“Goodnight and great love to you. We see the same stars.” ~ George Mallory, from a letter to his wife Ruth during the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition

Mount Everst in the Morning by Bobby Model Nat Geo
Mount Everest in the Morning
by Bobby Model (National Geographic)

“One comes to bless the absolute bareness, feeling that here is a pure beauty of form, a kind of ultimate harmony.” ~ George Mallory, from a letter to his wife Ruth during the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition

From NOVA Online:

George Mallory . . . the only person to take part in all three British Everest trips of the 1920s, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Since returning from the Great War he had become increasingly frustrated by the petty restrictions of a schoolmaster’s life and had resigned to join the expedition, with little thought of what he would do afterwards. He wrote prodigiously—to use one of his own favourite words—of his discoveries to his family and friends, revealing far more of his feelings than in his official expedition bulletins. Most of the following extracts are from letters to his wife Ruth.

Mallory with his wife, Ruth
George Mallory with his wife Ruth

28 July, to Kharta
I have been half the time in ecstasy. My first thought on coming down was that the world was green again. A month had made all the difference to the appearance of the hillsides. As we have come down lower, and nearer to the Arun valley, the appearance of greenness has steadily increased. We have crossed two passes on the way, and we have slept near two clear bubbling streams; and all that we have seen of snow mountains has been of interest, but none of that counts with me. To see things grow again as though they liked growing, enjoying rain and sun – that has been the real joy.

I collected in a beautiful ramble a lovely bunch of wild flowers. The commonest were a pink geranium and a yellow potentilla and a little flower that looked for all the world like a violet but turned out from its leaf to be something quite different; and there was grass of Parnassus, which I really love, and in places a carpet of a little button flower, a brilliant pink, which I think must belong to the garlic tribe. But most of all I was delighted to find kingcups, a delicate variety rather smaller than ours at home, but somehow especially reminding me of you – you wrote of wading deeply through them in the first letter I had from you in Rome.

17 September
Wonder of wonders! We had indication that the weather intended to change. We woke and found the sky clear and remaining clear, no dense white clouds drifting up the valley, but a chill wind driving high clouds from the north. I had a good walk yesterday with Morshead and Bullock and I started at 2 am to ascend a snow peak on the boundary ridge between this valley and the next one to the south. We had a glorious view, unimaginably splendid – Kangchenjunga and all the higher mountains to the East were standing up over a sea of fleecy cloud: Makalu straight opposite across the valley was gigantic, and Everest at the head of the valley – very fine too. But the snow was in bad condition and it’s not melting as it should; above 20,000 feet or so it was powdery under a thin crust and it was impossible to get along without snow shoes, and if it doesn’t melt properly on the glacier we might as well pack up our traps at once. In addition to this cause of despair, Morshead was going badly and I must admit to feeling the height a good deal. I’m clearly far from being as fit as I ought to be. It’s very distressing, my dear, just at this moment and altogether my hopes are at zero.

15 September
Pour out your pity, dearest, pull it up from your deep wells – and be pleased to hear that I read myself agreeably to sleep, and slept, slept bountifully, deeply, sweetly from 9 pm to 6 am and woke to see the roof of my tent bulging ominously inwards and a white world outside. It was easy enough to make out that conditions for climbing were entirely hopeless. Every visible mountain face was hung with snow, incredibly more so often than we last were there three weeks ago. The glacier presented an even surface of soft snow and everything confirmed what everybody had previously said – that it was useless to attempt carrying loads up to our col until we had a spell of real fair weather.

I ordered the whole party to pack up and go down. We were still pulling down tents and covering stores when the clouds came up with a rush and the sizzle of hard-driving snow was about us again. We sped down the hillside, facing wind and snow, down the long valley, dancing over the stones half-snow-covered and leaping the grey waters of many streams, and so at length to the humpy grass in the flat hollow where the big tents are pitched …

Just now we are all just drifting as the clouds drift, forgetting to number the days so as to avoid painful thoughts of the hurrying month. For my part I’m happy enough; the month is too late already for the great venture; we shall have to face great cold, I’ve no doubt; and the longer the delay, the colder it will be. But the fine weather will come at last. My chance, the chance of a lifetime, I suppose, will be sadly shrunk by then; and all my hopes and plans for seeing something of India on the way back will be blown to wherever the monsoon blows. I would willingly spend a few weeks longer here, if only for the sake of seeing Everest and Makalu and the excitement of new points of view. I would like to undertake a few other ascents, less ambitious but perhaps more delightful. And it will be a loss not to see again that strangely beautiful valley over the hills, and the green meadows dominated by the two greatest mountains.

