One of the plus sides to starting a walk after 3pm up Yangmingshan – the highest peak beside Taipei – was the warm afternoon light, more than pleasant to soak up. Another was the late, relaxed lunch, consisting of many colourful vegetables and softened-by-grilling woody mushrooms covering a bowl of egg noodles, with a little cup of white vegetable broth on the side. Even if this was later to be outweighed by the ugly descent, in pitch darkness, beaten down by cold, cold rain, and a heavyweight desire to have begun earlier.
When I had eaten and finally began the gentle climb, which has been made simple and pedestrian by the placement of regular stone slabs marking the route, most other walkers were already coming down the steps. They were, for the most part, alone, faces distant either in thoughts or the landscape, until our eyes met, and we smiled and greeted each other. A few pairs of friends and occasional groups also strolled down, a little faster than the lone walkers, buoyed along in quicker steps by chatter, lively exchanges born of the joy that comes with completing the full up and down hike before dinner. It appeared that the only other people starting this late in the day were the sort of elderly people who it would probably be a good idea to become one day – those types who have already done their morning exercises before breakfast, and who practically power walk up and down the mountain with only a water bottle and a hand towel to wipe off the reams of sweat- and this simply as a matter of course, part of their weekly routine. Well, they do live conveniently close to one of the best natural gyms in this part of the world.
Luckily, this low human population density gave the solitude necessary to keep some of the more squat tree inhabitants relaxed, and out having their warm sun baths. I was expecting this Swinhoe’s japalura to head shadow-side of its tree as soon as I poked my nosy lens towards it, but it seemed to be either OK with being ogled or chose to play dead, putting its fatal tokens on being assumed uninteresting or invisible. I was grateful to have a closer look, and so made sure to keep to one side of the tree, so as to leave it enough sun.
Not actually being aware of what I had found, and having that urge to give it a name – as if that creates understanding – I later found out that the little lizard received this English name in the nineteenth-century, sharing it with the surname of a British consul in Taiwan. Some further reading about Robert Swinhoe, and it seems that he was one of those keenly into collecting animal specimens and sending them back to Europe to be observed. His wife, Christina Stronach, had her name granted to a lovely-looking, Taiwanese bird. Curious colonial-era presents, curious humans.
When the summit was finally reached, a heavy, cold autumn rain had really set in, and there was a complete whiteout obscuring the horizon in 360 degrees, as milky and opaque as that now fondly-remembered vegetable soup. How warming it had been. But I can’t store heat the way a lizard can. Another 1-0 to the Rest of the Natural World vs. A Sapien Who Doesn’t Plan Well.