Gobble, Gobble, everybody! Happy Thanksgiving wishes coming to you from Taiwan!
This year has brought me a bounty of things to be thankful for. Not the least of which happened yesterday. I was strolling through Kenting Forest on the very southern tip of Taiwan. It was quite hot and humid, and I was being feasted upon by the most ravenous mosquitoes. I was not feeling grateful at all for the experience. I felt like the mosquitoes’ Thanksgiving turkey. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a stray Kleenex float by on a breeze. When I focused on it, I realized it was a butterfly. The biggest butterfly I had ever seen in real life, just drifting delicately through the air in slow motion.
She lighted on a nearby cluster of blossoms, and I crept silently toward her to get a closer look. Gossamer velvet of the purest white, calligraphed with inky black flourishes, upon lacquer spindle legs. Achingly beautiful.
Then, her friend joined us. He was an extrovert; he fluttered softly around my head for a few seconds, so closely, I thought for a moment he might land on my shoulder. As I watched him fly about, so languidly and leisurely, I noticed three more of these big, lacy, white angels perched upon blooms in the foliage. Every few moments, they would lift off and float slowly around for a bit, barely having to flap their broad wings at all to stay aloft. I wanted to laugh out loud, but I didn’t dare utter a sound for fear of breaking the spell. I had landed in the middle of a giant butterfly jamboree. For once, too, I was keenly aware of the blessing it was as it was happening.
I read later, at the visitor center, that these beauties are “Milkweed Butterflies,” and that they fly slowly, because they are so big, they have no natural enemies, so they have the luxury of being pokey. My kinda critters.
I have been getting back to nature quite a bit this week, actually. I’ve been visiting some of Taiwan’s natural wonders in the southern and eastern parts of the island. I am spending Thanksgiving this year in the marble mountains of Taroko National Park, named for the Taroko Gorge.
The Taroko Mountains are made of luminous, white marble, striated with ribbons of jade and green schist. A milky river cut the gorge in a jagged pattern through the mountains, and the porous stone has erosion pockmarks throughout that make it look like a the cross-section of a bone. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but the effort is generously rewarded.
Our American holiday of Thanksgiving obviously isn’t celebrated here in Taiwan, of course, but there is still a certain symmetry to being in Taroko Gorge on this holiday. Much of the eastern side of Taiwan, where Taroko Gorge is located, is still peopled by indigenous tribes, who were moved to reservations here after their ancestors’ lands were taken from them by Chinese colonialists hundreds of years ago. Sound familiar? Throw in a turkey and a pilgrim hat, and we’re almost there. The few hotels and concessions in the park are operated by the local tribes.
So, even though there was no turkey on the buffet in the hotel tonight, my Thanksgiving feast was prepared and served by the local indigenous folks. I may not sleep tonight. Liberal white guilt is worse than heartburn.
Nevertheless, it is impossible not to be thankful for this place, and for the opportunity to be here to see it with my own eyes.
Happy Thanksgiving, gentle friends.