Taiwan is an island and its wildness is always only moments away. When the stimulus of the city becomes too much, you simply walk away and literally step back in time. One hundred years ago all of Taipei was covered with rice fields, a quiet simple life, island style. Its difficult to imagine that life, standing on the steps of the World Trade Center, dwarfed by the landscape. The building effectively block out the sky as they rise from the earth. In the distance, the mountains beckon.
A busy urban street leads to a quiet country road and terminates at the base of a mountain. There are 1200 concrete steps, chiseled into this mountain-straight up, no switchbacks. I begin my ascent. People of every age pass me on the way. Their faces are relaxed. The pace is slow. Some twirl hoola hoops, others stretch their tired muscles. We are all quiet as we concentrate on the effort. Temples dot the landscape. Graves are carved into the mountain. Incense burns, the air is saturated with the lushness that surrounds us. From this vantage point, I look down and observe the older women with the lampshade hats tending the rice fields and terrace gardens. A river gently flows in between. I need to see this up close.
I chart my course and walk to this place. I get closer, and crawl down to be eye level with the river. Trembling, he approaches. His voice quakes and in halting English he states, “You take pictures.” Nervous, I haltingly respond, “yes its all so beautiful.” I search his eyes; passion looks back. For what I wonder? He gestures with his hands and encourages me to look closely at each individual plant and its individual struggle to survive. I kneel down and gently touch a small fern. I see its tenacity to survive. It grows between the rocks that surround the river bed, framed by its ancestors, their trunks as large as trees. I look at the bigger picture. Every shade of green is represented. Reflections create a mirror image. The beauty is doubled.
He continues,, “Many years ago, the people here used concrete to stop erosion. It did, but it also destroyed the plants that the river needed for survival. The plants died, the river began to die too. Its better now, the concrete was replaced by this natural rock, the plants came back, the river began to breathe again. I’m a Botanist. I have an interest in the plants. I come here to watch.” He draws me in further–connects as he discovers my profession as a Respiratory Therapist. Immediately, I understand the enormity of his task. He says, “you watch the babies get sick, you help them breathe, they get better. It is the same with the plants. Our struggle is the same, the end result is the same, we both offer hope for the planet.”
Movement here is subtle. A gentle breeze waves a palm tree. Closer to the ground, its force is softer, a small plant stirs. The river flows, bubbling over rocks, etching the landscape, creating a well-worn route. The river, the plants and the rocks all rely on each other for balance. The simple truth is we are all on a path to achieve the same harmony. At this moment, everything is as clear as the river