Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Three 


 

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At the foot of the mountains were a labyrinth of intermittent riverbeds carved out over centuries to handle the spring overflow. My engine hummed like mechanical poetry up and down the meandering hillside road, past waterfalls and fallen rocks. We splashed through puddles as we followed a river with water the color of sand, taking snug turns and rolling through tunnels. Low clouds kissed the green slope of mountain range too steep for the foot of man but covered in trees. The toxic tongue of the city's exhaust didn't reach the flourishing fauna in the country.

I trailed ten yards behind Doppel along the spine of Isle Formosa through shantytowns like Tahsi and Fushing and across bridges and past temples nestled in nests of bamboo and palm trees. September in Taiwan was a time when the vegetation was dying and the rich smell of fall was thick. I sensed a laziness in the mountains like a waiting for the cold, a resignation to the inevitable, that made me feel like we were moving into the forbidden while no one was looking.

After a few hours on the road I saw the first open crack in the pavement from the earthquake. We stopped to look at it where a steep creek ran into the river we had been following. I was so beautiful it had to be savored. There hadn't been one vehicle on the highway.

"I think the rocks are the most dangerous thing right now," said Doppel. "But you can benefit from my lead."

"Yes I can," I said, laughing. Walked to the fissure in the pavement and had a smoke. "Mini San Andreas Fault."

"There should be more of these the closer we get."

We refilled our water bottles in the mountain stream and splashed our faces. Drying in the sun only took a few minutes so high up. My hands were already stiff.

"So about your little book you did. It's all pretty hardcore you know. All that stuff about Viking morality."

"What? The Viking theme? Or should I say, the philosophical importance of an exploit to a Viking?"

        "Yes, that's what I was thinking. That voice."

        "Well, I used that because the Viking character symbolizes all that is healthy in man. He is in touch with his hearty instincts and is not afraid to affirm his own morality on the world he sees. And besides, we happen to be a Vikings only we're living a thousand years after our heyday." We both stared at the water.       

        "Have you read it?" he asked.       

"I've read it, yes."

"And?"

"It ticked me off a little actually, to be honest. Some of these rules you have for members of this Viking-Poet Club seem a bit polemic."

"Well, if you read it out of context it might seem that way. Like if you flip it forward and read parts without reading the parts before, because the whole thing evolves like one long equation in a series of deductions."

"You mean like Wittengenstein's Tractatus?"

"Yeah, a bit. All I was after in that thing I wrote was to distill the wisdom of life. That's it. And how the getting of wisdom enhances our ability to enjoy the art of living."

"Sounds pretty innocent, but some of those passages aren't. They're forceful."

"One should never write in the passive voice." He grinned. Always been like that. Didn't ever respond cowardly to authority.

Doppel rock-hopped up the fast-moving creek with me following behind him. Out of breath after a short distance, he stopped. Took out a smoke and lit it as he stood on a stone with the running clarity of water underneath his feet.

"This is beautiful dude," I said. "Didn't know this country had such beauty."

"Here, give me the handbook for a moment," he said. I rustled it out of my jacket and handed it to him. "Here, you read this part?" He held up the book as if it were the Bible.

 

Opportunity and circumstance provide the template;
Situational pressures test the fat of successful employment of the Golden Mean.
The delicate application of wisdom is the Mean's actual progression that begs no fanfare because wisdom has its own indigenous humility.
Wisdom ceases to be a medal or trophy once it is attained;
Indeed it becomes a primary guiding force in life, like extra IQ.
The wise carry an extra stick to fight all that wisdom dislikes.
Having that which commands respect is something that forever removes him from the ordinary.
Those who have wisdom look for this Mark of Cain in others,
And those who have yet to solidify that insight shun the wise,
For fear of exposing their foolishness,
And their unfounded notions of sure epistemology.
Wisdom, in short, is that which separates all men from each other,
And places them either at odds with or in sync with the evolution of self.

 

Hearing about wisdom beside the waterfall was surreal, but it deserved a reply. I stroked my chin and looked up.

