Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Five 


 

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I rode with one eye on the road and one eye on the old villages and pagodas I passed, steep precipices enticing a fever of recklessness within me. Fresh mountain air and a sprinkle of rain against my face, I carved my corners through hazardous civil engineering and saw why the Portuguese called Taiwan ‘Beautiful Island.' The road was now showing severe signs of earthquake debris but Doppel and I cruised through damp tunnels past barking dogs and swift streams. The obstacles on the road didn't slow us down because we rode in third gear, dodging the rocks and broken boughs with poise.

A Robert Browning line came into my mind:

My stress lay on incidents in the
Development of the human soul,
Little else is worth study.

This was Doppel's primary dictum, and why he chose to spell out the moral code for membership to the Viking-Poet Club. For example it is strongly recommended to locate in a foreign country so that a new culture forces you to adapt yourself to your new environment. This begins the process of tapping into your instincts. Viking-Poet members choose books over television, art and philosophy over science and technology, and continually strive to build their knowledge about all facets of life. A member should have the inherent equipment to survive in all corners of the world without the help of others so that not one place but rather the planet itself is your home where you are comfortable in all geographies. He states that top-level task of all members is to earn wisdom upon completing an exploit in which he has freedom of movement using self-sufficient means. Execution of all exploits must be done poetically.

And while endeavoring in an exploit, members should remember the Viking-Poet Club dictum: "Become who you are!"

I slipped it into fifth gear going down a hill and curving through a small village passing a huge temple painted with green dragons, and Gods holding their long beards in their hand. We stopped there to refuel.

"Anything you want to say about exploits before I move on to the next chapter in the handbook?" I asked.

"Well, yes. Some basic stuff. First, what is an exploit? It is an act or a deed, especially a brilliant or heroic one, from the Old French word esploit. In Latin it is explicitum, neutral past participle of explicare, which means to unfold. The verb of explicare is explicate: to make clear the meaning of; explain. To unfold. So you see an exploit is an action whereby something unfolds that also explains, perhaps something about the character or the nature of the deed. Regardless, at the end of every exploit is something gained and explained."

"That's not in the book."

"No, I didn't put definitions in the book. It's too time-consuming."

"Anything else?"

"Well, yes. Every exploit needs a primary objective that serves to satisfy one of man's natural instincts. When perpetrating the steps toward the completion of your primary objective, it should be executed with the utmost incorporation of your own style that can be interpreted as ‘poetic motion.' When completed each exploit should yield wisdom, a moral or enlightenment that you can apply to the rest of your days. As an absolute master you should tackle exploits that yield insights that you can use to paint your canvas."

"Life as a work of art. As in painting on a canvas?"

"Indeed. Strong strokes of the brush." When his tank was full, he screwed on the cap and parked beside the temple. There was a large Buddha in the middle of the temple with incense burning.

"What I call the key to the Viking-Poet Club that all prospective members are told is: all individuals are given the same opportunity to live a life that is extraordinary."

"That's the key. What's the first principle? I think I remember reading that there was something about a first principle." We stood beside each other looking at Buddha.

"The marrow of strength is born from the healthy expression of instincts. That's the first principle, though I like to think it's to promote ones originality at all costs." He looked like he was making a comment about a pebble in his shoe. "See, there is an art to be had in all aspects of living, so that all Viking seekers are artists in how they do what they choose to do. Flourishment of self comes from the self-affirming enjoyment of overcoming obstacles that litter our path."

"That's very proactive of you," I said. "Doesn't it also say somewhere that the first warning to members is: always beware of time-stealers."

"You did read it. I was hoping you had."

"What exactly is a time-stealer then?" We both moved into opposite corners of the temple courtyard, he stroked his chin and pondered a definition.

"Time can be defined as a period during which something (as an action, process or condition) exists or continues: an interval comprising a limited and continuous action, condition, or state of being; measured or measurable duration. So you could say a time-stealer is something that takes away potential action." Doppel seemed to find this of interest. "I suppose one could also say time is a unit of duration as a basis of poetic meter."

"I would say it is the length of the period required for or consumed in performing an action," I added.

"Ah! In the words of Henri Bergson: ‘...life is a matter of time rather than of space, it is not position, it is change; it is not quantity so much as quality; it is not a mere redistribution of matter and motion, it is fluid and persistent creation.'"

"An exploit as a creative endeavor."

"Exactly!"

"Speaking of rescue action." We both bowed at Buddha at the same moment.

 

&

 

Out on the road the turns were tight because as the landscape didn't allow for wide berth, tall bamboo shoots sprouted in every given space, steepness a sight of awe. In the middle of nowhere was a village built around a creek with small homes supported by concrete stilts dangling over the water. Vegetation thick off the road, ferns so tall they look like palm trees; even the most zealous jungle trekkers couldn't penetrate the foliage. But it was the roar of the water under the overhanging concrete homes that made it so unique.

Down the road and over a ridge we found an odd sight. Nestled atop one of the tallest mountains was a university, a colony of academia perched in the middle of the range. We rode up to the school but couldn't see anyone.

