I really only realized afterward what trouble I’d have been in if he had gotten shot, even killed, and I was left stranded on my own out there. I still dream about that. I think he felt the sort of shame you feel when you realize what a foolish chance you’ve taken after you’ve already taken it. But he was absolutely set on finding that grave.
— From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Time to continue the story of my adventure on the Caoling Horrific Trail! (Click here for the beginning.)
The second leg of my peril-venture began at the no-longer-elusive start of the Caoling Historic Trail. Now, in the first leg, I had already been aware of being the only person in Taiwan / Asia / the known universe attempting the trail that day. Why didn’t I do the wise thing and give up — perhaps head to the beach and gaze meaningfully at the horizon, or take a jaunt through Yilan? Well, here’s a piece of hard-won self-knowledge — even when I think things through and construct a reasonable argument for or against a course of action, the silly billy in me often reigns and rules in favour of what I’d set my heart on in the first place, no matter how misguided it is.
And here’s a piece of hard-learnt truth, articulated for me by magnificent Marilynne Robinson in her above-quoted book: ‘I don’t know what to say except that the worst misfortune isn’t only misfortune … good fortune is not only good fortune.’ The sorrows of foolishness have on the whole borne more precious fruit for me than aggrandized victories — God is the ultimate lemonade-maker.
But let me continue this troubling tale of a trifling troublemaker. Eager to get to Dali before the sun set (or I’d have been alone, in the dark, in a forest, on a mountain, oh my), I spared only a few minutes for photos at Yuanwangkeng Park. The very last humanoids I encountered were all while starting off — a farmer in a straw hat, a worker sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, and a middle-aged couple heading in the opposite direction (towards Yuanwangkeng Park). The latter took on the guise of angels to me, as I’d been hoping for some company, however fleeting. I looked them in the eye and said a greeting, then thought I heard the woman expressing disbelief to her companion about me covering the trail alone. A wise woman, then.
You see, while the Caoling Historic Trail is beautifully and thoughtfully paved — no more worrying about which way to go this time — during the rainy season (i.e. right then), the stone steps turn treacherous, with all the wet and the leaves (and for all I know, the ectoplasm), and the atmosphere grows altogether ominous, with the spots of historical interest either to do with horses plunging to their deaths on a narrow bridge, or dense fog suddenly descending and streaking panic through travellers, or pillars and temples erected to keep evil at bay.
The journey up the side of Caoling Mountain (the trail is named after it) — how can I convey how singularly scary it was for me when I didn’t even dare to allow myself to take in the scariness of it all? I’m a lobotomy away from being the bravest person in the world; I may be foolhardy, but I get freaked out by things living, non-living and situational easily (though thankfully I get used to them pretty quickly too). Maybe it wouldn’t have alarmed you to trudge up a neverending, slippery staircase, losing your balance a few times and falling forwards into fallen foliage. Maybe it’d have been no big deal to realise that there wasn’t even a teeny-tiny platform to catch your breath at — the stairs just kept going up and up. Maybe it’d have been easy for you to take in the sights (sometimes reminiscent of Wulai) while ruminating that great mercy had been shown to MY and her sister when they were spared this extreme exertion of body and mind.
The melancholia of the moment only lifted when I started getting all bardic, recalling and making songs to my Maker, and swigging OJ. I was basically saved from hysteria by my physical bits focusing on each step before me while my mental bits trained on the love over me. My emotional bits were soothed by remembering that ‘if we did not praise, the rocks would cry out’:
Yes, you will go out with joy and be led away in safety. Mountains and hills will break into joyful cries before you and all the trees of the countryside clap their hands.
(Isaiah 55:12 NJB)
As he moved off, they spread their cloaks in the road, and now, as he was approaching the downward slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen. They cried out: Blessed is he who is coming as King in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens! Some Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Master, reprove your disciples,’ but he answered, ‘I tell you, if these keep silence, the stones will cry out.’
(Luke 19:36–40 NJB)
So, to sum up, I started talking to myself and to the stone steps (sing with me, and be reclaimed, yo), yeah. Until I emerged here:
Hope blossomed and prospects of a future got brighter as the light grew. I even stopped for a break beside (of course not inside, eeks) a moist-looking pavilion …
… and noticed this nearby:
As Shakespeare would say, Alarum! But of course I had to read the sign (bees with the face of a tiger?!), so I crept near and was duly informed of the following:
- Do not throw away wrappers from sweet snacks; they attract bees.
I looked at the bottle of sweet, sweet OJ in my hand.
- Women should avoid wearing perfume.
I had plastered on strawberry-scented hair product from Mr Hair that morning.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. Bees flying around a grove of trees indicates the presence of a nest: keep away! If you meet patrolling bees, do not run or try to hit the bees; stop still, retreat slowly, and once the bees have gone, then run away.
I eyed the grove of trees that the sign was nestled against, probably harbouring all manner of beasties that sting, stab and/or strangle. I remembered hearing the buzz of bees on my way up. I saw in my mind’s eye an old Taiwanese movie about a school excursion which ended with a teacher stripping himself and being stung to death by rampaging hornets so as to give his students a chance to escape.
- If you are attacked by a swarm of bees, every second counts. Run away as fast as you can (if you are in a group, run in different directions), protect your head by covering it with a white cloth or by waving an item of clothing in a circular motion over it as you run and throwing the clothing away from you and running in the opposite direction.
I uttered thanks for my cream-coloured Tilley hat for the umpteenth time, especially since it covering my noggin meant that the strawberry-flavoured hair was somewhat under wraps. I imagined having to toss away my hat like a lifesaving Frisbee.
- If the environment permits, squeeze into thick, tall grass; if there is a lake or stream, immerse yourself in the water (only, however, if you are able to swim underwater).
I recollected warnings against snakes on webpages about the trail — snakes that are probably rather territorial about their grass. I thought of the last time I tried swimming — I did the breaststroke with my upper half and the freestyle with my lower half, and ended up sinking like a sad, sad stone.
It was obviously time to make like a tree and leave; rushing headlong into the next bend in the road was infinitely preferably to possibly being mauled by bees.
What lies beyond? A view, a road not taken, and a pratfall or two.