Finally we are about to embark on the expedition. We are sitting in the lobby of
the hotel, waiting for Sun to pick us up, luggage piled high and ready to go. I had
a hard time getting my laundry back this morning. I left it at the 5th floor desk
last night, thinking they had overnight service. Apparently this was not the case.
There was much gesturing and pointing at the laundry list and some loud slow talking
(as if that makes a difference!) and a few phone calls from the desk boy to someone
downstairs who speaks rudimentary English. After about 10 minutes of this he pulls
my bag of still dirty laundry from under the very desk from which we have been trying
to communicate. Whew!
We pile into the van. There are six of us - Sun, Jack, Dusty, Yi (the driver), myself,
and Zhou who has joined us at the last minute. Leaving Kunming, we enter the ramp
on to a big fast highway. Just as I think we are finally picking up speed, we have
to swerve as we round the corner of the on-ramp to avoid hitting the slower moving
pony carts sharing this roadway. This road north out of Kunming seems new, modern
and fast - a toll road, and in the process of being extended all the way to Dali.
For the first hour, the land is mostly flat, or softly rolling terrain, not much
change in elevation, though it seems as if we have been climbing. After a few hours
the new highway ends and we are back on the old road, close to the people and to
the towns we must pass through to reach Dali, about a nine hour trip from Kunming.
I am sitting in the front seat of this vehicle, on the left side for passengers in
this Japanese made Toyota van. Cars drive on the right hand side of the road here,
and in most vehicles the driver is on the left, as in America, but apparently, here,
anything goes. It seems as if anything that will go if it has a motor on it is fair
game on the roads here. There are 6 of us in this rickety van. When jokingly asked
if this van would make the trip, the very serious reply was 'Oh, yes, it's made it
many times before'. Seat belts? What's that? There's not much between myself and
the road. I make sure that the door is locked at all times, clicking the door button
firming down, but not really convinced that it would hold if tested.
IMAGES AND IMPRESSIONS:
Scattered small villages, close set groups of dark sandy colored earthen buildings
with tile roofs, peaked at the corners, rice paddies, terraced vegetable gardens.
The surrounding hillsides stripped of trees long ago, although we do still see
an occasional forest covered slope.
Incarvellia arguta is in bloom in cracks in the rocks along the roadside, the
sprays of small pink trumpets stand out against the flat grey of the dry rocks.
Large tall clumps of bamboo lining the riverbank. The smell of eucalyptus is
in the air. It is common as a road tree in this almost subtropical area. Musella,
a smaller banana relative, is frequently seen, in full bloom now with large yellow
cone shaped flower heads.
Water buffalo being herded on the ridge. Peasants tending fields, with wide
brim straw hats, large baskets slung over their shoulders, bark blue hip length jackets,
loose black pants. Some wear orange hats, bright dots of color in the distant scene
against the cool green of the new rice.
Terraced rice paddies, bright 'new rice' green, stripes of reflected sunlight
glinting from between the road, following us as we pass.
The road cuts through red earth, eroding with the rains, mounds of loose soil
partially blocking the road in spots.
Intriquing small oval mound-like structures built up against the hills. It is
a cemetary and they are burial monuments.
Long irrigation canals of stone and concrete, built into steep slopes.
Horse drawn carts piled high with coal.
An old man with a broad straw hat and a manchu beard wielding a stick, chasing
his runaway water buffalo across the road, holding up traffic.
Big bright blue 'lorries' - open backed trucks piled high with freshly cut logs
heading down from the mountains, not as big as the log trucks of the national forests
of the Pacific Northwest, so the logs are shorter. They keep coming and coming.
I wonder if our driver is the same kamikaze driver that I have read about from other
expeditions, or are they all like this? Driving is a constant game of 'chicken'.
Our driver is impatient. He loves to lay on the horn. Maybe it's a sign of manhood
here - he with the loudest horn...? We are trying to get through a small village.
It must be market day, it is taking us a long time to get through this small town
of only a few blocks. It is jammed with cars, trucks, pony carts, pigs, goats, people
walking with huge bundles on their back. We have been behind a truckload of baskets
for almost a full 5 minutes now. Mr. Yi can't stand it. He desperately wants to pass
in the 6 feet between the truck ahead and the everpresent bicycles. He exercises
his better judgement and doesn't go. Finally, just out of town, he gets his break,
steps on the gas and goes for it, horn blaring, and we can easily make it back to
our lane before the large lorrey barreling straight for us reaches us, seconds to
spare. No sweat. The horse cart and the water buffalo on the side of the road have
to give a little, but they are in no hurry.
