In 2003, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones and I spent several weeks together in the mountains of northern Vietnam, in the highland French redoubt of Sa Pa. It was late in the season, so we were hardly expecting météo parfaite but the weather was nothing short of comical; it was a gulag of fog and rain. Sa Pa and the surrounding mountains were bathed not so much in gray but the smoky aspirant used to dramatically portray fog in B-Grade Frankenstein movies. We made fires in our rooms to hang our seed collections in order to achieve some degree of dryness. We actually heard wolves howling while walking to local restaurants at night. Cloris Leachman served as our waitress one evening. [Read more…]
Since leaving the botanical buffet of Shennongjia- indeed one of the most diverse floras our consortium has ever experienced, there had been, as expected, more time getting toasted with government officials than meaningful time in the field. Frustratingly, the weather- virtually unworkable during the most floristically opulent part of our trip- was now close to perfection. Our second to the last day of collection work had taken us up a mostly denuded mountain 2.5 hours from our hotel on roads under construction to a research facility devoted to medicinal plants. After lunch, we worked down slope along the remaining remnants of forest, and though some important collections were made (Rhododendron auriculatum, Lindera cheinii, Disporum cantoniense., et al), there remained no dubiety that our collective spirits were punctured. And though dramatic in silhouette against a scuttling sun, large thunderheads to the west heralded another change in the weather due in that evening.
Awakened the following morning at 5 am by someone’s attempt to repair the hotel’s hot water heater with a jackhammer (no, it was not a successful essay), and during considerable discussion over breakfast regarding possibly returning to Wuhan a day early, we ultimately donned our raingear and boarded our transport. [Read more…]
Precisely a year ago, most of the same participants on this trip to Hubei Province in the PRC were together in northern Vietnam; Ozzie Johnson, Scott McMahan, Andrew Bunting, and myself (this year we have been gratifyingly conjoined by Dr. Donglin Zhang from the University of Georgia, Athens, graduate student Ms. Tung and Professor Cheng from the Dept of Botany from the University of Wuhan). Twelve months prior, our ‘two day’ trek up and over a sheer mountain range known as Five Fingers had turned into 3.5 day death march. During that experience, the lot of us were not only pushed to our limits, but were adamantly committed to making sure that such a situation would never arise again. [Read more…]
Bleary eyed from arriving to our lodging at midnight, after over 50 hours of continual travel, we arose early the next morning to sodden skies in the village of Shennong. This mountainous area of eastern Hubei has both the highest peak of this part of Central China (Shennong Peak, just under 11,000’) as well as the perfect collision of eastern and western floral elements. We worked up a small road in starts and stops, piling out of our transport, piling in, progressively more saturated. Yet the plants were exciting to see and unexpected all in one place together holding onto their own tiny bits of real estate; Hydrangea longipes, Cotinus coggygria, Epimedium fargesi, Metapanax davidii, Chloranthus fortunei. The richness was beyond our most hopeful imaginations. Yet, it continued to pour buckets the entire day, making photography and the logistics of collecting seed and taking notes wearisome. Factoring in our collective fatigue with the weather, there was little argument when we made the decision at 4 pm to drive back to the village and our accommodation. [Read more…]
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. [Read more…]
On October 23rd, 2013, Shayne Chandler and I awoke at early dawn in a tent pitched at just over 10,800′ on a narrow ridge leading to the summit of Mt. Phangan in northern Burma. It was a crisp morning with a lucidity to the sky we had not yet witnessed, while across the immense sweeps of forest on either side of our campsite echoed hauntingly beautiful vocalizations of monkeys and languars. As we would attempt to climb to the top of the peak this morning and back again to our camp before nightfall, we were ecstatic by what promised to be very cooperative weather. [Read more…]
We awoke at Camp 1 at 6:00am on October 22nd, 2013 to brilliant blue skies and great anticipation of ending this day well above 8,000′, assuredly amongst a palette of plants adaptive to zone 8. Our bees were back in full force by the time we sat for breakfast so I was glad to begin hiking again up the ridge shortly before 8am. A twelve mile hike with nearly 4,000′ of vertical gain would keep us occupied for most of the day. Shayne had developed a lower intestinal infection and began a course of Ciprofloxin and one of the porters had become very ill with malaria. Our drinking water was no longer that of pristine glacial-fed rivers but from a hole dug in mucky depression and scooped from the bottom. Though it was boiled, it had the taste and color of a very inexpensive and smoky single-malt scotch. [Read more…]