"I've always looked at wisdom as the conquering of ones natural antagonism towards the passing of time." Doppel nodded. "Once the insight into what is wise and what is foolish is attained, all decisions and actions adhere to the bird's eye view of time. This affects how one governs their life because they exist in a new frame of time reference." The sound of water was the only thing I could hear for a moment as he thought it through.

"And why does man have a natural inclination of antagonism towards time?"

"Because time is finite: it's the most expensive thing a man can spend. It is the one thing that we cannot control and yet is passing all the time. And because it can't be controlled, it is regarded with a mild form of resentment."

"Well, yes. I can see that."

"Most importantly, the bigger decisions involving ones destiny march to the sound of a different drum. Employing a time-friendly frame of mind encourages the calmness of a sage; an ease of being that is based on a fear that has been overcome. All becomes attainable in the wise man's world. Each action is deliberate and calm and done with purpose. That fear of missing out and making mistakes is quelled so a peace of mind can rule with foresight. The philosopher-king can finally take his throne and conduct life in adherence to what will be tomorrow and in the years to come." I hadn't ever expressed this idea before, and I was thankful I had someone in this world who wasn't afraid to put his philosophy training into practice.

We walked down to our motorcycles.

        "Sounds like you have a time beef with your idea of wisdom. Maybe that's a difference between us? I think I've always had a benevolent relationship with Lady Time for she is the master of all things."

He started his motorbike with one kick and grinned, slipped it into gear and let out his clutch, leaving me there in the dust.

  

 

Chapter Four 

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Back on the highway and taking tight corners twisting up the mountain, we rode beside what was becoming a gorge. Valleys and lagoons tantalized the eye, artwork of geology's hand was fingerprinted in every curve. The smooth hum of the engine became almost tangible as my four-stroke HONDA climbed up the mountainside like a snake slithering and weaving. I relegated my helmet to an out-of-the-way position, the wind flowing through my hair. 

As I rode there were two things on my mind: Doppel's ‘Viking Exploits' and the proper functioning of my motorcycle. Of more importance was the engine not breaking down, but I was more fascinated with the Exploit chapter of the handbook. I recalled some passages. ‘For the Viking-philosopher an exploit is like candy: it's a piece of knowledge to be unwrapped upon perpetration,' was the line that was ricocheting in my mind. The deeper I rode deeper into the Hsientun Mountain Range, the more I remembered.

‘Exploits call forth the best in the Viking, inviting a chance to see hidden abilities and dormant gifts. For a Nietzschean Viking, another exploit inches him closer to the much-coveted notion of objectivity. For the Religious Viking, it is an opportunity to toy with fate as well as come into contact with God. For the Viking Scientist, it is an opportunity to test hypotheses and witness the laws of nature in play.' Each line throughout the chapter simply opened the door and walked into my head.

‘For the Loner Viking, an exploit is a time of reflection-and-mulling while laughing-and-doing in a peaceful silence. For the Carpe Diem Viking, the given adventure is always an once-in-a-lifetime occurrence special for its uniqueness. For the Bored Viking, it is the ideal slot of experiential time to explore new colors and regain the magic of novelty.' Ah Doppel, what have you done?

Let me say that the handbook is an attempt to define those qualities most desirable to be admitted as a member of the Viking-Poet's Club, so there are chapters set aside to outline what it is to be acceptable. It explains the moral code that best exemplifies that which is held highest to the Viking. It is the moral ideal, like Nietzsche's übermensch but more adventuresome and poetic, without the needless politics. It was a document that expressed the morality best suited for his character to flourish and achieve in this world. Both being fans of Schopenhauer, I knew it was his own World as Will and Idea.

The club motto was "Live your life like a work of art."

Doppel's accumulation of knowledge and nurturing of ideas had led him to require form of expression. His seclusion in the mountains was a retreat from a dangerous societal collectivism that stunted originality and flourishment of the individual. So to ensure the survival of his own soul he had become a man of solitude in a foreign country where he didn't speak the language.