I am feeling increasingly like I am on one of those 'death defying' amusement rides
at Disneyland, only there you know that you will be coming out the other side alive.
A herd of small black goats is coming our way, followed by an old woman carrying
a baby on her back.
Seven accidents seen so far on this road.
We travel a stretch of road with widely separated small whitewashed houses, with
varying amounts of large Chinese writing on them in bright red - some have just a
few characters, others are almost covered with this lettering, like a poem. I must
ask Sun what it is. (I find out later that they are guesthouses for weary travelers)
We come to another town, this one is very dirty, the smell and feel of coal smoke
is strong, ours eyes burn. There are many very large domed structures of earth and
rock, with a small rounded entrance hole at the bottom of each, and some have smoke
coming from the top. I don't know what they are. (I find out later that they are
kilns, and they are making bricks.)
8 accidents, now 9.
Around a bend a long stretch of carvers are working on large piles of white stone.
They look like grave markers.
I wonder if one needs a drivers license here, and if they do, if they have to take
a test to get it.
We're in Dali tonight. It is near dark when we arrive, but what I can see is more
than intriquing. I'm anxious for morning, to see the mountains that I barely glimpse
in the twilight, rising in the misty distance as I peer down the narrow street, beyond
the ubiquitous shops. It's raining now. I hope it stops by morning. Dali is in large
part a tourist town, charming and old and picturesque. Narrow streets with the everpresent
shops, but more tourist items here - clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, batiks. There are
a few more westerners seen here, but most of the tourists are Chinese on a holiday.
Yunnan is home to many ethnic groups that still dress in their colorful native costumes.
Dali is the ancestral home of the the Bai people, and there is a large population
here, trying to sell anything to anybody, sometimes quite agressively. Dali is located
on a narrow fertile plain between the Cangshan range (translated to the Azure Mountains
- the word ending 'shan' means 'mountains'), and a large clear lake. Dali is also
especially noted for the high quality marble that is mined from the nearby Cangshan
range, and many 'Dali Marble' objects are for sale here. The patterns in the marble,
if properly cut, are reminescent of misty scenes of lakes and mountains, much like
that seen in many Chinese paintings. It is highly prized and used frequently as ornamentation
in furniture and in wall decoration, or carved into bowls, ashtrays or other small
Dinner is superb. Lusciously tender pork leg, deep fried goat cheese, thin and curled
like chips, with sugar on them, eggplant slices folded, stuffed with meat and fried,
and among others - eel ! Walked the town with Sun after dinner. He's very nice and
so nice to share excitement about plants with.
We spend the day in the Cangshan Range outside of Dali. I had read much about this
well known area before the trip and I am excited about what we will find. This has
been one of the better explored ranges of this area of China, particularly during
the early part ot this century, most notably the famous plant explorers Frank Kingdon-Ward,
Joseph Rock and George Forrest. Only recently has this area been open again to plant
exploration. I had read much about this We finally get to do some exploring. The
first stop as we ascend into the hills is a boggy area just at the side of the road.
Tall dark purple Iris delavayi is up and just starting to bloom. A leathery leaved
Ligularia is leafing out, forming large clumps throughout the bog, no signs of buds
yet. On a seepy brushy slope across the road we get our first glimpse of Stellera
chamaejasme v. chrysantha. This plant is a rare herbaceous member of the Daphne family,
growing in neat rounded clumps about 1' tall, covered with balls of daphne-like bright
yellow flowers, lightly and sweetly fragrant. This plant is somewhat legendary to
plantsman. It is apparently almost impossible to grow from cuttings or divisions,
and seed is very hard to come by, although a single plant can live for decades. Sun
says that we will see a lot of it on this trip. Further up the road giant clumps
of Rodgersia (pinnata?) are just coming into bloom, in places covering the hillsides
with their bold strongly textured leaves. Stems of sugar pink Deutzia sp. in full
bloom billow at the side of the road, Philadelphus something (yunnanense?) is also
in full bloom, with long stems of large pure white, fragrant flowers. Rhododendrons
are in abundance, many small leafed species not yet blooming, R. decora with tight
round trusses of white-tinged- pink. Deep magenta Pleione yunnanense, Nomocharis
pardanthina just starting to bloom, (but frustratingly most were in only in bud,
we're just a little too early!), Astilbe aff. chinense is just emerging, common in
the moist ditches along the road, the new growth with a very attractive shiny coppery
color, and Aletris ( pauciflora?) a small liliaceous plant with a rosette of narrow
leaves, and single spikes of small mauve-pink flowers,
It strikes me that if I could be set down in the middle of this gravel mountain
road, the feeling would similar to being at home in the national forests of the Pacific
Northwest. The families and genera of the plants of China and the temperate USA are
similar enough that the feeling would be the same until one becomes aware of the
richness of the species surrounding us. And look up, and we can be nowhere else but
in China. Rounded peaks beyond peaks, sharp ridges covered with rich green vegetation,
rising steeply all around us. Clouds settle between the ridges, wrapping their mistiness
around the hills - it shifts - here, then gone. I feel like I am in a painting, but
I am here and not just looking at an image. t's too much. Sensory overload is settling
around me, pulling me along, wrapping me in a blanket of images and feelings, and
I am a willing passenger.