"When one yearns for peace and quiet, quiet can be very quiet," he said. "For someone who is a tad scared of heights, this has to be the highest university in the world."

"It's a far cry from the atmosphere of a big American school with its fraternities and pub crawls."

"This is monastic solitude."

Hua Fan University was built in the plain functional style indigenous to the Chinese, resolute in its purpose to indulge in the art of teaching. What was most striking was its remoteness.

"What do students do up here?" The dorms were quiet and halls barren, a stagnant pond unmanicured, like a ghost town. We sat on the small terrace and looked out to the expansive mountaintops. 

"Recently built, it's here for the overflow of students from the island," said Doppel. "It's for all those students who didn't get into one of the big ones around Taipei. Only 30 percent of those who graduate from high school get into post-secondary education. There simply aren't enough schools."

"I guess you'd either excel in this noiseless setting or go crazy."

"That's why the keen ones study English, to try to get into one of the under-attended schools in the West."

"Or this one. Leave it to the Chinese to build here. They seem to be a very determined race."

"No one can ever accuse them of not being industrious. May not have the cream of the crop but they might nurture a philosopher or poet or two. Hiking could enliven the instincts."

"Indeed."

"'Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak the truth,' to quote Schopenhauer."

"Didn't he also say ‘symmetry is rhythm standing still?'"

"I'll take your word for it," he said.

"You mentioned instincts. How exactly would you define ‘instinct?'" I could tell definitions were tough for him because he took them so seriously.

"Instinct is a natural or inherent aptitude, tendency, impulse, or capacity. As an adjective its to instigate, to incite; impelled by an inner or animating or exciting agency; profoundly imbued instigation; to implant as animating power. Instincts are largely hereditary and unalterable."

"A blueprint for behavior."

"That goes back millennia. Sure. The instinct in man is what governs our behavior during our earliest years of development. And it should continue to aid in more complex decision-making in adulthood. It's a suitcase full of inclinations that contain an entire system of built-in action. An integral part of our biology."

"And you argue in your book that the repression of instinct is the source of all psychological problems."

"True. Man today, who I refer to in the book as ‘the 21st-century man,' epitomizes that repression of instinct. Ignores his instinct; thinks it's base. That really gets my goat."

"Yes, there's a chapter about that in your piece."

"The 21st-century man thinks mountain bikes are for children and thinks anything to do with the ‘spirit' or ‘philosophy' is a form a mental instability!"

"Ignores all that he doesn't understand and hasn't read a novel since high school." Doppel nodded.

"Measures his life as a countdown to cashing in his pension."

"Fluent in the games people play with each other using deception and manipulation."

"Always follows rules. Believes everything he reads in the newspapers."

"Completely unable to understand the ‘NOW' in time." This one made us laugh finally.

"Lives in constant fear of the unplanned, like a typhoon."

"Or earthquake."

"Avoids debates. Distrusts those of higher education."

"Has never gone through the metamorphosis of boy to man."

"Does not have any opinion that differs from the general consensus. Prefers to follow rather than lead. Acts primarily to please others."

"Regards his time as something to get through and endured rather than to be valued and enjoyed."

"Measures all activities in monetary terms first, and thinks instinct is the urge of lust."

"Believes Affirmative Action is fair." That broke him up. When he was laughing it was the first time the deep sadness of my condition hit me. How I would miss this.

"Sounds like we both know who we're talking about."

Just then a helicopter flew overhead.

"It's flying in the direction of Puli," he said, checking his compass on his wristwatch. "I think we're close to Wushe." The sun falling into the west sky.

"Where are we staying tonight?" I put on my wool sweater.

"Who knows? We'll play it by ear."

We eased out the clutch at the same time but he took the lead.

  

 

Chapter Six 

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The sky darkened fast in the mountains with no sign of life I could see.

Seven years ago Doppel had made a choice to get away from the world of the 21st-century man, a decision that led directly to his current state of existence. He quite seriously regarded himself as belonging to a different epoch in history, closer to the sea-faring Norwegians a thousand years ago than the soft-bellied TV-watchers of our current age. So many men today have been lured away from a passionate life of action that has given him withered limbs and sickly pallor. It saddened and frustrated Doppel to see so many in his band of explorers had fallen weak in their indolence.

I think the root cause of Doppel's choice not to conform to the 21st-century sickness had its birth when he came across the idea of time utility. He realized that if he had fame or fortune or both, time would still be the most valuable commodity in his life. He didn't want to be on his deathbed looking back on his life seeing things he didn't do. Each person is given the same opportunity yet so many fail to see the wisdom in seizing time to experience the riches life has to offer. He had declared war on the fool's life, and in doing so had discovered the poetry inherent in time. And that, he believed, was the key that unlocked the gates to wisdom. Doppel had evolved into a philosopher.

