Ecumen Blogger Jim Klobuchar — The Trail Less Traveled

No matter how old you are, there is always something to learn.  For Jim Klobuchar, travel fills a deep need to connect with the world at large, and this time he's headed back to the soul-stirring Himalayas — remembering another time and other lessons learned.

In a few days I’ll be walking a trail with friends beneath the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas and remembering the bronzed face of a little man named Ang Nima as he emerged from the thick forest of his homeland in Nepal.

He had led my trekking group down from the mountains and had disappeared briefly as we were neared the village where he lived with his family. It had been an altogether glorious day, full of sunlight on the on the glaciers thousands of feet above us, and the sight of the river running through the immensity of the Ghandaki gorge thousands of feet below us. But now we were only a short distance  from our final campsite. It had also been a tiring day for the eight in our group, three of them women experiencing   the Himalayas for the first time. It had also been rewarding one; but now Ang quietly reappeared out the forest holding three wild orchids in his hand.

Smiling, he motioned to the three women of our group, inviting them to join him in a clearing beside the trail. When they had assembled, Ang tenderly placed an orchid in  their hands. Because he spoke virtually no English, he smiled and nodded his head as though in an appreciation that seemed to be saying, “this is a gift from my house to you.”

The memory of moments like this have a tendency to nudge one back to this marvelous part of the earth that still can so often be the good earth — in some ways an earth still wild despite all of the electronic marvels of the  age, the speed of it, the violence of it and the bewilderment of it.

So why would one want to keep going back to it — and the fatigue that is part of the bargain — at an age when a respectable retirement is available?

I remember speaking to a small graduating class in a Minnesota town years ago. The principal had asked me to make available to the  assembled scholars whatever wisdom I could offer that could be condensed into a workable 15 or 20 minutes.  The scholars, the principal pointed out, not only were relatively bright but also likely to be restless.

I nodded as a voice of experience, having been a restless graduate myself a few eons ago.

The scholars turned out to be a remarkably amiable group and we bantered for a few minutes.

And then I acknowledged that any advice I might have to offer might not be as relevant as a truth I had discovered once I had begun to travel.

“If there is any gift that I could give to you,” I said, “it would be the gift of curiosity. Because out of curiosity comes discovery, of the earth, something of ourselves, a feeling that can erase most of the might-have-beens in our lives to a quiet celebration of what we have and who are, and something of what is good about the earth in which we live.

“What’s around the corner, or over the hill? Be inquisitive about your world. The actual marvel of it. Change today comes with the speed of light.  But you may eventually find that you can learn more about life by discovering the earth on which you live, more than watching sitcoms, competing pasta pitches  and four football games in six hours on television.”

No part of the earth stirs me as deeply as the Himalayas, with the power and immensity of it’s of mountains, the loveliness of it rhododendron forests and yet the awareness of the harsh life of its poor, who seem to draw no benefit from the millions spent by visitors who come to view marvels.

So I try hard to get acquainted. Here is an older lady coming down the trail carrying a basket on her back, a leather line strapped to her forehead. She is tired and sits on a large boulder and smiles as I pass.

So I don’t pass.

 I smile at her, sit on a boulder beside her and say “Namaste.”

The word is a common greeting in this part of the world. It is more than hello. It also has a spiritual quality, translatable in a dozen ways, but generally something on the order of “I praise the God who lives within you.”

Consider. The god within you. Within me.

It’s a joy to know there is such a word. It makes you feel better knowing there is such a word.

So now we know each other. I reach into my pack, take out a candy bar, break it in two and offer her a share.  She takes it and smiles as we munch. She offers her word of thanks, and I nod and smile. She says something that sounds like “goot.”

I nod and tell her it was a pleasure to meet her, and we’re friends.

So this time in this most marvelous part of the world, surrounded by a nature both wild and gorgeous, there is something to learn, again, each time I visit.

So this time there will be no mountains to climb. A time for renewal and a word of thanks? Yes, that.  But Ang’s wild orchids might have said it better.