The highest peak is about 14,000' here. We drive to a trailhead, then hike, not too
far, but steeply to about 10,000'. There is not too much in bloom, but so much is
getting ready to open given another few weeks of warmth. Aconitum, Gentiana, Lilium
and Nomocharis, a small Gaultheria common under larger shrubs, Rhododendrons, Thalictrums,
many liliaceous species - Polygonatum, etc. Aletris, --- I don't know the species
on too many of them. We can't ID them, it's frustrating.
We left Portland 6 days ago.. Still almost 4 weeks to go. Will it go fast, or will
I be ready to leave when the time comes?
May 28, Tuesday
We are just leaving Dali, on the road to Lijiang. The clouds hang low, it is raining,
not heavy but steady, like an Oregon rain. The mountains that we just barely started
to explore yesterday are mostly hidden by clouds today but we get an occasional glimpse
of their broad base as we drive away.
We are driving through a broad flat fertile valley. The road goes straight for miles.
At times it is bordered on both sides with tall straight eucalyptus, but when the
roadside is clear of vegetation our view is unencumbered, and we can see the endless
rice paddies on either side, stretching to the rise of the distant hills. There is
much activity in the fields and along the roadside. People are working in the fields,
sometimes solitary, but mostly in groups, lined up in straight rows, bending in unison,
planting rice, in water to their knees. On the road men and women of all ages are
walking, carrying large baskets on their backs filled to overflowing with vegetables,
sticks, grain, bamboo. Some wear broad, dark brown, stiff, knee length capes down
their backs, made of rough palm fibers. Protection from the rain?
The road still stretches ahead and the people keep coming. I feel like I am begin
pulled along in some fantasy. It is exhilarating somehow. I take many pictures. I
miss so many. Every one tells a story.
A herd of small black goats barely makes it across the road. The pig was not
so lucky. He turned into the street just as we were upon him, and his rump met our
front right fender with a thud.
Piles of golden grain - winter wheat - cover the road ahead of us. We have to
drive over it, and the people rake and pile more on. They are threshing the grain
with the help of the vehicles. Clever. The drivers hate it. This goes on sporadically
I see a moving pile of cut bamboo ahead. All I see are legs from the knees down.
The load is so big and heavy that all else is hidden. The back is bent with the weight
of the load.
Something is wrong with the car. I hear talk of a bad bearing, and hear clunky noises.
We have to trust that it will make it to Lijiang. We drive in silence, the air is
charges with nervous energy, but we make it. Lijiang is a much bigger city than I
expect, bustling, and all the hotels are full. We must drive 10 miles out of town
to a new hotel on the nature reserve. As we drive thorugh this flat area with many
scattered Pinus yunnanense, I see an intriquing carpet of plants that we will be
able to study closer tomorrow. We pass many bushy clumps of blooming Cynoglossum
amabile, almost a roadside weed. It is a borgage relative, about 2’ tall, with the
curling cymes of true blue flowers typical of this family. I think how nice it would
look in my garden back home
It is beautiful here. Mostly open meadows, with scattered Pinus yunnanensis, and
a loose carpet of numerous species of Anemones, mostly A. demissa and A. obtusiloba,
unnamed Roscoea (probably R. praecox) , a small greenish-yellow Euphorbia - very
common, a Ligularia with tall yellow spikes but no well defined basal rosette, poking
up here and there throughout the meadow, hot pink Androsace spinulifera with narrow
silvery foliage, looking like a small primula. There is a small very common thalictrum
(T. esquerollii?) here, with small flat rosettes of almost leathery divided leaves,
and thin stems about 10" high, with drooping heads of small flowers with tiny white
petals and dangling yellow anthers. The rounded bright yellow clumps of Stellera
chamaejasme var. chrysantha are common under these pines, everywhere. There are occasional
rock outcroppings. Tomorrow I start to pick flowers for pressing. I need to buy a
large cheap book or two for the purpose. I have just started to explore, but we
must go to dinner. Tomorrow we get a room in the town of Lijiang, but right now I
am very happy to be here. It is beautiful.