Of the pull the other way I needn’t tell you. If I picture the blue Mediterranean and the crisp foam hurrying by as the ship speeds on to Marseilles or Gibraltar where I shall expect to see you smiling in the sunshine on the quayside – my dear one, when such pictures fill my mind, as often enough they do, I’m drawn clean out of this tent into a world not only more lovely, more beautifully lit, but signifying something.

29 September
My dearest Ruth,
This is a mere line at the earliest moment, in the midst of packing and arrangements to tell you that all is well. It is a disappointment that the end should seem so much tamer than I hoped. But it wasn’t tame in reality; it was no joke getting to the North Col. I doubt if any big mountain venture has ever been made with a smaller margin of strength. I carried the whole party on my shoulders to the end, and we were turned back by a wind in which no man could live an hour. As it is we have established the way to the summit for anyone who cares to try the highest adventure.


Music by Rod Stewart, “I’ll be seeing you”

For a compelling look at British explorer George Mallory, this Daily Mail article takes a look at why this WWI veteran risked his life again and again.


Small Comfort

Coffee and cigarettes in a clean cafe,
forsythia lit like a damp match against
a thundery sky drunk on its own ozone,

the laundry cool and crisp and folded away
again in the lavender closet-too late to find
comfort enough in such small daily moments

of beauty, renewal, calm, too late to imagine
people would rather be happy than suffering
and inflicting suffering. We’re near the end,

but O before the end, as the sparrows wing
each night to their secret nests in the elm’s green dome
O let the last bus bring

love to lover, let the starveling
dog turn the corner and lope suddenly
miraculously, down its own street, home.

~ Katha Pollitt



New Year’s Eve Poetry

The Letter

It is December in the garden,
an early winter here, with snow
already hiding my worst offenses —
the places I disturbed your moss
with my heavy boots; the corner
where I planted in too deep a hole
the now stricken hawthorne: crystals
hanging from its icy branches
are the only flowers it will know.

When did solitude become
mere loneliness and the sounds
of birds at the feeder seem
not like a calibrated music
but the discordant dialects
of strangers simply flying through?
I have tried to construct a life
alone here — coffee at dawn; a jog
through the chilling air

counting my heartbeats,
as if the doctor were my only muse;
books and bread and firewood —
those usual stepping-stones from month
to freezing month. But the constricted light,
the year closing down on itself with all
the vacancies of January ahead, leave me
unreconciled even to beauty.
When will you be coming back?

~ Linda Pastan

“I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer. My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music. It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips.” ~ Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia


“To express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a somber background; to express hope by some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance.” ~ Vincent van Gogh, from a letter to his brother, Theo, September 1888

Friday afternoon. Sunny and warm, low humidity.

Sunrise over Salar de Uyuni

Massive migraine yesterday, so no writing. Just a dull throb today, so better.

Yesterday was a frustrating day (actually, the whole week has been that way), one of those days in which too many telephone calls had to be made, and no forward motion was made. I’m trying to ascertain whether or not my health insurance will cover Botox injections for my migraines (not for my face). I keep getting told different things with each phone call. I finally spoke with someone in my neurologist’s office who actually was familiar with how my particular insurance covers the shots, and she is going to have the nursing supervisor call me next week (when she returns from vacation) so that I can put everything in place.

I first read about Botox for migraines about five or six years ago, but at that time, it was still considered experimental. Slowly, more and more insurance companies are paying for the shots for people like me who suffer from frequent migraines and for whom normal treatment is ineffective. I’m really hoping this pans out so that I can get these shots. I’m kind of at the end of my rope as far as the migraines go; I mean, I’ve given up caffeine almost entirely, and I avoid triggers, but I still get these damned things at least two or three times a week.

I would like to preserve the few brain cells that I have left. Really don’t think that’s too much to ask . . .

When Corey got home from work yesterday, we spent a few hours in the pool just floating and talking. It was quite relaxing except, of course, for the times when Tillie would jump into the water to get her ball. She’s such a needy little bugger. Even now as I type, she’s sitting in the door whining because I’m ignoring her. It’s like having a toddler.

“The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The World’s Largest Mirror: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Corey and I are both making an effort to get to sleep earlier, so that we can wake up earlier, as in no more 4 a.m. sleep times. Although I am sleeping better, I still wake up at least two to three times, which means the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep that I get is about four hours. Still that’s better than the two hours I was averaging before. The dogs are still the primary reason that I wake up.

For example, last night, just as I was drifting off, I heard the unmistakable sound of Tillie retching; it sounds very much like a cat with a hairball. She’s been eating grass, so of course, it has to come up. Why do dogs eat grass? They aren’t cows. I just don’t understand how they can eat something that their bodies cannot digest, and then their bodies expel the grass only for them to go back to grazing the next day. Why? Why? Why?

