The Mountains of Tusheti: A Desert Meditation


The men of the mountain are exiled to the desert. The innocuous sheep hold the only sway. Surrounded by nothing and everything – wolves and drought and history – the Shepherds of Tusheti see time from the outside.


11 May 2014 – Now in Tbilisi. Ori Beli Hotel. An Essay: In the alleyway below, children played and squealed late into the night. And, from our highest point of the canyon wall, we look down into the squared valley below. Across the trees, there is a wood and class facade, beautiful with age. And late last night, amidst the squealing children as the rain began, a woman stood in a window, washing clothes in a large metal basin on an antique washboard. To dwell upon the difference between the world I inhabit with its washing machines and fast pace and all things shiny and new, I would be mistaken to want to become too nostalgic and wish for simplicity and a return to the “old times.” I dip my toes into the realm of the antiquated from my leisure—as I take up my old cameras and develop my old film and get warm and fuzzy when I see the prints emerge—could I go back to all that as much as I know about the rest of the world? With developing my own film, what else, in my selective nostalgia, would I cherry pick, leaving behind the others? I certainly wouldn’t want to saddle up a horse and buggy or wash clothes on a tin washboard. And I do enjoy the convenience of the internet, though it has been refreshing to be away from it while in the mountains and in the desert. But I, and my addiction to “backups” and conveniences, I watch this woman wash clothes through the evergreen trees as she washes her laundry. And I observe the children and their glee in the street below. No X-Box or internet in their homes, restricted by the modern world, but so unrestricted in their elation to watch the falling rain, heads back, eyes closed, arms outstretched, dancing in the puddles. They are the innocence of ignorance in their situation, but I cannot join them in their emptiness: I am too full. I am heavy in my “knowledge” of what it means for me to watch them, what it takes for me—who cannot understand the words they squeal—to stand so high above them, dry on a high porch at the end of the street. So I turn back to the woman in the window, but she is gone now, and I watch the space between the trees and the lighted windows, a frame of a life—completely silent and only a tiny slice... as I had watched the shepherds. All the access they allowed, all the days spent in the desert of Samoukhi, I was but watching them in their labors through a little frame in the trees. “You came all the way from America, but I cannot even get to Tbilisi!” said a shepherd one night, early in our time with them. Well, my friend, I shall describe Tbilisi for you who has never made the trip to the capital: In Tbilisi, old women do laundry on tin boards in lighted windows at night and, as the rain pours down between the streets, children play in the puddles, disturbing the reflection of the starless sky. And I look down on them from my perch, high above. But they do not see me. Or if they did, it wouldn’t matter. And this is the way of things everywhere. And everywhere, I go. Do not lose your innocence, Shepherds of Georgia. Old women will still be in windows doing their things, but be careful that the children will be ensured a life in the puddles, dancing in the rain. I wish, with all my education and experience, for time in the rain of a back street. Yet I spend my time in the fetal position on the side of a mountain, freezing in the second watch, sheep and snow blending together, the sleepless eyes of your few remaining men of the mountain staring back at me. This is my nostalgia. I go to be Romantic and bucolic with the red barns and fluffy sheep rendered in black and white with my old cameras and analog films. And I got everything but. I got mud, filth, stink, pain, starvation, “to your mother,” and course laughter. You want pastoral, children of man, stare at a painting. But notice the title. Perhaps it only says: “Shepherds in a Field.” I assure you, a parenthesis should complete the title: “A Fantasy.”