Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Landscapes: A message from Ashleigh

When asked what I might like to write about on the blog, the first thing that came to mind is the indescribable landscape of Jomsom, Kagbeni and the trail to Lo Manthang. I feel certain that the particular combination of colors and textures that make this land an astonishing work of art is indescribable, but I will do my best:

Seabuckthorn kindness,
A smile like rain quenching thirst,
Mr. Bhakti gives.

Jomsom sits by a river that has carved, for endless years, painted canyons of tundra-like majesty. Sheer, steep cliffs made of scree and compressed threads of prehistoric sediments. Cy and I find, in winding conversation, that this place reminds us both of the Beartooths in southern Montana mixed with the mountainous deserts of Idaho with a hint of California scrub. But, comparisons will not do: the wind of this valley is unlike any current I have every met.

Animals graze in high mountain-top pastures, quietly hidden in the clouds. I love how farmers set their animals free during the summer months--they can look after themselves as the rains fall on the valley. Amidst the rock and dust and afternoon wind that howls and screams and beats on our faces and fingers, are green fields: of the greenest I've ever seen. I realize how skilled the Mustang farmers are with their systems of irrigation. As the documentary shows, Mustang farmers have built wood-cast and stone channels that guide the flow of the waters so it will be most effective. People of Mustang are proud of their land and excitedly show us the way to their fields and describe every plant new and old, its properties, challenges and successes in growing AND offer us gifts of fruits and jam to take for the journey. Like Mr. Bhakti of Marpha, a town just an hour's walk from Jomsom. He greets us with great enthusiasm and quickly rearranges his day so that he can be our devoted guide. His name suits him: Bhakti means Devotion in Sanskrit.

Mr. Bhakti is a very accomplished man. He calls himself a social-worker. Even in our brief visit, I gather that he is a dedicated community leader. With great English, Mr. Bhakti weaves stories of apricot trees, Maoist infiltration, global warming and medicinal flowers. He offers us seabuckthorn berry juice and handfuls of fresh apricots: two varieties, local and Kashmiri. "Different taste," he says with a smile. He leads us along a pathway that opens at the edge of green fields. Each field is marked with a white stone at the center. The stone identifies to whom the field belongs. He joyfully shares news of his latest projects: he recently built solar powered showers and a clothes-washing tap for the lower caste people of his village, who cannot afford to wash. "This way, in my village, there is a smaller gap between rich and poor." He also talks about how, in Marpha, prices are adjusted for those families who cannot afford to pay full price on food and goods. What a noble man. His commitment, his devotion to making change happen NOW inspires me to commit to a community and, with courage and humility, become the change I wish to see in the world. Many thanks to our friend Mr. Bhakti.

Who can paint the wind?
Prayer flags in Upper Mustang.
Dust-storm dancing, blow.

...and so this is Kagbeni: the gateway to Upper Mustang, the gateway to restricted territory. From the edge of town, we see the door to the canyon, cliff-crossing trek that will lead us to Lo Manthang. Prayers are carved in stone and fingertips turn prayer-wheels to offer blessings to the wind. I imagine, for a moment, that wind is the breath of the world and we now reside in one of the windiest stone villages on earth. My face is covered in a layer of dust; my eyes squint with a thousand tiny sand crystals peeking through. The wind sweeps prayers and breath and even energy, perhaps -- but this sacred, quiet expanse nourishes the exhaustion back to life: as if we could be liberated of all our lesser qualities as the wind passes through. And what remains? A strong skeleton of possibility: naked and ready for seeds of newness. This is where I am: Kagbeni; wind-city; the gateway to Upper Mustang.

Fantastical world.
Red rock and windswept daydream,

This land makes me feel quiet. How else to respond to something so unbelievable? The painted canyons carved like the red-heartwood of madrone or fallen oak; scratched by the claws of a giant cat: panther in the sky, snow-leopard paw. This land makes one believe in fantastical creatures. What else to say? I feel quiet. Riverbed, sharp canyon, speckled tundra, snow-capped peaks, irrigated green harvest. Pema Dhoka runs from the field to greet us. Her hands are covered in ashen earth from digging potatoes. She rushes to make us tea, make us lunch. Hardly stopping to take a breath, but always smiling. She loves to shower us with the gifts she knows, the abundance she grows and the spirit of the windy land she calls home. Gratitude.

Jaw drops at first sight,
Silk riverbeds grow gray gold.
Painted canyons hum.

Jane calls out: "Isn't this beautiful!" I laugh a little through my smile thinking of how I would be blind to disagree. I am drowning in disbelief: entering into a fantasy world where sheer red cliffs rise from silk riverbeds whose stones are fossilized history books of what flows and grows and changes as water passes over rock. What is most shocking is the contrast of colors and shapes and textures. The red-orange drip-castle shapes of Canyonlands, Utah (stretched in breadth and height) rise through a magnifying glass toward the sky. And burnt-purple embers burned by ash, not by fire; resin cooked in smoke, not in flame. The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like sugar on gingerbread cookies. No -- more magnificent and robust than gingerbread cookies. ...The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like like clear shoe polish, but more surprising. With my camera angled just-so, I try to capture the palette of colors laid bare before my eyes: Quartz white speckled with river-stones of blue, gray and golden-brown. Dry-wood brown sediment compressed flat by weight and time. Virginia red-clay angled like shards of glass or books stacked sideways. Dusty-green paint, almost like ether, speckling the tundra, but smoother than speckled. And the riverbed mud shines like fools gold. I resist the temptation of stopping every few meters to snap a photos of the marble blues and grays and whites: swirling, curling, playing with the trickle of the tiny streams like hair-strands or witch-fingers. Swimming in beauty. We walk across scree and sandy earth and wind plays with our scarves and hair. The climate is extreme: when the wind blows, it Blows. When the sun shines, it Beats down like a hot iron. When the clouds roll in, they are low and full and heavy. We enjoy the rise and fall of this land: remarkable and remote.

...Remote for but a few years longer. The government is funding the building of roads into Upper Mustang. As we walked out of Kagbeni, we had to share the road with a monstrous leveling machine. The one whose wheels look like a centipede rolling, rolling, rolling and flattening the rocky earth: making way for more landslides, more traffic, more tourists sleeping in the back of tour-buses. I felt like an insect in the Ferngully Forest, being ground to dust by the neon noise. After the unlikely and incredible bridge built by 10 years of hard work on A Gift for the Village, perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of our journey to Lo Manthang is the timing. Machines move quickly: uprooting earth that has kept the secrets of this land for centuries.

But for now, my heart is grateful to witness the grandeur of the gray-gold rivers, the blood-red pulsing canyons, the blue-ether painted watercolor mountains, the sharp snow-capped magic high peaks, and the sunlight-colored generosity of the friends and strangers we meet. Thank you, Jane and Jenna, for welcoming me on the journey. Just breathing here expands my belief in what is possible.


Garland said...

Ashleigh, how wonderful to read adjectives with dust blown off and like paint on a palette chosen precisely for their effect in the composition to depict the vistas!!! Thank you!!!! This definitely is not the place or time to use the generic "cool"!!!! Your blog is interesting and exciting to read, and re-read, perhaps slowly, to let the colors blend into the vista you're trying to show us. I'm so glad you've experienced this venture and have shared the trip from your perspective!!! May it bless you the rest of your life!!!

Crystal Iris Photography said...


Your words are magnificent- You can be glad that I am not with you... I am sure I would be in a photographic frenzy-blessings- teri

Suzan said...

What a fantastical picture you paint with words! It makes me feel like there is so much beauty in the world that I haven't seen or experienced yet! Safe Journey to you and keep writing!Suzan