I read a little tidbit from the Telegraph that describes an elk that was ignoring its drinking water. The elk was seen putting its hooves into the water and acting strangely. Then the elk stuck its head into the water and came out with a squirrel in its mouth. The elk put the squirrel down, nudged it to make sure it was alive, and then watched the squirrel scamper off. How cool is that?

How sad is it that the supposedly wild beasts have more humanity than some people? Don’t get me started.

“Now the day is over, the shadows are long on the grass. The new trees hold the light—and wisps of white cloud move dreamily over the dreaming mountains.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, from a letter to John Middleton Murry (May 21, 1921)

Salar de Uyuni at Sunrise

I am finding that I have become quite fond of Katherine Mansfield’s writings, especially her letters. They remind me of Virginia Woolf’s correspondence. Both women wrote such thought-filled missives. I find both women’s prose styles to be quite poetic and vivid.

One of my readers has offered to write me a real letter. I am so excited. Of course, with the drama that has been taking forefront in our household lately, I have yet to send her my address. I am such a poor correspondent even before I get started.

I never had a pen pal as a child, although I know that several of my friends did. I imagine that the notion of a pen pal is quite outdated in today’s virtual world. I mean, first, no one writes with a pen any more, and second, corresponding with someone across the world is no longer something that takes time or effort, really. There is e-mail, instant messaging, tweeting, and Facebook, among other things. If you want someone to know what you are doing or what projects you may be involved in, you can tell them in 144 characters or less. How prosaic can one be in 144 characters?

I gave up Twitter ages ago. Who really needs to know that I’m buying groceries? That’s not to say that Twitter is not a good medium. For example, writer Neil Gaiman uses his Twitter to talk about his writing, his projects, and to promote reading. That’s the kind of information for which Twitter was made. I see no reason to update people every time I leave the house. I mean, who cares really?

I’m reminded of an episode of “Criminal Minds” in which Agent Rossi makes fun of Twitter: “Eating sushi. Yum.” And then he says something like “who are these people that they think their every movement is so important?” The killer in that particular episode was using social networking to stalk his victims. Virtual stalking . . . yep, I can relate.

“A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.” ~ Isabelle Eberhardt

Salar de Uyuni (can be downloaded as wallpaper)

The pictures in today’s post feature one of the places on my list of places to see before I die: Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa).

Salt Mounds on the Salar de Uyuni

This place, which at times can appear to be the world’s largest natural mirror, is actually the world’s largest salt flat. Located in Bolivia near the Andes, the Salar (Spanish for salt flat) is covered by a flat salt crust atop a brine lake. This brine lake, rich in natural minerals, contains 50 to 70 percent of the world’s lithium reserves. The Uyuni salt flats contain over 10 billion tons of salt, 25,000 tons of which are harvested annually.

The Salar is a major transport route, even during the rainy season when it is covered by a thin sheet of water, which produces the mirror effect. Because it is a prime location for photographers, the Salar attracts tourists from around the world. Many Bolivian tourist sites use the phrases “where the earth meets the sky” or “the border between heaven and earth” in their promotional hype.

I found out about Salar de Uyuni completely by accident when I saw a photograph. The image was mesmerizing, and I looked closely to make sure that it wasn’t photoshopped. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was a real place and that people can actually go there.

I have lots of places on my list for lots of different reasons: the castles in Scotland, the reefs in Australia, the ruins of old churches in Ireland, the Maldives while they still exist.

One day . . .

Salar de Uyuni: Walking on the Boarder between Heaven and Earth*

More later. Peace

Music by Shawn Colvin, “Never Saw Blue Like That”

*Access used to be limited to hot air balloon, but this is no longer the case. Access is usually via 4×4 vehicles.


City of Lavender

I had everything I ever wanted to say to you organized in my head
but forgot it all when you took my palm in your hand and with
your index finger wrote “disaster.” If you were to ask me how I
ended up here, I don’t even know. Every night at 8:25 I can’t
believe it’s already 8:25 and I’m so happy it’s only 8:25. Sometimes
I find tragedy reassuring. Sometimes the cat licks my neck. I don’t
want to think about where I’ve been or where I’m going anymore.
Sometimes I just want to cry. Sometimes I just want to sit in a
quiet space. It’s within me to rip my own head off. Let me tell you
about the city. It’s a city of lavender. I can’t remember its name.
There aren’t enough bank holidays. Someday you’ll read this and
understand what type of person I am.

~ Jason Bredle