Even now I remember that perch in the sky where sun fell warm and where wind roared up the slope on the other side of the rocks behind me, impotently, blowing bits of leaves up above me, past me, that were dizzying to contemplate but not nearly so much as the birds that floated the warm currents up the mountain’s south face below me from where I had climbed like an ant climbing the rough scratching skirts of a huge queen, up and down the folds and bunches in the rocky fabric slowly to here, where my sense of vertigo in roaring roofless space finally convinced me to stop short of the up-jutting chin of Beishan Mountain’s cliffs and stoop down behind the sheltering rocks, which with the dirt and brush formed my sofa in the sky commanding the whole width of the foolishly flat valley floor and the lines of railway and road curving between Beijing and Zhangjiakou and even the gleam of Mr. Wang’s bicycle at the foot of the mountain, and where slowly my whole life, sucked away earlier by the wind, height and sense of solitude, huddled happily back around me in memories of people and followed my sleepiness after eating five cold baozi and where I thought of my father hiking in the Sierras fifty years ago with burros, and smiled.
You’d think I would have memorized the ragged mountain profile ringing the south valley so much have I gazed on it, but memory is not strong enough. Over time I lost that dizzying sense of the earth below me swelling and wavering as I relaxed my eyes. It was stronger when my ears heard the power of the wind only feet behind my head and then it was too easy to imagine the whole mountaintop blowing off with me on it. When that sensation of the foundation’s foundation shifting, dropping came I would focus my eyes on the brush about my sprawling legs. But the drowsier I grew the more I received loved ones in my sunny heart and the steadier I felt. I was loathe to stand up at last; that meeting of peace of mind and comfortably warmed tired body was so alluring.
But at last I did stand and climb another spur of rock and another closer to the cliffs but below the next one I stopped: it appeared to drop steeply on the other side, nothing was visible between it and the high cliffs, and the contemplation of what may have been was as frightening as the reality of crouching next to a drop in a wind. A bird rode the wind, feathers ruffling and me daring to follow him he circled back above me and I turned following him, twisting and dropping on my knees smiling when he got beyond my bravery. I turned and at the dip where I had first reached the crestline I studied the river valley to the north. Despite the cold wind rushing like a train up past me the vista was magnificent with mountains and sweet with winding river and cluster of homes. Where there is a village there must be easy access back to Yanqing Valley. Plus the river must flow west and then south, emptying into the big lake in the valley. So ran my reasoning, or my desire disguised as reason.
Soon I was slipping down the water run on the other side in the shadow of the mountain, stepping carefully around snow patches across long yellowed grass down loose dirt, falling sometimes.