By Jay McDonald
Never have the elements appeared so intertwined. Of course they have always been that way, but only now have they fully revealed themselves to me. A single surging whorl of life. Sun in grass in earth in sun, a gust of wind snatches up a patch of loose ochre dust and as it swirls across the endless land, I see it is not just dust that has fallen into the wind’s inevitable grasp, but the sun that falls upon each grain differently, the glowing hairs of grasses that will land and sprout anew, the tufts of sheep wool caught on a snag and then set free, the insects too weak or submissive or trustworthy to fight the wind’s direction, the sky that gives the wind the space to gust so whimsically, so freely and without restraint.
The night glows purple as sleep begins to release me. The prolonged stillness of the cusp, the moment before the birds find their voice, before the grass’ dew catches the morning light in its prismatic orbs is the same stillness that occupies my mind. It is only a moment, only an edge, a point on a line or a line on a plane or a plane in the world or a world in time. In this moment I see all of eternity, and the instant exists only as a means to comprehend the timeless. The universe is broken down into an infinity of graspable fragments so that we might glimpse the ungraspable whole. The day glows orange as my mind and body stretch, hands approaching but not quite reaching toes, and profoundly muddled subconscious reaching desperately for logical discernment. Slowly, as the day is filled with light as a lung being filled with a long deep breath, and as my tired eyes begin to focus, the grass becomes the grass and the dew becomes the dew. The rocks become the rocks, my body becomes my body and the sun becomes the sun.
The dawn fades into the conceptual blue of sky and I walk into the horizon, separate and a part.
Saddles bruising thighs,
Flies in eyes.
Happy ageless men,
A child’s flawless handwriting.
Painted Free Tibet on shipping containers.
Piles of prehistoric dinosaur poop.
Thick soft felt.
Clumps of camel hair.
Fields of yellow,
Shadows of grass,
This horizon, so restful in its cradle of sky and mystery, is pierced suddenly by a swelling black dot that rips through the canvas of the sky. I look back at the receding sand and when I turn my head back, the formless dream invader, suddenly so close to me, takes shape. A man in dark flowing blue del floats effortlessly across the land, one with his horse and the sagging pole in his hand. He does not see me, his attention is focused on the horses born from the wind and sand.
My imagination and my reality are locked in a tug of war over my mind as I look on seeing only a man taming a wild horse. The two masses pull against each other in an elegant balance, impossible except in equal battle. They manifest the tensile force that simultaneously repels and attracts, existing everywhere in the space between nature and man.
Can the rider ever be reigned, can his spirit ever be broken? He is the untame. Will he ever be led around in circles by a rope threaded through his nose? Whipped until the wild is bled out from his hide? Will he, one day, be used for our own ends? Will his memories of freedom, of floating through the endless steppe, one with his animal and his land, be replaced with a vapid, slavish obedience? And if he is, will we, his trainers, feel as he does now, yelping triumph into the dry desert air? I see the mans face in the unfurrowed faces of horses not yet captured, and in the defeated beast he now rides the glassy numb eyes that haunt our cities.
The sun sets, the horizon fades, my unconscious blurs with my reality. As the horses are led linearly from pasture, I ask myself, who or what is my master? Can I remember the vastness of land before it was divided, the boundless freedom that exists outside fences? How did I begin, what is my natural state does it still dwell within me now? How did I lose it, who choked it out of me or buried it deep within and did I ever even have a choice? Did I fight futilely in a battle I could not win, or knowing this did I let the open sky close around me and let go of all I knew with a shrug and nothing more? And in giving it up to some nameless power, did I retain anything of my own? These are the things that I wonder as my eyes close and I begin to dream again of the endless desert, the sand, the wind…
I am dwarfed by the jagged stone extremities that I climb. They reach out into the surrounding land, inhaling it, draining it of its power, its majesty, of its very existence. There is nothing there but endless void, vast emptiness, the interminable two dimensionality of green carpet draped over a computer generated perspective grid. The whole of the spirit of this land is sucked into the galactic spiralling of this holy mountain, a whorl of liquid land culminating in a single point. But the power of this point is only realized alongside the knowledge that its structure could not exist without its void.
When the sun is low in the sky and the long sharp shadows have sheltered this square, they will be joined by the soft round faces of Mongolia’s proud and cultured. Here they stand, clinging desperately to the glory of their past, marching in unison, going nowhere, chanting the name of the immortalized hero into the setting sun. Their red flag rises on its pole, hoisted by a pair of silhouettes balanced on a rusting yellow crane. A song, a government, a man, a legend, a flag is not an identity. But the intangible feeling of common humanity and shared history, that is a start.
On the other side of the rolled felt flap of the ger shadows pass over the mountains in fast forward, shades of green pulsing and crawling across the land. They pass over a man who chops wood on one knee, alternately lighting and hiding a face weathered beyond its years. Time is simultaneously sped up and slowed down here, or rather time ceases to exist. Motion outside of time. He places the axe on the ground and strikes the wood on its alternately glimmering and dark blade. Time like force demands an object for its effect. The man, the axe, the crawling shadows of clouds, the dimensionless green, ignorant of the beauty with which they enter the rolled felt flap of the ger.
Image credits: Himali Singh Soin and Ibex Expeditions