A book of travel and natural history, recounting a journey into the Himalayan massif in search of the snow leopard.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
The story of Matthiessen's trek in Nepal with the zoo-ologist George Schaller in search of the elusive snow leopard. Matthiessen brings to his narrative the sensibilities of the novelist, exploring the nature of faith and love. His journey is a spiritual odyssey and the leopard inevitably becomes a metaphor for revelation. But the joy of this book is his radiant descriptions of the physical world, of the stunning mountain landscapes of Inner Dolpo in northwest Nepal. Matthiessen wrestles with the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism and with his grief at the recent death of his wife, but it is the mountains themselves who are the centrepiece of his narrative, and this beautiful book, as Paul Theroux has said, is worthy of them. (Kirkus UK)
They started from Kathmandu, Nepal, in September 1973: Peter Matthiessen, writer/naturalist and Zen Buddhist, on a pilgrimage to the Lama of Shey, and George Schaller, field biologist, in search of bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, in rut. "In one day's walk we are a century away," crossing a landscape suffused with transparent silver light, and before long thoughts of sighting the rare snow leopard (bharal-he, or bharal killer) or the yeti (abominable snowman) are contemplated. Matthiessen has his tumpline fastened securely around this two-month, 250 mile trek with steadfast Sherpas, grumbling porters, and the occasional trail face. His numinous journal is a study in contrasts: Matthiessen himself, mood-sensitive and hungry for myth vs. Schaller the scientist, impatient and unassailable; these two eager sahibs vs. the restive carriers; Matthiessen the convert, fastidious in his Buddhism vs. Tutken the puzzling native, alleged thief and scoundrel, incomparable cook and companion. Matthiessen, who loves "the common miracles," gathers the reader into his Buddhist consciousness, alternating explanations of prayer wheels or passed symbols with ruminations of life back home: years of drug experimentation, a wife's death to cancer, a young son left with friends. GS tends to insulate himself, coolly squeezing along a flimsy rock ledge with no handholds and calling it "interesting." But he can also exult over his onanistic sheep ("Oh, there's a penis-lick! A beauty!") and, unobtrusively, write haiku on the trail. The preeminent field biologist gets his data and learns to anticipate leopard scat; Matthiessen finds his holy place, but contentment is more precarious. When the leopard ultimately eludes them, GS uncharacteristically turns philosophical: "That was the haiku writer speaking," Matthiessen suggests. But he too transforms the letdown into a religious bonus, and the resolution rings true. (Kirkus Reviews)