Friday, October 14, 2005

The Buddha Rocks

"Of the hands and feet, three must not move always," advised Watanabe-san, standing at the base of the Buddha Cliffs. The rock-face was nearly vertical, damp from sea spray, pitted and cracked by a millenia of winter winds. Craning my neck back, I could just make out the golden Buddha figure ensconsed against the gray sky, fixed in meditation. Watanabe-san tightened his pack straps with a tug that rocked him up onto the soles of his feet and, frowning with utmost deliberation, began the long spider-climb upwards.

If jumping down the boulder-strewn beach cleared my mind, climbing the Buddha Cliffs sharpened it to a fine point, every atom of conciousness focused on the feel of the rock against my hands, feet and chest.

Some years ago I found myself hanging from a rope after a caving accident in the Holy Cross wilderness of central Colorado. Unable to see the rope that held me, I hung there for the seven hours it took rescuers to arrive.

"It must have been terrifying," everyone said. "Weren't you scared?" And afterwards, thinking back on the cold, the pitch darkness, the horrible uncertainty, I did feel fear, hard and cold and spreading. But during those seven hours, holding on to that icy rope, I had been cold, I had been stiff, I had been hungry and I had been embarassed but I hadn't been afraid at all. What good would fear have done?

Pulling myself up to the impassive feet of the golden Buddha and looking out over the crashing waves and the cliffs beyond, the bottoms of my feet were tingling with an awareness of their fragility, but like the time in the cave, there was no a room for fear. A few clutches and grabs later, I was standing in a level grassy clearing the size of a college dorm room surrounded on three sides by sheer rock walls that opened onto the remnants of a gigantic rockslide. The rocks covered what was once a river, now reduced to a thousand white-rushing streams that poured through the boulders and into the sea, where flocks of seabirds plunged about voraciously in the oxygenated roar. Turning to the rock walls, I noticed another Buddha tucked into a crevice about three meters above the ground, then another, one tiny statue sitting on a ledge, and then another, higher up, and another - all embedded in the solidity of the rock and the calm of the clearing as the water tumbled and the sea birds squealed madly down below.

This was when we saw the bear. He was big, and he was brown and he was a bear, puttering about the rocks at the river mouth, unaware of intruders until I spotted him and yelled "BEAR BEAR BEAR" as loud as possible. The bear was about 30 meters away from us and showed no sign of wanting to come closer, but seeing him move, seeing him prop his big, wet paws up on a rock and snuff the air, seeing his muscles roll under his heavy skin - seeing this wild bear sent adrenaline surging through my body so hard it burned. I was afraid, and I stayed afraid when we left the clearing and began climbing up a game trail at the edge of the rock slide.

Seeing the bear made Watanabe-san cheerful. "Three years old bear," he boomed. "A recent high-school graduate bear. He is a cri-ti-cal age."

But I was still whistling nervously when we made camp, after dusk, in a clearing of young pines next to a black-pooled stream.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home