As I face my deathbed as a firm reality I grasp the profundity of his choice. I hadn't utilized my time like him. I hadn't spent it wisely. And this, more than anything pained me most about my impending death. It was the tragedy of my life. Where my brother would be riding a motorcycle in Asia I would be watching a hockey game. Doppel hungered for the cusp of the blade to remind him that he was living dangerously, a reminder that he was still alive. Boredom and normalcy shall forever be the pillars of his bane.

The fog began as a brief patch of low-hanging cloud that kissed the cheek of the trees but the small cloud patch blossomed into a blinding mountain fog. The darkened upper reaches two kilometers above sea level presented us with our most challenging element to overcome. I wasn't able to follow my headlights to the road so to ride at all I had to look straight down at my front wheel to check for the centerline. Without any traffic the risk was reduced to either riding off the road at an unseen corner, hitting a fallen rock or getting my wheels caught in a large gap in the pavement.

I heard Doppel downshift in virtually zero visibility. I slowed too but instead of being scared of crashing I was filled with zeal. By using the sound of my engine bouncing off the rock on both sides of me, I navigated my bike through the dense fog along the top of the pass. It was one of those unforeseeable situations on a given road trip that called for an off-the-cuff solution.

Then we hit a tunnel. I slowed down to first gear sticking my legs out to feel for the sidewalls in the tunnel, looking at the growing light near the end of the tunnel. When I finally exited, I found Doppel pulled over at the tunnel's mouth.

"That was serious," he said.

We walked down the road enjoying the stiff joints warming after prolonged intensity.

"Better on this side."

"I was thinking we could throw down a sleeping bag just over there." He pointed above the entrance to the tunnel. To me, from what I could see under the full-mooned clear sky, it was the right spot to stay the night. There was nowhere else. And we were miles from any mountain village.

"Could be all right," I finally said. We both climbed around the entrance to where there was a flat area protected visually from the road and with some grass. It didn't take us long to set up camp because the temperature was falling. I put on all my clothes and used my knapsack as a pillow. I could see my breath.

"Do you know what the Havamal is?" I recognized the word only from a reference to it in the handbook.

"Some type of book?"

"You could say that. It's the Viking Bible."

"C'mon. The Vikings had their own Bible? Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying. Not many people know about it, which is surprising considering how common a word like ‘Viking' is."

"So, what does it say?" It was a few moments before he spoke again.

"'All doorways, before going forward, should be looked to; for difficult it is to know where foes may sit within a dwelling. Givers, hail! A guest is come in: where shall he sit? In much hast is he, who on the ways has to try his luck. Fire is needful to him who is come in, and whose knees are frozen; food and raiment a man requires, who o'er the fell has traveled.' That's how the three verses go in The High One's Lay."

"Fire, I'll say!" I shivered in my coat. "And how do you know these lines?"

"I studied the Havamal for years. It's full of tales like the book of the prophets in the Old Testament, and examples of Viking character." Wind blew around us stirring the trees.

"Do you know more?" Again there was a silence before he spoke.

"'Water to him is needful who for refection comes, a towel and hospitable invitation, a good reception; if he can get it, discourse and answer. Wit is needful to him who travels far: at home all is easy. A laughing-stock is he who nothing knows, and with the instructed sits. Of his understanding no one should be proud, but rather in conduct cautious. When the prudent and taciturn come to a dwelling, harm seldom befalls the cautious; for a firmer friend no man ever gets than great sagacity.'

"Those are the first six verses I know, but there are other ones more applicable to our enterprise." I gave half a bagel to Doppel and then curled up in a ball, shivered in the wind until I warmed up. Ground was hard and the mountains had snakes.

"Anything in there about your Viking-Poet?" Despite my fatigue, there was no way I was close to falling asleep. There were no more helicopters, only the swirl of the wind coming from below.

"There's some stuff about the fool that I can remember."

"Does that mean even Vikings sought wisdom?"

"Very funny."

"Is plundering an exploit?"

"'A miserable man, and ill-conditioned, sneers at everything; one thing he knows not, which he ought to know, that he is not free from faults. A foolish man is all night awake, pondering over everything; he then grows tired; and when morning comes, all is lament as before. A foolish man think all who on him smile to be his friends; he feels it not, although they speak ill of him, when he sits among the clever. A foolish man thinks all who speak him fair to be his friends; but he will find if into court he comes, that he has few advocates. A foolish man thinks he knows everything if placed in unexpected difficulty; but he knows not what to answer, if to the test he is put.'"

"How do I know you're not making all this up?"

"Look it up if want to. It's pretty easy to remember because that's how it was handed down for centuries. Only recently did someone bother to write it down in Norwegian. It's easier to recall in that kind of verse."

"Yeah but why do I think you're saying the verses that only apply to me?"

It was the first time in years that I heard my brother truly laugh from the gut. That baritone laugh brought me back to childhood. I heard the laughter go on for some time before it stopped and the dull hum of mild snoring began. I tossed and turned most of the night, trying to figure out whether Doppel had called me a fool.

  
 
 
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Suggested song for these chapters:
 
Pink Floyd
 
"Time"
 
The softly sung lyrics
 
fit well with the narrative.
 
Headphones strongly recommended.
 
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