I have my first glimpse of the jagged snow capped Jade Dragon Mountains ( the Yulong
Shan) this morning, rising up through the clouds, a grand view from the hotel room
window. It is unexpected, imposing, intriguing.
After breakfast Sun, Jack, Dusty and I begin to explore the meadows across from the
hotel. I am overwhelmed, again. The flat meadow gives way to a wooded slope, and
we follow the gravely road up the hill in the fog. Blood red Paeonia delavayi is
seen in profusion, though most are very small plants, not even seeming to be of blooming
size, although we do find a few in flower. There must be larger plants around to
be throwing those seedlings, though we do not see them. Rodgersia is common in the
understory here, though, again, small specimens, not the large lush specimens we
saw in the Cangshan Range. Dipelta yunnanaense is in fragrant bloom. This is a very
attractive shrub in the Honeysuckle family with large fragrant clusters of fat tubular
flowers of white-tinged-yellow. Golden Primula forrestii in full round-headed bloom,
Cypripedium tibeticum, many ferns, soft yellow Roscoea cautleoides is common under
and around shrubs, the shiny white flowers of Anemone demissa glisten in the mist,
a white flowered Ophiopogon, Corallodiscus sp. nestled in humusy pockets against
rocks, so many others. Clematis chrysochoma is also here growing among shrubs. We
have grown this species at home as a vigorous vine flinging itself through and beneath
shrubs. Here they creep, rooting as they go, or grow merely as small bushy specimens.
THURSDAY, May 30
A day of sightseeing. We visit the Jade Summit Monastery in a grand setting in the
hills outside of LIjiang, very peaceful. This temple is famous for the 550 year old
Camellia growing in the inner courtyard, an incredible multi-trunked, gnarled, twisted
specimen. During the cultural revolution, the Red Guard denied the Buddhist monks
permission to care for this ancient tree, but some of the monks continued to water
it, sneaking cup by cup of their own drinking water to it, keeping it alive. Many
gave their lives because of their devotion, and so it is said that this tree was
watered with the blood of the brave monks of this temple.
A huge 200 year old specimen of Magnolia delavayi grows inside the walls of the monastery,
with dense shiny dark green foliage and a few luxuriant blossoms of creamy yellow.
This afternoon we were on to the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang. This is a restful
large public park with a large clear lake, reflecting the temples, ornate pagodas,
the marble bridge, and the Jade Dragon Mountains in the distance. It is lovely. There
is a small nursery for park use.
We move to the hotel in Lijiang this afternoon. Lijiang is divided into a new modernized
section, and the old section with narrow streets and the old homes. This town is
near the epicenter of the strong earthquake that hit the region last autumn and signs
of destruction are easy to see - cracked walls, some buildings being torn down,
occasional piles of rubble.
In the late afternoon I wander the streets of Lijiang, the old part of the city,
with cobblestone streets, the usual shops and vendors everywhere, a narrow river
that runs through the town, small picturesque bridges. It is warm and sunny. I wander
alone down many streets, never feeling afraid. I buy some Chinese greeting cards
- one with Garfield the Cat standing by an American barn, saying something in Chinese.
Children say hello as I pass, with big smiles, so cute, and giggle when I say hello
back. I am struck at how open and friendly the children have been everywhere throughout
the trip. They are encouraged to learn english, and to say hello to westerners. Quite
the contast from America, where we do all we can to discourage our children from
talking to strangers. But they do pay the price for the safety I feel here. Any
infraction of the laws here are dealt with swiftly and severely.
I have dinner in town tonight with Zhou, J , D . We sit outside a local restaurant
until almost dark, then do some shopping. I buy a traditional Chinese instrument
for my son - an erhu - for 50 yuan, about $4.25. I pay for dinner - 42 Y, including
beer, about $3.75
Lijiang is home to the Naxi people, and this evening we attend a concert of authentic
Naxi music. The orchestra is composed of mostly old men, some well into their 80's,
the last of their kind, it is said. It is feared by those who care deeply about
such things, that the old traditional music will die away soon if the younger generation
does not pick it up. This traditional orchestra is unique, and has played it's ancient
music, by invitation, in England and other far away places, and a few nights a week
holds a concert in an old dusty building with folding chairs, seating about 50 people.