Aftershocks hit again and again, moving around my back tires as if they were momentarily flattening. It was dangerous not because of the movement of the earth and losing control of your motorcycle, but because of the falling rocks. The greatest potential for disaster was after an aftershock. On one occasion a rock whizzed by my ear so close that I could hear it. Still I didn't put on my helmet, but it was enough for Doppel to signal and pull over just out of reach of the rockslide.

"We've been working the engines for four hours so we should giv'em a rest."

"Sure," I said. "My brakes are losing their grip a bit. A few of those corners were kind of scary." I could feel the red burn on my cheeks from the sun.

Doppel relaxed on a rock facing the valley. The roar of nearby water shook the stone that I sat on. Looking at the handbook, I selected some of the Viking passages and read:

"'For the Old Viking, an exploit is a time to recover lost youth through the timeless thrill of challenging adventure.'" Shook my head and smiled. "'For the Artist Viking, it's a bouquet of multi-colored images in symmetry, mise-en-scene and the angle of light. For the Adventurous Viking, it is an opportunity to push the envelope, cover new ground and graduate to the next level.' Wait," I said, "isn't an ‘Adventurous Viking' a double entendre?"

"It's true. It is." His eyes opened a little wider for a moment when he looked at me. "I think you're the only person who has ever read my book." Didn't seem to bother him in the slightest.

"You could say it's sort of growing on me a bit."

"You mention the Viking exploit?" He raised an eyebrow now keen to disseminate. "Exploits are the Viking's bread and butter. Both meaning and art are rich when the Viking undertakes an adventure. A crucial source of personal identity and self-esteem, exploits provide the means for acting on healthy instincts. They are actions where he makes his own rules and acts under no overseers other than God, or Odin in this case. I would say that the freedom of how to execute an exploit feeds the creative need of the ‘beautiful blonde beast;' his vehicle to express that which he considers play."

"Yes, I'm gathering that."

"See? Even for the Morose Viking, an exploit is a time to try to get at the root of his sadness while pumped up about the playfulness of the adventure. And for the Student Viking, it's when he can procrastinate and still better himself in mind and body, and forget about his exams.

"No matter how you slice it, an exploit is always a chance to improve your situation. It's a blue-chip positive. Without the playful flourish, the child within the man becomes dormant; without the lightness of spirit, actions are perpetrated with lead shoes. The spirit of poetry is demoted to the mechanics of war and cold execution. Without the exploit outlet the man soon becomes sick in spirit and unable to smile."

"And what about our present exploit? How does that fit in?"

"In everyway I've mentioned. It's a healthy road trip. It is in the art of perpetrating an exploit that the Viking can realize his full potential." He took out a smoke. I could hear the engines creak as they cooled down in the wind.

"Turn it to page 38," he said. "‘Road-tripping Rules.'" I flipped it to the list on page 38. I hadn't read the full list but was confident I was aware of all the equipment needed for such a motorcycle trip.

"Shall I?"

"Yes."

I read like a student to a professor:

Road-Tripping Rules
q      Can never have too much tissue, water, bread or nuts
q      Always bring an extra wool sweater
q      Always be in the appropriate gear
q      Always give passing trucks wide berth
q      Never push a bad position
q      Always carry extra engine oil on long tours
q      Always bring raingear - tops and bottoms
q      Always bring extra pairs of socks
q      Always wear eye tackle
q      Always wear long sleeves and long pants despite the heat
q      Always have emergency phone numbers
q      Always bring a reserve wad of cash in small bills
q      Always have a decent map
q      Always bring a Zippo lighter and a candle
q      Always keep an eye and ear peeled for au naturale music
q      Always wear multiple layers
q      Never bring a bulky jacket
q      Always bring a journal and reliable writing utensil (pencil)
q      Always take the scenic route
q      Never feel like you're in a hurry
q      Always have a pair of gloves for mountain riding
q      All terrains are desirable except sand
q      Never climb when you could be one gear lower
q      Always be on the lookout for side roads leading to lagoons
q      Always sport a posture that aligns with the form of the bike
q      Primary responsibility is to be considerate to your motorbike
q      And always carry a compass on your watchstrap
 
  

"Question. Eye tackle?" 

