This evening I am writing while sitting on a floor propped against the door between cars of a chockablock train departing Wuhan, Hubei on a Friday night at rush hour. My comrades are bestrewed along the aisles, sentry to our piles of duffels and backpacks. I have found a small redoubt of discretion as I am wearing a very smart chocolate brown pajama top courtesy of EVA Airway and am reminded, as I lift my arms while adjusting my stance, just how long I have been wearing it.
A palpable degree of dissonance in the stars was sensed by me, Tuesday last, when an automated call from EVA plucked the web confirming a disharmonic wobble. My scheduled 2 am departure from Seattle to Taipei was now to leave at 4:30 am. The first in a long string of dominoes teetered momentarily in my brain as I performed ‘connection math,’ and then they, quite gracefully actually, and in slow motion, began toppling. With five connecting flights on multiple carriers, my goose appeared precooked.
During the next three and a half decades, while I was on the phone that afternoon with the kindest and most helpful United Airlines agent ever, Robert, sensing an imminent change of plans, completed packing my bags and then, it seemed then, he had inadvertently erased the hard drive of my MacBook Air. Actually Robert did not do this. The power cord had failed. It is a Universal Axiom, however, that during the throes of an emergency, one’s spouse is one’s spouse for one reason only. Take the bullet.
And thusly, it was a calm and quiet departure that afternoon, heading for the ferry, newly rerouted through San Francisco, adding 12 additional hours to an existing flight itinerary of 36.
There has much been written on the methodologies, the field work, the accomplishments and the acclaim of plant explorers of the gilded age. Despite the fact that the end point is precisely the same‑that is, to simply observe plants in their rightful places or possess a better understanding of the taxonomy and distribution of plant species and/or to collect their seed for ultimate introduction into horticulture‑and, despite my discomfiture at this moment, comparing the tribulations of my own experiences to that of Kingdon-Ward, Wilson, Forrest, David, Hooker or Siebold, is laughable.
Strangely enough, though, I have never read a single word of their comings and goings to and from their exotic locales. Did Jean Kingdon-Ward, for instance, crash Frank’s computer, moments before sailing on the H.S.S. Sinkforsure? Precisely how many gallon and quart-sized ziplock freezer bags did E.H. Wilson finally decide to take along? And cameras? Was George Forrest content in taking along a single Point and Shoot or did the Iphone 5S come along as a backup?
Yes, I did ultimately join my companions in Wuhan. My luggage however, did not. As they headed to catch the scheduled flight to Shennongjia early the next morning, I remained behind to reunite with my polypro underwear and 4 lbs of dark roast Seattle’s Best. Ironically their flight was cancelled due to weather conditions and so together we happily, wearily made our way to the Wuhan train station. So here I sit, now, in an EVA Airways pajama top and without having showered, but most happy to be on the way with good friends.
Though there is no comparison between today and yesterday, the process of leaving home, its emotional toll, the deep seated weariness of being jostled and jolted, and the pure, unadulterated joy experienced during the first hike, to see the plants one has come to see, remains precisely the same.