Monday, February 6, 2012

THE FOURTH LUNAR LANDING

When I was home in Wisconsin this earlier this winter, an old high school friend of mine reminded me of a story that I told to him many years ago when I returned from living in India. I thought some of you might find it interesting. I also wrote this years ago.
Tomorrow Vivian and I leave for Vanuatu where I have a teacher training seminar. We appreciate your prayers. One more note, I just looked on the internet to see what weather we could expect, and I see that we are due to arrive in Port Vila, Vanuatu, about the same time as the Tropical Cyclone Jasmine. Hmmm...

THE FOURTH LUNAR LANDING

The only reason that I can remember the date is because of the event that was occurring at the time.  It was July 31 of 1971.  Two American astronauts had just landed on the moon and were walking on its surface. They even had with them a little “Lunar Rover Vehicle,” which they were driving around on the surface of the moon.  It was the fourth-lunar landing and the first with the little car-like vehicle.
At the time that all of this was happening, I was in an area of the world where a mountain climber could get as close to the moon as is possible on foot – the Himalayan Mountains.  These mountains are called “the roof of the world” for good reason. But of course, despite their great height, the Himalayas cannot compare to a lunar landing, and while two of my countrymen were walking on the surface of the moon, my path was a more lowly one.  I was walking on the surface of the earth in these mountains.
And even with that, I was far from the peak of any mountain.  I am not a climber.  I am merely a hiker.  I stay away from scaling cliffs and do not listen to the call of mountain peaks.  The call of the river valleys and tops of wooded ridges are enough for me.
It may be true that these mountains reach higher toward the moon than any other, but the technological development of the area where I was hiking was almost as far as one could get from the advanced technology represented by lunar landing crafts and space suits.
I was sitting in a little tea stand in a tiny remote village in the mountains.  There was an old bearded gentleman also sitting and drinking tea.  His face was weather beaten and wrinkled from the harsh climate of the area. He was probably not as old as he appeared, but to me, he seemed like the original old man of the mountains. He and I exchanged a simple conversation. Our words were limited since I did not speak his language of Urdu and he only knew a few words of Hindi (I could only struggle my way with it myself).
Over our heads was the moon.  It was waxing toward being a full moon, as I remember it.  The old man of these mountains learned that I was an American and he had heard of the moon landings.  I remember him asking me if it were really true that there were, at that moment, men walking on the moon.
 
I had been in high school for the first lunar landing.  Of course, it captivated all of our attention.  We watched every moment of it on TV and listened to all the scientific explanations (made understandable for the TV audience) for every movement of machine and man.  The event was astonishing and even beyond comprehension, but none of us had any doubts in believing that it was actually taking place.  In our imagination, we could picture the American astronauts walking on the moon.
 
It was much different for me with this fourth landing.  Sitting in that tea stand, where perhaps the most technological advanced piece of equipment was a tea strainer (there was not even electricity in that remote place) the image of men walking and driving on the moon did indeed seem difficult to imagine.
There we sat, the old Himalayan gentleman and I, sipping our tea and gazing up at the moon.  It became obvious to me that my companion did not really believe that at that moment, there were men walking on the moon.  I must say that as I sat and viewed my surroundings, it was also very difficult for me to believe. In that place, the thought seemed a bit absurd. Nevertheless, I answered him that I supposed that it was true since I read about it in the newspaper. But I am sure that I did not sound very convincing.
We must have seemed an unlikely pair.  He and I were almost as opposite as two men could be.  A young (still teen-aged) American boy, and a very old Himalayan shepherd.  We both looked up at the moon and then at each other.  I do not know what my eyes revealed, but his had a look of skepticism and unbelief.  I cannot say that I blamed him.
He finished his tea, and after asking his leave, rose to his feet and started up the trail.  I supposed he was on his way home since it was late now, in the afternoon.  I sat awhile longer and thought about this old man.  I looked up at the moon and then at his back retreating up the mountain trail.  His life would probably be affected very little by the lunar landings.  Mine far more.  Which of us, I wondered, were the more fortunate?
I drank the last swallow of my tea.  Placing the glass on the table, I rose to my feet.  I took one more long look up the mountain trail. Then, with some regret, turned and started down the same trail to where I was to stay for the night, before returning to the city the next day.

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