Ann and I visited the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces near Guilin, Guangxi Province. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful, most scenic places in China. When you Google ‘rice terrace’ or ‘paddy fields,’ chances are you’re seeing a picture from the Dragon’s Backbone.
I’ve had a long term desire, dream, to stand at the top of a hill and look down at a landscape of terraced hills and take a picture.
That’s not what this post is about.
We visited the Dragon’s Backbone during down season. Some might say the worst season to visit. The fields weren’t lush green with fresh harvest or flooded with mirrors reflecting blue skies. A lot of what we saw was brown, dead and dying. The rims of the fields were covered with yellow, wilted grass. The sun was missing for the two days we stayed at the Dragon’s Backbone.
It was beautiful. Beyond words and what any cell phone camera can capture.
I remember us rounding a terraced hill, looking away from the main hiking trail and the village we had come up from.
The world paused. Life paused. From corner to corner, near and far, there were hills upon hills upon hills. All terraced, like stairways for some ancient long legged mountain folk. The mountains in the distant were only shadows, their tops lost in the clouds.
There was not a single soul in sight. No one. Just us.
I remember sitting on the edge of a terraced field. I remember breathing in the cold, wet air. I remember hearing the wind. Not leaves blowing in the wind. The Wind. Have you ever heard the wind? It doesn’t rustle, it doesn’t sigh, it doesn’t whistle, it. . . just whispers.
I remember hearing a flock of birds burst from behind us. They flitted on little wings to distant trees, hoping from copse to copse. Never before had I heard the flapping of wings so clearly and from so far.
If I listened carefully I felt I could hear the world breathe.
I could have sat there for hours. Everything was big, beautiful and whole. My problems were small. My world, so small. What have I ever worried about in life? Before this, no answer made sense.
The rest of our trip was similarly beautiful. We saw much and more. Nothing out of the front page of a tourist catalogue, but I wouldn’t give up that moment beside the hill for anything. The experience of being alone in such beauty, away from the camera clicks, the rabble and cell phone conversations was half the experience.
Southeast Asia has many terraced rice fields. If you ever get a chance to witness this manmade landscaping marvel, take it. The magnificence of what we can achieve when working together is carved out in every, single, step. It’s a hopeful and inspiring sight.