how we forget to remember

"This is a story of how we begin to remember" —Paul Simon, "Under African Skies"

I want to take someone to see sunrise from Guadalupe Peak. But I hesitate—it's not the greatest place in the world to go, though I sometimes make it out as that. Guadalupe Peak (in Guadalupe Mountains National Park) was the first signpost by which I had measured the progress of my life, so it is a great place to me. I don't think I realized then, but I undestand some of the significance now.

It was one year ago today that I hiked to the top of the peak. The day before, I asked the rangers in the visitor center for advice—what should I see in my one day at Guadalupe Mountains NP? Their suggestion was to hike to the top of the peak to see the sun rise over western Texas. This sounded audacious to me. You mean that I should walk a 4.2-mile trail 3000-ft up in the dark? Well, audacious plans for audacious people.

I woke up late the next morning, but not too late. I should be satisfied that I slept at all. The winds coming down to the campsite from the mountains were stiff enough to require that I cook inside the tent; my little stove wouldn't keep a flame outside, not to mention that I had no desire to be out there. During the night, I would routinely be surprised that the windward wall of the tent would be pressed down to where I was trying to sleep in the middle of the floor. That is, it was windy.

But that's not the point, really. The point was that I was going to hike to the top of a mountain in the dark. I put the contents of my tent in the car—just in case the wind intended to send my tent into New Mexico—and geared up for the trail. Gear for this trail meant a Pop Tart, Power Bar, granola bar, water, camera, flashlight, and a blanket. Now, here's where coincidence was on my side. First, there was a full moon that night; I only used the flashlight during a 50m stretch that wound through a grove of trees. Otherwise, the trail was clear and turned toward the brilliant moon. Second, I expected company on the trail, whether from the local wildlife or from another hiker. But there was no one or nothing. I'm selfish—I wanted the view to myself. I wanted to sit on the top of the mountain in my blanket and wait for the sun to slowly illuminate

I agree that not every action and experience is meant to teach a lesson, but there are lessons to be learned nonetheless.

Return to Ambala, Part I (draft)

[...first draft of part of the India story...]

Shaggy’s real name was Subeg, but that consisted of a few sounds that might emanate more easily from a Punjabi mouth than mine. Even his friends at home called him Shaggy. He was sixteen years old. And his dad just scared the rolling hell out of me on the bus from New Delhi. There's something about a guy with a knife and a turban shaking you awake that makes it easy to forget where you are.

That I even made it to that bus is an exercise in coincidence that I don’t understand. There I was, partway through my redemptive return to Ambala. I wasn’t scared of anything.

I had flown out of Calcutta that morning with no problems, though I expected plenty. I bought my tickets to New Delhi with help from Palash’s mom; she spoke the Bengali, I made the occasional head nod. To travel on January 12 there were two options. Air Sahara had an early morning flight with a condition—the ticket cost Rs. 4000 for Indian citizens, but Rs. 11000 for others. 11000 rupees is a little rich for me, equivalent to about US$250. Option two, Air Deccan, also had an early morning flight for Rs. 4000, but this flight was frequently cancelled because of the foggy weather conditions.

So these were my choices—the guaranteed flight that could kill my bank account or a flight that might not even happen. Those weren’t great odds, but I was confident—I was going to make this trip happen. I left Ambala as a wretch and I was going to return and be great. I bought the Indian citizen ticket on Air Sahara. When I arrived at the domestic terminal the next morning, two things could happen, either the people at the ticket counter would see that I had an Indian citizen ticket or they wouldn’t.

I received my ticket and went back to the security gate to say goodbye to Palash and to tell him that I was an honorary Indian citizen for the day. My confidence was rewarded and the first step to Ambala underway.

The taxi ride from the airport to the bus terminal was an unremarkable hour-long cross-town drive. The excitement of a taxi ride never starts until I emerge; at that time, the sight of a white guy with a backpack sets off a secret siren that calls the bus vendors to tout their services. It’s inevitable. It was easy to avoid some of them. With a move that would have made my old football coach proud I faked left then stepped right, causing the first one to charge left without me.

The second one was more cunning. “Over here, over here,” he exclaimed, pointing in a direction that was not the bus that I wanted to ride, so I gave him a naheeng and headed for the bus stand. It’s never appropriate to answer the calls of “Where are you going?” But this time, against all common sense, and without breaking stride or straight-ahead gaze, I replied dryly, “Ambala.”

“Oh, we have nonstop bus to Ambala. Come this way.” Per usual, “this way” was not in the direction of the buses that were in front of me. Something was different this time, there was an instinct that was called forward from the back of my mind. Something was pushing me to Ambala, and a subtle feeling compelled me to follow “this way.”

We walked briskly into the Inter-State Bus Terminal and then out the other side to his kiosk. Now I had a bad feeling. The bus terminal was my safety zone; everything outside of this was the jungle, the wild—crazy New Delhi and a rush that I couldn't understand.

Inside the kiosk, life is urgent. He must show me the bus, he must have me buy the ticket now for Rs. 280. Here's a funny principle. Rs. 280 is less than US$6 and Ambala is roughly 150km away. In the US, I probably couldn't walk 150km for $6. That, and when I rode the bus from New Delhi to Ambala on January 1 with Megha I paid only Rs. 100. So I told him no and left.

As I left he said, "The bus is ready to leave now." Before I even returned to my seat, I had my wallet out and a Rs. 500 bill ready to go.

I was going to Ambala. Now.

[...to be continued and edited...]

Return from India

This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time.

—Stephen King, Bag of Bones

I returned from India on Wednesday after a three week trip. It was the best trip I've ever taken; it was the worst trip I've ever taken. I'd love to explain it to you; I'd hate to explain it to you. But I'm back—armed with a set of good pictures, amusing experiences, and a new set of emotions that I don't understand yet. I'll be writing about it offline and will drop a few sections here until it all comes together. There's a decent short story in all of this if I can pull it together.