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A Minnesotan In China: Learning about the world; learning about ourselves

Brandon Ferdig took the opportunity during his final days in China to hike in a creek bed valley near Wu Dang Shan. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Submitted Photo A clan of semi-wild monkeys greeted hikers in the valley near Wu Dang Shan, China. Submitted photo2 / 2

It was my last day at the Wu Dang Shan Tai Chi Academy. I was leaving at four o'clock that afternoon. And the anticipation of my exit gave a new vibe to my remaining hours.

One thing I wanted to squeeze in that day was to explore a creek that flowed down in the valley below. Unseen, but told to me by other students, I wanted to walk beyond and within the hillside forests and discover this creek for myself.

I love creeks - especially in the woods. And this rocky, hilly landscape gave me higher hopes yet.

These hopes were met. The creek was gorgeous. I drank from it, I walked along its length. And at the end, as there was for me, there was be a clan of monkeys waiting to greet you.

We started down late that morning - myself, my teacher, and t two boys.

Soon after we got underway, the group of middle-aged women students there joined in. The tone jumped from a few guys on an adventure, to a more leisurely, family stroll. A narrow, weaving trail wound down the mountain. Sometimes level, sometimes steep, sometimes along the cliff, we made our way.

At the bottom was a homestead. This reminded me of cabins my brothers and I used to explore on our deer hunting land back in Minnesota.

And like the woodsmen back home, I had to wonder how they built this structure way out in the middle of nowhere.

After this detour, parade of cabins, I had to catch up. Pacing toward my group, I found what they had already found the creek.

Gosh, it was pure and clean. The crispness was so sharp and vibrant; this seemed as much a calling to one's own artistic and true self as it was a simple observation about its clarity and potability.

I've written before about the depth of this image: the stream lapping along the rocky creek bed. It's an artery of the forest. It's a statement of the ever-flowing water, the never-moving stone, and the unique, but nonetheless effective, forces that they are, but also represent in humanity.

The boys went back up the cliff after some time. I wasn't keen on that return trip, so I opted to follow the creek out to the road with a couple of the gals.

The walk was beautiful.

At the end of the walk, a clearing. It was through this final stretch that we met nature's ambassadors to this valley - wild monkeys.

A couple quickly turned into a clan. Indeed, I first saw them playing on the ropes stretched across the gorge. They see humans and apparently think food. The stone path we were upon was populated with them to the point where one of the ladies I walked with didn't cross until I shooed them away.

One monkey went after her purse. Another stared at me so I smiled back. Not sure why, and it was a mistake. In monkeyese, showing your teeth is threatening, I guess. He showed me his fangs and let out a nice yelp to go along with it.

Kinda freaky, so we kept a-walking until we got to the road where a bus eventually came to bring us back to the school.

I left that afternoon back down the mountain to the town below. It was much warmer down there. I arrived back at the makeshift apartment/hotel that boarded me my first night in town. The next day I got on the train and said goodbye to Wu Dang Shan.

The nine days here were incredible. Up on Wu Dang Shan there were many lessons: patience and contentment, living without luxuries, discipline, being "in your body" rather than thinking all the time, and like so many other places in China, the beauty and power of nature. I know it sounds silly to say it "changed me," but as I said when I introduced the place, I still practice the physical and mental routines that were established on this mountain.

This stay would be the last major event for me in China before returning home to Minnesota. Afterward it, I briefly visited Xian, a city worthy of much time and attention, but shorted because of time constraints. And a couple days after that, I also said goodbye to my China home, Zhuhai, as well as to China altogether.

Next time, I'll write about this mixed-emotion, reflective parting.

For now, I hope you got a lot out of the wisdom I encountered and experienced on this mountain top in Hubei province. Regarding this post, I hope you see your world a little smaller as the woods in China sort of look like the woods anywhere. Sure, there are different plants in the Earth and animals in the water, but the differences between there and a Minnesota summer aren't too drastic.

And when you boil it all down prior to technology and even civilization, you realize the universal trait among all people, which is the appreciation and comfort with nature, the realm all our ancestors enjoyed.


Brandon Ferdig grew up in Blackduck and spent 2010-2011 teaching and traveling in China.