We are surprised to see that by the beginning of the concert the room has filled
to overflowing, almost all of them westerners.
Before the concert we visit the home of the leader of this orchestra, Chin Ku, an
ethnomusicologist. Dusty has befriended him on previous trips, and he is happy to
see us. But, even more interesting to me, is the fact that in his small home, on
the third floor, is the original desk of legendary and eccentric plant hunter Joseph
Rock. Chin Ku's father worked with Joseph Rock earlier in this century, and when
Rock left the country, left his desk and some other belongings with this man. It
is now in the custody of this wonderful man in this unassuming home, walls cracked
with earthquake damage. Now, many botanical groups make the mini-pilgrimage to the
home of this accommodating man to see this desk and hear the stories.----
I go to Mao Square after dark. It is about a block from the hotel. It contains the
only statue of Mao remaining in Yunnan. It is impressive as I stand at the foot of
the statue, looking up. Mao rises huge and imposing with one hand raised to the stars,
against a black sky. Two children come out from behind the statue where they sit
with their parents on this warm moonlit night. They say hello in their giggly way.
I say hello back and give them each a cookie. They giggle and run back to their parents,
run back to me and giggle a thank you.
I continue my walk to get a Pepsi, using some sort of sign language that I seem to
be picking up that consists of a lot of pointing and improvised gesturing. Most
shops are still open at 9:30, even the street vendors selling meat in the open air,
slabs of beef and pork, plates of pigs feet and chicken feet, whatever is left over
from the day. In a doorway, two men haggle over the price of a black puppy, most
likely destined to be someone's dinner when it is fattened up this winter. Black
dogs are prized for being 'hot' extra good in the winter cold.
There is a full moon tonight, and as I sleep she has risen high. When I awake in
the middle of the night, I am covered with warm silvery moonlight.
FRIDAY, MAY 31
Today we hike Gang Ha Ba, a flat valley at the base of the Wolong Shan - the Jade
Dragon Mountains. We hike up a semi-steep wooded slope, mostly of Pinus yunnanense,
some Pinus armandii, Picea likangense, and a dense understory of shrubs, Quercus
pannosa (I think) - an extremely attractive small leaved evergreen spreading oak,
various rhododendrons, There are many Pyracantha and Berberis here, one Berberis
with very attractive deeply glaucous-blue leaves. Thalictrum delavayi with large
loose clusters of purple flowers poke up here and there, Clematis chrysochoma with
soft pink flowers and golden-haired leaves flings it's stems through the shrubs.
Dipelta yunnanense and many other others. We hike over the top of the ridge and down
again into a wide flat plain, heavily grazed, but full of plants nevertheless. Anemone
demissa is prevalent, with loose clusters of shiny white flowers on foot high stems,
sometimes with purple tinged backs, a clear purple Roscoea sp (don't know which),
soft yellow Roscoea cautleoides, Rodgersia, Hemerocallis just emerging, impossible
to tell the species, Cypripedium tibeticum ( or C. daliense?) with it's oversized,
heavy, maroon lip pouches, the rare Cypripedium margaritaceum with boldly brown-spotted
leaves, soft yellow Cyripedium flavum, Calanthe sp., Paris polyphylla v. yunnanense,
various Arisaema not yet in bloom, Incarvellis mareii, some small liliaceous plant
with leaves about 5" long, almost Hemerocallis-like, in a spreading cluster, possibly
Reineckia. Iris ruthenica var. nana is blooming. There is a prostrate Salix with
small round leaves that covers the ground in open area.
On the far side of the valley, the Jade Dragon Mountains rise sharply, the snow covered
ridges looming and dramatic. We hear the sheep before we see them, the shepherd,
and his daughter. We run into another group of plant hunters, from England, being
led another botanist from the Kunming Botanical Garden. Nice folks, looking not collecting.
Two of the British women are interested in someone who could lead a plant trip in
thePacific Northwest. It's something I will think about doing.
Now I sit in my room, noisy with music from outside, people talking loudly in the
room next door, and TV noise coming from somewhere. It's a beautiful clear night,
I tried calling Bill this morning. It is still yesterday in Battle Ground. I got
the answering machine - talked to myself.