In 1973, Peter Matthiessen and George Schaller (a field Biologist) journeyed into the mysterious mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep (the bharal). If fortunate, they would also be afforded a rare glimpse of the snow leopard. Matthiessen kept careful notes during the journey, and the notes became a book, The Snow Leopard, which illuminates his journey by examining natural and cultural history, Buddhism, the Himalayas, and his thoughts of life, death, and spirituality.
I almost felt as if I was walking beside him and his retinue of Sherpas and Porters (although I was much more comfortable; on my sofa, close to the fire).
The book also focuses on Matthiessen’s relationships with (among others): the natural world; his recently deceased wife, Deborah (D); the taciturn George Schaller (GS); and Tukten, the Zen-like Sherpa.
I completely agree with Pico Iyer’s description of the book in his Introduction: “It features some of the most transcendent, light-filled moments in modern prose, and yet it is, in the same breath, and at every turn, about anger and pain, and fear, and its protagonist is as impatient and far from Buddhist tolerance on his way down from his transcendent moments as on his way up. In that sense, it’s a journey into humanity…” [p. xxii].
After finishing the book I was reminded of a meditation retreat I went on many years ago: when I left the retreat, I felt a lightness of spirit and it seemed as though the ‘real-world’ had been transformed. The feeling wore off slowly, but could never be forgotten.