title: The Snow Leopard
author: Peter Matthiessen
first line: In late September of 1973, I set out with GS on a journey to the Crystal Mountain, walking west under Annapurna and north along the Kali Gandaki River, then west and north again, around the Dhaulagiri peaks and across the Kanjiroba, two hundred and fifty miles or more to the Land of Dolpo, on the Tibetan Plateau.
rated: 4 out of 5 stars
When Matthiessen went to Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and, possibly, to glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard, he undertook his five-week trek as winter snows were sweeping into the high passes. This is a radiant and deeply moving account of a “true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart.”
I co-read The Snow Leopard with Velvet over the past few weeks. This is Peter Matthiessen’s memoir documenting a trip he took through Tibet in the 1970’s with a zoologist named George Schaller.
Matthiessen’s writing is very descriptive and several beautiful passages stood out at me and as I read I was easily whisked away.
“Where the valley narrows to a canyon, there is a tea house and some huts, and here a pack train of shaggy Mongol ponies descends from the mountain in a melody of bells ad splashes across the swift green water at the ford. From the tea house, a trail climbs steeply toward the southwest sky.” -p. 18, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
I feel like sometimes a good book just finds it way to you and the timing is great. I found this to be a relaxing and interesting read during such stressful times now with the pandemic and quarantine.
I think Matthiessen was brave to go off and travel mainly on foot like that through all kinds of trails and terrains, climbing steep hillsides and seeing so many distant places and people. That takes guts. He pretty much did all of this with just the clothes on his back. It’s amazing to think of doing something like that. While he is out on his trek he finds zen moments of introspect and clarity. I try to meditate daily myself and although for the most part I liked when he spoke of Yogis and meditation, I did find some of what he referenced about enlightenment to be odd and just plain gross at times. I wasn’t expecting to read some of the things he was saying would constitute enlightenment but I’ll leave it at that.
The trip is full of inspiration but also of moments of sadness as Matthiessen misses his family and thinks about his late ex-wife. There is also the aspect of danger just on the periphery daily. These people are in remote locations with no nearby doctors, they are climbing steep hillsides and mountains, they need to make sure they have enough food and supplies as well. On top of that the elevation gives headaches and the snow blinds their eyes as they travel. This is a mentally and physically exhausting venture. Not to mention that being for months on end with the same people on such a difficult journey without creature comforts can drive you batty as well.
And I wondered how Matthiessen could up and leave his young son behind. I believe his son was 8 years old at the time of the trip. He promised him he would be home for Thanksgiving and he broke that promise.
Overall this is a beautifully written memoir about a man who goes on a trek to find himself and get a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard. I kept wondering, where is the snow leopard? Will they find it? Is it watching them? There’s a little twist at the end. Highly recommended.
I’ll close with some of my favorite passages:
“I have the universe to myself. The universe has me all to itself.”- p. 278, The Snow Leopard
“The secret of the mountains is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life and the mountains ring, and when I hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart…” p. 208, The Snow Leopard
“This stillness to which all returns, this is reality, and soul and sanity have no more meaning here than a gust of snow; such transience and insignificance are exalting, terrifying, all at once, like the sudden discovery, in meditation, of one’s own transparence.” p.169, The Snow Leopard
Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I purchased my copy of The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Some of the links in the post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission. The book photo in this post is mine and not to be removed from here.