I need to recap a bit of my trip around the island of Taiwan. Traveling with family is, well, traveling with family. It comes with all the ups and downs of any road trip. On our first day, we headed toward the central area of Taiwan, an area much effected by a devastating earth quake several years back. People remember it as 9-21. Today, the rebuilding continues to be a work in progress. There is construction on the roads, in small towns and at popular tourist sites.
We arrive at Sun, Moon, Lake late in the afternoon and decide to drive the loop around the lake. It's overcast with a hazy mist in the air, but there are plenty of site awaiting us around the lake. We a temple and a peacock garden. We also make a stop at an aboriginal cultural village where we pay [NT$=50] to dress in aboriginal clothing and take some photos.
This is all to lead us to, what I felt to be a most ethereal experience at Tzuen Pagoda. We arrive at the tail end of dusk and find a trail climbing upward awaiting us. Darkness is starting to engulf the trees and there is a skinny old man sitting at the trail head. Of coure we ask how far it is to the pagoda, can we still get there? Is it already closed? He responds that we can still go and several of our company make the initial effort.
Now, Rosemary and I are up front. Others are behind us. We hear their voices trail behind us as we forge forward. It's a brick trail with moderate steps. I remember at the base it was marked with 700 meters. Is that 700 meters long, or 700 meters up?
We can hear comments of how steep it seems to be getting, how dark it seems to be getting...are we there yet? Eventually, all the voices disappear. Of course, the thought of turning back flickers in the back of my mind as muscles begin to burn and breathing becomes more labored. Ahh, but up, through the shadow of the trees, there is a glow. Or is it just a trick of the eye? No. I believe there is a light and I feel myself transported into some ancient story.
I walk the in the footsteps of a hero on a quest. He travels on weary feet through the darkness when in the distance he feels the warm glow of light draw him forward. It is like a siren in the night that leads him ever onward into the womb of the wilderness. I imagine our hero taking step after step, heart filled with anticipation as he makes his way through the trees to emerge into the serenity of a secret garden. It's a garden of stone and trees, but up, through the mist is a towering pagoda standing nine stories tall, bathed in a glow of light and surrounded by silence.
Step after step, hearing the white gravel shift underneath mindful feet, our hero slowly approaches the tower. No sound save the gentleness of his own breath. No desire to disturb the silence. Hands reaching forward to touch the grandeur of the tower, to feel the life of each hand that placed each stone. Who would believe that somewhere in the middle of "here" there could be such of sense of awe? A sense of soul and a sense of peace.
So, my experience at this pagoda was the most moving of my entire trip. I have no photos to share, only the memory of a journey when darkness was not dark at all.