Inktober 12- “Short-tailed Stoat”– So…this one is an experiment from one end to the other. Of course if it had been a Fail, y’all would never have seen it. This stoat was one of a colony that kept me thoroughly entertained popping up and down in the rocks one evening near a monastery in Mongolia. I was inspired by Aaron Blaise to buy some white ink pens and try them with my dip pens on toned paper. The “firsts” are: a Gillott #404 nib and both Gelly Roll and Uniball Signo white pens on Strathmore Toned Tan sketch paper (a 5.5×8.5” pad). The black ink is Perle Noir, which I used for the last piece, a baby elephant. I’m quite happy with this first attempt, so there will definitely be more Inktober drawings done this way. I have lots of toned paper, lots and lots of pen nibs and a number of bottles of ink. So I think this will go on past the end of the month.
As the great old Rolling Stones song says “You can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need.” In this case, what I wanted was to leave for seven weeks in Mongolia on Monday. What I got is having to cancel the trip due to having fallen last month and sustained a concussion. The decision came this past Monday when I woke up with a recurrence of mild symptoms, plus still feeling tired and a bit out of sorts. Mongolia, and the travel required to get there, is challenging when I’m at 100% and I am definitely not. Any problems en route or out in the deep countryside or even in UB could have been serious, possibly requiring an emergency air evacuation to a country with western-standard medical care. It is not a place to test “What can possibly go wrong?”. And I was struggling and not quite getting there with mentally gearing up for packing and the attention and focus that requires. So I did the adult, responsible thing *sigh* and cancelled.
The “need” part comes in with the fact that this will my first full summer at home since 2007. And, after three exhibitions in four years and, in retrospect, a little too much travel, I find that a break with a long stretch of unstructured time and no non-discretionary deadlines (there are juried competitions I want to enter) to be very desirable. Lemonade.
So, what will I do now with all this “free” time? Well, I’ll miss having gone on my 12th trip to what has become my second home, that’s for sure. The prospect of not seeing friends, well-loved places, new places, being with the Mongols and painting and sketching on location there is kinda hard.
OTOH, I have time now to let it rip in the studio, trying out new media and ways of working, experimenting with my painting, drawing and painting “on location” in my own garden. Having time to paint with my friends in the Sunday Paintout group. Sketching at our local zoo. Taking day trips to the beach or river with my husband and our two collies. Doing training with one year old Peregrin that he needs and deserves that was going to be delayed until I got back. Spending lots of time in the garden and my propogation projects (probably will do a plant sale this fall). Getting to go to a family reunion in August on the Oregon Coast that I was going to miss. Working on marketing/career stuff that’s been beckoning for quite awhile now. Sitting on the patio in the afternoon sun with a beer in a pleasantly vegetative state. But also, retrospectively, recharging from the past four years. And, of course, planning my 2018 trip to the Land of Blue Skies…
But, wait! There’s news! In either December or January (I’ll announce the date when I have it), I have been invited by the Sequoia Park Zoo Conservation Advisory Committee to be one of the speakers for their Conservation Lecture Series. The title of my talk will be “Art and Conservation in the Land of Blue Skies”.
Our time in Great Gobi A at an end, we packed up and headed back north the way we’d come. The fuel level in the Land Cruiser was low so the first order of business was to get to a soum center, Bayan-Ondor, to fill up. We also had lunch there. Soyoloo, our cook, went into a cafe and arranged for us to use a table and to get a thermos of milk tea. This worked out very nicely.
Once again I’ve included a fair number of photos to show our route in case it might be of interest to someone else doing research about going there.
I started to feel uneasy not long after we started to visit the second temple. Wasn’t sure why. There was a stillness I found unsettling and not just that it was quiet. We were shown a couple of large panels in the main temple that listed all the people who had donated to the restoration, along with the amounts they had given. It added up to millions and millions of tugrik. The surviving old temple was in poor condition and visible repairs were cheaply done, although the interior wood framing and supports looked sturdy and good. The new temple, in the shape of a ger, also had a feeling of being built quickly and cheaply. The ceiling was made square panels a little like the acoustic tiles one sees in America. Some were askew and some seemed worse for wear. In both cases, it felt like no one had noticed and no one cared. The tower for, I assumed, calling the monks to prayer, looked to be in pretty bad shape. A new long, low building, had been constructed (visible in the front of the photo of the complex above). There was also a good array of solar panels to provide power. Our young student tour guides walked us past the newish long living quarters building on our way out, answering some last questions, and a very unfriendly male voice ordered them back inside. The closest school was 60km away and the boys only attended one week a month. The rest of their time was at the monastery taking classes in Buddhist practice. And so we left. We had been given permission to camp somewhere in the vicinity and we drove around looking for a spot. I became more and more uncomfortable and stressed, to the point that I finally had to say that I needed to leave now, right now. Something felt bad and wrong there and I needed to get away from it. It was so very odd and I was clearly the only one who felt it, or at least no one else said anything. Have never had anything like this happen on any of my travels to any place before. But leave we did and found a spot on an open plain to the north with a great view. As sometimes happens a local herder and his wife showed up on their motorbike to check us out and have a visit. We went to their ger the next day.
