A Little More Winter

Winter in the Himalayas “Often leaves in small stages…but sometimes it simply leaves one night” says Kersang from her village near Deqin in northwestern Yunnan. It is still ‘spring’ of this year when she says this. Being Tibetan she feels the winter and sees it as something more than simply cold but rather as a time.

Winter - Jeff Fuchs

Spring this year is but a word as snow still lines the mountains and the north-facing valleys padding everything in white muted padding. Winds are constant and there is a tang of snow in them still but the snow itself appears immovable once it hits the ground. This winter has seen more snow than in previous years and the cold reminds Kersang of winters decades ago which pleases her. Winters for her are a time to shut down, get out of the fields and spend with ones who matter sipping tea near to a fire. It was a time when the temperature and risks enforced a slowdown in all things and all expectations

Winter - Jeff Fuchs

“Winters should be winter” she says simply and I couldn’t agree more.  The water-ways that flow out of the great mountains: the Yangtze, the Mekong, and the Salween and all of their dozens of tributaries all run low, clear, and cold as they too slow down and reflect the heights’ health.

 Winter - Jeff Fuchs

Another season journeying in northwestern Yunnan with the cold still sitting deep in the earth has reminded me – and in many ways reassured me – that all places and people need winter to bring about a break, a change, a consideration of things and perhaps just a grand expanse of nothing.

 Winter - Jeff Fuchs

In the days of the Tea Horse Road, the idea of  ‘Gung’ka’ (‘winter’ in Tibetan) was a loose and flexible one, particularly when it applied to traversing the mountains.

Winter - Jeff Fuchs

“Snow could come anytime. Winter only meant that it would be colder” said old trader Tenzin years ago when speaking of the months’ long expedition to bring tea, salt, wool, and all things desired into the mountains. Winter was not a time of bleakness but rather of silences

Winter - Jeff Fuchs

Another sage trader of the route, Kalsang of the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Jol had another gem of eloquence about the seasons. “Seasons are simply times in a year. They are a measure, not a fact”.

 Winter - Jeff Fuchs

Eternal friend in most mountain journeys Sonam, tells me this spring that winter is once again beginning to assert and lengthen and intensify. He feels it in his bones differently than when he was young.  We travel together bound by memories of the same landscapes felt and seen at different times of year.

 Winter - Jeff Fuchs

For many – beyond even the Himalayas – the idea of change and of marking time and flow is based upon the seasonal ebbs at the end and beginning of every year. It is no accident that ‘losar’ (Tibetan’s New Year) begins when the temperatures drop to their lowest levels.

Sonam (aka Spiderman)

Sonam (aka Spiderman)

 When things are this dry and still, the structures of men seem more vulnerable themselves while the elements of the natural world take their time to issue shape and form. Roads are vulnerable, fence-lines hidden and snow obliterates many of the signs of habitation which I’m sure suits the elements fine.

Through the snow I go

Through the snow I go

Sonam tells me one day as we trek up a segment of snow covered earth that he thinks “The winter might last a little longer this year. It might remember itself”. I thought his words perfect.

A barren summit, pass, or pathway in winter for locals is in fact a negative sign like this one in northwestern Yunnan

A barren summit, pass, or pathway in winter for locals is in fact a negative sign like this one in northwestern Yunnan

A little more winter wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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