Toward the Plateau of Leng

And from that high cynosure I turned my eyes and discovered a wealth of little words flying past. “We are here we are here we are here,” they chirruped, bluebirds of lexicography.

This of course was three months up into the mountains and these things were pretty ordinary by that point. I’d made the mistake of hiring Nepali porters instead of Chinese — never hire natives if you can possibly hire one of their neighbors instead — and they’d taken to glancing away from me by the campfire at night and smiling into their hands. They knew the mountains, right enough; too well by half for my comfort, for the things the merely knowledgable would have shrugged off they took as omens and signs. “The mood of the mountains will be against us,” they liked to say, whenever I suggested we shift camp or stop early or late or take this route instead of that. They wouldn’t explain why, only repeat that damnable, “The mood of the mountains will surely be against us.” I’d done my preparation in the Alps and some of the less forbidding Chinese peaks and knew enough about mountains, I thought, to winkle out any explanation they could offer. If I’d been more sure of myself I’d have sent them back and pushed on by myself but that’s a quick way to a messy end more often than not so I was stuck with them.