Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

July 7, 2006. Jalman Meadows

Iíve made it out of Ulaan Batar Ė whoo hoo! (as some people would say, though I'm not one of them). My friend Rebecca and I have joked for years about going to Mongolia and riding a yak and staying in a yurt. Well, Iíve made the acquaintaince of a yak, a lovely looking creature, but Iíve never seen so many flies in one place! And I am indeed staying in a yurt, though they are called gers now. (Yurt is the very-un-PC Russian word for a nomadic tent.) And itís pouring. Itís quite lovely out here where Iím staying, so I had thought Iíd head out for a hike in the hills overlooking our little ger camp, or wander down to the no-doubt icy river and stick my feet in. But instead, Iím sitting in the cozy library ger, having investigated the books, tried on the embroidered fleece-lined Mongolian boots ($80, but they didnít fit too well), and tried on a huge felt-lined pair with turned-up toes (also didnít fit). Iím not sorry itís raining, itís nice just to sit here and make notes. And I met a Swiss woman whoís also staying here Ė Iíd been afraid, driving out here, that Iíd turn out to be the only guest at the ger camp, so I was glad to find I had company.

Iíve been thinking a lot about moving back to Arlington, being in one place instead of on the road. One part of my mind is daydreaming about my old hangouts- the coffee houses, the gym, the swimming pool, the bike trails. Places I might shop, where I might go race walking in the morning. And about having a house Ė a real kitchen where I can make proper meals, rooms to walk through, my own bathroom and shower. Itís all rather appealing in some ways.

But another part of my mind is very wary about settling down. Iíll be trapped Ė stuck in a rut, as I used to say to Marion many years ago. I donít have so much life left Ė perhaps another thirty years, if Iím lucky Ė and I donít want to waste it being stuck in suburbia with no particular reason to be there. For the past two and a half years Iíve lived life on the edge in some ways. Iíve been rootless, floating, living on my own with no real ties to place or people. Iím wary of giving up the ability to be on my own, afraid Iíll succumb so the convenience of everyday life.

The sun came out after lunch, so I stopped ruminating and went for a walk. The landscape is lovely, green hills dotted with pine groves, rolling meadows carpeted with yellow and white and purple flowers, and in the bottom of the valley an icy rushing river. I headed up the hill, following two dogs who stopped to mark the trees with their scent. Iíd read about Mongolian dogs. In all the guidebooks they give you the Mongolian for ďare the dogs tied up?Ē and warn you to use it whenever approaching a ger. But these dogs were friendly. They trotted up to me, let me scratch their ears, and sniffed my bag to see if I had any snacks for them. Disappointed, they headed off, and I continued up the hill, avoiding the frequent marmot holes while frantically swatting at the flies that swarmed around my face, landed on my arms, and bit my ankles. From the top of the first ridge the white tents of our ger camp were dwarfed by the breadth of the landscape. I continued up, but all at once I couldnít bear the flies a moment longer, and I abruptly turned to go back down, moving as quickly as I could without tripping on the steep hill, the squishy wet ground, and the nearly-invisible holes. Back in the meadow the breeze drove off some of the flies, but my destination was the river. Maybe bugs donít like that as much?

The river was freezing, but I didnít really mind. I waded in up to my knees, bracing myself against the force of the water. The bugs were much better, and I stood for a long time, listening to the flow of the rapids and watching the water bound over the rocky bottom. Finally I gave in to temptation, and leaving my camera and my shorts on the bank, I sat down up to my waist in the water. It was so cold that it almost burned, but it was also lovely to be there. I belong in the water, itís my natural element. I love the wind, the force and movement and life it brings. But the wind is just a poor imitation of water, of sitting in running water and feeling it move past, being completely part of its energy, being cool and wet and very much alive.

As I write this, Iím sitting at the table in my ger, my eyes adjusted to the light of the single candle in my room. I think the man from the ger camp just came by to ask if I want to go horse riding tomorrow. I said yes Ė I hope I donít regret it! I havenít been on a horse in thirty five years, and Mongolian horses are very spirited creatures. Tomorrow could be very interesting.

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