"Well, yeah, eye tackle, kind of like wedding tackle. Eyewear."

"I must admit, there were a few items on the list I hadn't thought of."

"Words to remember for this trip maestro."

&

 

One thing I knew before I came to Taiwan was how his motorcycling had become a source of great meaning. It was as if his riding was a composition and he was the composer. I had always loved riding ever since Doppel and I had motocross bikes as kids. Like life itself, motorcycling was a thrill that could only be experienced alone. Doubling someone on a motorcycle trip was cumbersome and took away from the ride. Alone on the bike one could follow their own way without infringement.

"What you should have in the handbook is an overview of what you need on a motorcycle journey to make sure your vehicle doesn't break down."

"So it doesn't break down. Hmmm. Such as?"

"If I were to have a list, the primary item of top importance is oil. This is the oil that lubricates the walls of the two-cylinders that enables the pistons to work at their most efficient and reduces friction on the cylinder walls that directly cut down the heat generated by the pistons."

"Well, yes. Overheating is indeed a potential problem along the peaks and valleys we've traversed across the mountain range already."

"Also, oil quality is a factor," I said. "Instead of half-miling it, go to the HONDA dealership and buy the factory type four-stroke, two-cylinder engine oil that was made for this specific engine."

"Yes, good point. I see you have found an exploit that interests you."

"Just as important is the oil for the gears. Lubricating the transmission from the copious gear shifting we're doing to negotiate these peaks and dips. Simply put, without sufficient gear oil riding a motorcycle could turn into a truly painful experience."

"We should add this under ‘Viking Motorcyclists.' I might have missed that grouping."

"Of other primary importance," I went on, "is having the front and back brakes tightened. A small wrench is required."

"And we shouldn't forget oiling the chain."

"No, we shouldn't." I drank some water and looked across the valley and saw a corner in the road a few kilometers away.

"Also, with constant turning, especially downhill turns, tires need to be filled up to a firm pressure. They shouldn't be too low so the tire could actually fold or crease during the pressure of a turn, or too high that it would pop if it hits a pothole or bump in the road."

Doppel swung his arms around, getting the stiffness out of his body. "Go on," he said.

"The clutch should be tight so as not to strip the gears. Other things of consideration are the tightening of the steering column, wheel alignment, and effective front mirrors, functioning lights and blinkers.

"I don't know about you but my back tire pressure is the one thing I'm aware of most because of the aftershocks. It feels like it's loose, like riding on bubblegum tires, especially when I'm taking a corner and the aftershock hits. A loose back tire could cause the back wheel to shift onto the rim causing a possible tire blowout. The fact is that I may have a slow leak. It's a pretty old bike. How old is it by the way?"

"Twelve years old. Seen a lot of action." Having a possible slow leak made think of the possibility of becoming stranded on the mountainside with a flat tire and unable to speak the language. I kept the concern in the back of my head because there's a fine line between worrying about something that in fact may never occur and being cognizant of a potential occurrence.

"Well, do you think you have a slow leak then?" he asked.

"It's a possibility I'd say."

"Well, riding requires clarity of the moment and sharpness of perception. And this is hindered by anyone who worries about unrealized phantoms."

"I see your point, certainly."

"These are the demands of excellence in motorcycling."

"And enjoying the smells and colors and mountain views."

Self-contained and easy to maintain, the motorcycle was my instrument to write the verse of my adventure. It was an entity of freedom without glass windows cutting off my immediate intimacy with the world. The smells and temperatures intermingled with side winds that disheveled my hair. I knew from the look in his eye that Doppel too was in his element on a motorcycle because like his life, the danger was indivisible from the ride. Doppel had come to regard danger as the ingredient that enhanced the thrill. Without danger an exploit was flat, like life without death. He thrived on danger as a reminder of his mortality.

  
  
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Following the flow of Enya,
 
the next suggested song is:
 
"Anywhere Is"
 
To take a break,
 
read the lyrics.
 
Very fitting to the book.
 
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