Comment 1 of 9, added on May 23rd, 2005 at 5:35 PM.
THE ASCENT OF THE SHERPA
He was common, ordinary so to speak,
nothing special about him,
wearing the usual clothing of the Sherpa,
warm, useful. Not thin coated.
Engaged as he was in public debate
he found it difficult to make a decision,
whether to lead or to follow?
In the end it came down
to the need for enough diesel fuel for winter
to pour into a certain kind of heater
that escapes description universally.
A way to pay for warmth in the winter.
Twelve Nepalese were killed in Baghdad today,
someone whispers to me. Not that it matters.
So he put together some things:
bread, cheese, Sherpa foods,
the usual fare and set out to rendezvous
with the ten or so moralistically staunch
climbers engaging him: moralistic because
insisted on the unusual. Very moral.
We should say ethical but that is just not physical enough.
The two parties met and he collected the agreed upon
Sherpa coin. No one knows what it looks like.
It might be Chinese or in this case, Ben Franklin-like
because of the universality of Imperialistic trade,
so it goes in the impoverished world.
Doesn't matter to us or to the Sherpa who Ascends.
He turned to the leader of the group
who had learned the Sherpa language easily enough,
certain tough families of words useful
to climbing: torch, fire, food, oxygen,
death, liquor, book, socks, cold, die-ing (being a
progressive form of the former), pain,
mother, father, and of course, candy...
and he said, "I'll have to stay ahead of you all.
I'm uncomfortable in the company of others."
The leader was puzzled but agreed to the stipulation
all the same. It must be some sort of standard
in Nepal he thought, some sort of requirement.
"How will we follow then?"
"I'll leave my footprints in the snow of course."
"Oh," the leader said, chastened at his own stupidity.
The trek began the next morning which happens pretty
early up there, finishes pretty late,
with the Sherpa starting off at night, slipping out
as fast as he could go
as an angel in the moon's glow.
One mustnít dally on a short night.
The moralistically inclined group set out.
They were pleased to see the tracks well defined,
deep and the weather pleasant, the mountaintop
in view, achievable. Very optimistic,
if you will. Occasionally they caught sight
of the Sherpa, his head bobbing up and down
in the distance, disappearing behind rocks,
reappearing. The tracks were still quite good.
The second day was much the same only the Sherpa
was no longer in sight, the tracks slightly obscured
by the light snows. Some of the tracks looked
a bit altered, a yeti paw here or a trace of goat there.
That was expected and no one yet bristled.
The guy at the end of the rope disappeared
but no one noticed. Each of them caught
in their own meanings, their own cold.
By the third day however, the bristling
was looking more like a forest fire;
the cold was like a burning heat;
the sun was no longer just the sun
but an actual star; the sky was no longer
so far away and the shells of gas,
the rings of Jupiter, all of them somehow related.
By then the tracks had completely disappeared
and were replaced by paw prints:
first a snow leopard, then some kind of bird,
a wolf and finally, a palimpsest.
When the group began noticing, one after the other,
the disappearances of the others, when the final
moralistic climber was left to himself,
he felt the Sherpa beside him, pulling him tightly
dragging him, whipping him with a leather strap,
his nails digging into the final climberís frozen flesh.
The guide had been there all along and had dismissed the climbers
one at a time, disguised as a snow leopard, a yeti, and the wolf
until he decided which one he could keep company with.
"Here we are!" he said, peaceful and not very excited.
He'd been to the spot how many times now,
"How do you like it?"
"Die-ing," he replaced the form deliberately.
The Sherpa deliberately replied, "Death."
Margaret Ruth Porter