Monday, May 4, 2015

Sibskyang Lu and the Ibex

Sibskyang Lu towers above the village to the east.  This morning a group of twenty Ibex clings to the cliffside, and another group of ten are silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky glowing with the light of a rising sun.  The "skyin" of the large group make their way down, moving together like a stream.  We watch, all the men standing around a pile of manure holding shovels, waiting until the ladies return with empty baskets on their backs.  The animals are large and powerful and dark brown, with long, elegantly curved and ridged horns that sweep back from their heads.  Their movements on the steep rocks are smooth and dramatic, plunging headlong and then quickly drawing up to observe the valley or the rest of the herd.

I'm collecting trash this morning.  We're getting towards the end of plowing, and the terraced fields all over the village are turning from a parched sandy tan to rich brown with water, manure, and the plow.  People know plastic is tsok po, which means "bad" or "dirty" or both, but still batteries and plastic wrappings show up in all the streams that tumble through town, all the soil of the fields.  Not much, but some.  There's a garbage dump just up and outside of the village under Sibskyang Lu, so with a basket full and a disintegrating plastic burlap sack also full of rescued styrofoam and bottles from the stream, I walk up the ridge after spreading anutre on the fields we will plow today.  The morning light of the now risen sun fills the air, the sky an utterly cloudless blue which shines white around the sun.  I dump the load off a small cliff and note that a 100-year flood could wash all this great pile over the cliff and down into the stunning canyon that is the only entrance to the village other than days' walking over the passes.  The pile of graying labels and broken plastic jugs sits beside wide carved channels of gravel where water occasionally flows from the basins of snowy peaks.

I look up to see the Ibex family of earlier moving fast and close.  Open terrain lies between us, so I stay standing still and watch.  They descend to a notch in the valley and disappear.  It is the blessed free time of day when villagers milk their cows, between pre-breakfast (wake-up tea, manure spreading, second tea) and the ensuing day of work and tea and feasting that goes until hours after dusk.  So I am free to follow.  As I walk across the sandy slide with quiet steps, I assume they are going up the valley, staying low, but I am not thinking like an ibex.  Suddenly I realize that six of them are in view, not visibly scared of me, walking their muscular bodies up the other side.  Some smaller tan ones are leading, and they head up the valley to forage, I imagine.  They stick to the cliffs of Sibskyang Lu at night, I am told, because the wolf and snow leopard don't go there.  I sit to watch, and am distracted by the ringing, piercing call of a grouse (shak pa), calling from the rock top of a ridge very close, then leaping into space and gliding across the deep gravel wash.

A minute later, when I look back up to the ibex, they have just leaped into motion, six of them bounding down the slope.  Then in a moment they stop still, listening in a cloud of dust so fine it looks like a white mist.  A few others below are grazing.  Two large brown adults walk calmly above them.  A desire arises in me to walk into these valleys and be silent for days, carrying roasted barley flour and just enough to sustain a body.  Those days will come, but not until the steady hard spring work of plowing is finished.