I was saddened to read that one of my favorite writers, the novelist and naturalist Peter Matthiessen, passed away this past weekend at the age of 86. In addition I was also a little shocked to see that my favorite book of his, the non-fiction work The Snow Leopard, was (in his words) done “for the money” as writing fiction was his primary passion. Of course there are varying degrees of things done simply for money, but I still find it difficult to believe that months spent trekking around Nepal working for the great field biologist George Schaller was something he did solely for the paycheck (and future book deal).
I can’t fault anyone who lived a life as interesting and meaningful as Peter Matthiessen, however. When it comes to earning a paycheck it could’ve been far worse for him. Instead, he could’ve sat in a cubicle farm in some office listening to the wheezing of the air conditioning system instead of in a tent in one of the most isolated parts of the world yearning for a glimpse in the wild of the near-mythical snow leopard . I guess isolation is in the eye of the beholder.
By the way, anyone that digs ditches for a living feel free to chime in and call me out on my whiny office worker statement in the last paragraph. I guess that’s just the end result of having returned to the corporate world (as I have done this week) after a few months of having a lot of free time on my hands. I’ve yet to figure out how I can fit bike riding into my new schedule! The square peg has met the round hole and questioned why his creator neglected to do a tolerance analysis: he seems to be stuck.
But whether you dig ditches out in the warm sun or sit in an office bathed in cool fluorescence, I highly recommend The Snow Leopard as it is a fantastic read – especially if you’re a seeker at heart (as I am). We’re all looking for something, thank you Peter for laying out why that’s so important.
Back to the opening question as posed in this post’s title (from an exchange in the book):
“Have you seen the snow leopard?”
“No! Isn’t it beautiful?”
Rest In Peace, Peter Matthiessen.
“The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind, but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.” – Peter Matthiessen