Saturday, April 01, 2017

Crystal rain

I had a magical experience today. Talking to the director of the India China Institute about the Sacred Mountains course a few weeks ago, I'd said we were doing pretty well considering there were no mountains to hand. What about that mountain above Woodstock, he asked? It even has a Buddhist monastery on it! That's where we were today, though only four of my students made it (another dozen India China Center-related people happily joined). Driving up the steep hillside to the monastery - the bus driver wondered aloud if it was a road that had been build from the bottom or the top, a profound question - the cute hippy village gave way by woods, then snow, then a range of tree-covered mountains half-shrouded in mist. It's not a big mountain but our ears popped! As we arrived at the monastery (the center of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism in America) it started to sprinkle snow. As we alit from the bus, we noticed that we were exactly at the frost line. The tops of the trees growing around us, and all those up the mountainsides around us, were a gauzy white with hoarfrost.

We went into the monastery for a few hours of lunch, a tour and a talk on meditation, and when we emerged the frost line had risen a lot. We walked toward the summit for a bit (it was too far to go all the way) and I was depressed to observe that the hoarfrost had all melted. But then, as we ascended, strange things began to happen. In the bootprints in the sludgy snow of the path I started to notice tiny glassy ice cylinders - recently fallen from twigs and branches overhead. It sounded like a light rain was dripping on the snow around us. As we went further, it seemed a light big-dropped rain was falling, but it was all ice from the trees. Before we had to turn back we arrived at the magical place. When you stopped to listen, the woods sounded like we were in a rainstorm, even as the light around us showed a brightening afternoon of clearing clouds. A few high branches still glistened like crystal overhead but we'd caught up with the frost line charging up the mountain. I remembered a scene in "The Matrix" where reality crumbles into a rush of digits, but the woods were still there. It felt like something one might be blessed to witness once in a lifetime, but I suppose it happens daily.

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