because as Ed Abbey so wisely advised:
Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.
Amen, Ed. Off we go.