02020-09-30 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

(the word given was Aphorisms and I had 25′ to write something… this is the result)

For three days I hiked up a mysterious cone-shaped mountain in an isolated area of a distant Chinese province. It was distant, because I had to take three trains, four buses, and hire a driver to take me to the bottom of the mountain. It was isolated, because there was no cell signal and the last village was by now many miles behind me. It was mysterious because the mountain could not be found on Instagram or, in fact, anywhere on the internet. I had heard about through a long search that was conducted in person over a span of decades.

I carried a backpack with food and a small tarp that kept rain and wind from me while I slept. It was warm enough to forego a sleeping bag, but on my third night I was high enough up the mountain that I regretted not having a sleeping bag with me. I wore everything I had with me and still shivered under the tarp.

On the fourth day, late in the afternoon, I came upon a small clearing with a river running through it. I could hear a waterfall further up the mountain. Frankly, I believe it was the noise of the waterfall that masked my approach. As I turned around a corner the path fell away toward the clearing and I saw him dancing with his hands up in the air. One of the hands was holding a large brush. Looking closer I noticed that the brush was made from grass blades that were tied together and attached to a stick of wood.

His hair was long and unkempt and his clothes in tatters. Suddenly he stopped his strange dance and, inspired, he dipped the brush into the river and wrote on a flat rock that was worn smooth and free of any dust. The calligraphy was beautiful, transcendental, incomparable, precious. After writing a few characters that were as fluid as they were deep and layered, he stepped back and made a sound that was clearly a demonstration of satisfaction, but sounded more like a crazy cackle. I was close enough to read the large characters but the first character was already disappearing by the time I had read the poem. Was it a poem? Perhaps I can better describe it as spiritual axioms, deep aphorisms. I was torn between trying to memorize it and wondering whether I should capture the drying characters with my camera.

In the end I decided to stay hidden, breathing quietly, and craning my neck to see what the old man wrote. It was fleeting, but I was sure that if I were to jump forward to photograph one of the masterpieces, and that’s clearly what they were, the man would run away and I would miss out on the next batch he might write. Forty-five minutes later the sun started to go down and the man left, in a lose gait that seemed like running and crouching at the same time.

I never regretted not taking a single photograph as the experience stayed with me and I could recall it clearly even many years later. I never saw the old man again. He remained hidden after that first encounter. I was never the same.


  1. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, this is so wonderful. Your beautiful heart poured out; your words are poetry.

    • Melissa Madere

      Beautiful, transcendental, incomparable, precious… your words describe how I feel about Slow. I’ve never been the same.

    • JaneParhamKatz

      And I felt that I was right there with you.

  2. Nancy

    Your words are so beautiful and poetic Ottmar! I love the mental picture it paints.


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