As we pulled up the woman came out. She was holding her hand which was wrapped in a plastic bag. We could see instantly that it was terribly swollen, a bite of some kind. I gave her a half-dozen or so ibuprophen for the pain, emphasing that she should take no more than three at a time. Her husband was going to take her to the soum center hospital, probably more of a clinic. It turned out after some chat and a translation from our guide, Batana, that the woman had gotten down on the floor of the ger, reached under a bed to get something and felt a sting. At that point all the Mongols decided that it had been a scorpion. Her life wasn’t in danger, but she definitely needed to see a doctor. They left and we were on our way a short time later after getting water from their well.
We continued on and found a sheltered spot not far from a soum center. It was quite windy, as it had been for a lot of the Expedition. The drivers and guide went into town to get gas and buy snacks.
We drove up to a high point with an ovoo and wonderful view of the river valley, then backtracked a short way to a special spot where we set up camp for a few days. And that will be next week’s story.
While our original intent had been to spend two nights at Orog Nuur, the combination of heat, mosquitos and there being very few birds around in the morning caused us to decide that we would travel on north instead.
After having lunch on the north side of the lake, where we did see some shorebirds and demoiselle cranes, we worked our way through heavy vegetation on a really rough earth road to get to the main route to Bogd, a soum center, where we re-filled our water containers from the local well.
Then it was up and away from the Gobi toward the Hangai Mountains, another part of Mongolia that I had never seen before.
We stopped for the night a short way off the road, after having passed through three changes in vegetation as we went up in elevation. It was cold and windy, quite a change from our previous campsite by the lake, but I slept well.
The next morning we drove into Bayanhongor, an aimag center which was quite a substantial town. We trekked around town buying petrol, eggs, bread and meat. It was an energetic, busy place which had nice tarmac paving in the central area.
On the way out of town we found that the road Khatnaa wanted to take was washed out by the recent flooding. Consultations with a number of locals ensued and an alternate route was found. And what a route it was!
Our destination was the soum center of Erdenetsogt, home to the Gachen Lama Monastery, neither of which I had ever heard of, much less knew anything about. The soum center was typical, except for the lovely setting above the Tuy Gol. The monastery was anything but, as you will see below.
This is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful buildings I have ever seen. And what makes it almost unbearably poignant is that it is the sole surviving structure, other than the entry gate, that is left on the site from the destruction of the monasteries that took place in the late 1930s. There were originally ten temples.
But today the monastery is alive again and it was bustling with activity when we were there in anticipation of a visit the next day by a prominent Tibetan Rimpoche (teacher), who was going to preside over the dedication of two new statues that were to be installed in the new temple next door, which was built in 1990, making it the 20th anniversary celebration.
The old temple was filled with people, many of them elderly women wearing beautiful brocade del. Upon entering, we found that they were preparing hundreds and hundreds of printed Buddhist sutras which were to be placed in the statues. There was a real assembly line going. Some monks were rolling the small strips of paper up very tightly. These were handed to the women who then wrapped them in sewing thread. After a few minutes of watching, Soyoloo reached down, picked up three of the rolled sutras and handed one each to Khatnaa and I, keeping one for herself. Then she got us each of spool of thread. Suddenly we weren’t on-lookers anymore, but participants, truly a gift. We each conscientiously wrapped our sutra and added it to the growing stack. Amazing to think that I’ve left a little bit of me in such a special place.
As an artist, the temple was pure eye-candy, being covered with a riot of decorative carvings and paintings on almost every surface. Stylistically it is probably mostly Tibetan, with some Nepalese influence. I’m posting most of the best images I took because when I googled the monastery, I got no hits at all and this place is too special to not share.
After we left the monastery grounds, we walked toward the river to see the seven stupas which overlook the river valley.
This seems to be one of the most beloved pieces of music in Mongolia. I love it, too.
We debated whether to stop here for the night in the hope of seeing the Rimpoche the next day. But we really had no idea when he would arrive and were a little uncomfortable being conspicuous as the only non-locals around, so chose to travel on. And that resulted in one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.