RIDING OUT OF THE BRIGHTNESS
A HORSEMAN IN THE MORNING OF SPRING
The boundless, misty blue steppe. It might begin anywhere, it might end anywhere.
The morning sun’s rays of clear light fell aslant into the spring shelter and lit up the whole town. The land dipped down like an open hand and, in the overflowing light, the steam rose up from the cattle in pale blue pillars. Smoke from the ger shaped the sky. It was such a beautiful day.
A man rode out from the ger and headed off clip clop straight towards the south. Where was he going? He went up onto the hill and craned his neck back, gazing about him, surveying the scene through binoculars. And in so doing, it seemed to him that he held in the palm of his hand the outline of the shrubs and feathergrass and the small groups of cattle and hobbled horses and, beyond that, the town.
The world looked blotchy, like a pregnant woman, and where the sundrenched edges of the snow had thawed, there swirled up a gentle white vapor. The rider turned then and skirted the edge of the hill. Maybe he was listening to the voice of the wind.
how my steppe flows by beneath my stirrups…
how my song takes birth at a leisurely trot…
A sky with not even the slightest of clouds. Two birds, flying in small circles. The steppe with not even the slightest of features. The shadows of two birds, flying in small circles. The birds in flight join with the birds of shadow. But is it natural for a steppe without shadow to bring forth song? Who listens to the birds’ hearts? It was the sky who listened to the horseman’s song, it glistened then, and the steppe calmly took up the tune. One of the birds sat upon the hill, craning its neck to listen. The grass blended itself with the melisma of the melody. The song rang out, and skirted the edge of the hill.
The horseman went on, perhaps he stretched the string of his song over the breadth of the steppe. The song had no end, and he never grew bored of it. Heaven looked on in complete silence, the blue mirror of the sky reflected all these things and it was as though they were being reflected back into the mirror of my heart.
Had this horseman on the steppe within my heart originated from all these moments of eternity as they passed together through the blue mirage of spring?
I rested my head upon the sky and upon blue hills of the steppe, I became enchanted by the sound. Nearby, the horseman was riding off, weaving his melody like a thread. And then silence.
A HORSEMAN IN THE DAYTIME OF SUMMER
The boundless, misty green steppe. It might begin anywhere, it might end anywhere.
At noon, the sun shone directly overhead, as much upon the flowers as upon the tips of the grasses. The red hot rocks turned a shade of dark lilac, but in the cold water of the well the leather bucket had not an inkling of the fiery heat.
A man came riding from the wintry hills and trotted out trot trot whistling up the gentle freshness he so desired. Where was he going?
The horseman went out among the herds of grazing camels, pushed onwards, and came to the well, where the horses were thronged among the rocks.
Four times he threw down the bucket and tipped the water from the well into the wooden trough, and the thirsty horse gulped it down in one. The man was quite used to this and gave no thought to drawing up the water. The horse had drunk its fill and headed upwind towards the open pastureland. Just then, this man of the steppes drew breath, took up the reins and whistled the horse into action. Take a good drink, he had said. And again he scooped up water in the bucket and deposited it in the trough. He watched as the bucktoothed horse gulped it down, and his warm body craved coolness.
The world was a vague turquoise haze and the horses’ hooves threw up a mist of dust. The horseman skirted the edge of the hill at a canter. A familiar melody borne on the breeze soothed his mind.
we’ll measure our homeland with the length of our songs…
we’ll send our love through the life of our songs…
Star thistles swayed beneath the horseman’s stirrups, and butterflies and insects swirled around overhead. Sheep herded together in a mirage, like swans gathered upon a lake, and flocks of birds soared upon the breeze.
The song rang out and he skirted the edge of the next hill. The vast and boundless steppe stretched out, it called to mind the breadth of the Mongol people, was this the singing of an endless, distant journey? And he came upon another horseman. Right in the middle of the steppe, these two horsemen came together, they dismounted and sat cross-legged amidst the flowers. They exchanged snuff-bottles and enquired after one another’s health. I suppose that the animals who were observing them did not chat about what was happening in the land nearby or far away. The two horsemen trotted off in opposite directions, as though they would measure the steppe. It was like they were encompassing the land with a string, its faint melody resonating back across the plain. The song rings out. Endless. A human song, or the song of the steppe, or the rhythm of my thoughts or anothers’, whatever it may be, I feel myself sinking, sinking down into its single gorgeous melody.
A HORSEMAN IN THE EVENING OF AUTUMN
The boundless, misty roseate steppe. It might begin anywhere, it might end anywhere.
Horses were grouped beneath the yellow glacis of the evening skies, and the gentle steps of their dance filled the plains with an intoxicating joy.
In front of the horses, the undulating backs of gazelles filed past. In the rippling autumn couchgrass these waves glistened yellow.
It was dusk, and so the horseman noticed none of these things as he trotted out along the promontary, dismounting finally at the ovoo. In the white light of evening, everything appeared utterly clear, like a shadow cast upon a light-colored cloth. The horseman placed a stone on the ovoo and moved quickly away, as the smiling full moon of midautumn rose to the melody of ancient strings, and the yellowing light covered the face of the lonely steppe. The sun’s remaining light melded with the rays of the moon, and such was the luminous clarity of the evening.
the birds return to the ovoo on the pass…
the children return to the place where they were raised…
A line of camels came into view, we might say they had been guided by the lovely melody of the song, and as the nomads came into the place illuminated by the moon, the horseman came to meet them. An image of the steppe. And it was fate too. He stood chewing the fat with the nomads’ groom, they wanted to stay overnight, so he helped them unload the carts and hobble the animals and then he went on his way.
He sang his song as he skirted the edge of the next hill. Would this man, who had made his way over the vast steppe, this man riding upon his horse’s back, looking up at the moon, that most tranquil of lanterns, would he ever give up his song?
In fact, he covered the vast and infinite steppe singing an extended melody. The breadth of his thoughts had grown and his mind was serene.
The horseman had drunk in the milky white light of evening and had grown indistinct and without form. And yet the salty plain drew in the melodies of blue mist, as though it was the white light which travelled along the horseman’s song.
A HORSEMAN IN THE NIGHTTIME OF WINTER
The boundless, misty glistening steppe. It might begin anywhere, it might end anywhere.
Stars are glittering in the sky and illuminating the surface of the snow. The steppe, veiled in nighttime whiteness, sucks in its own light, the tips of the grasses are festooned in hoarfrost, and the flowers’ frozen petals hang with crystals.
The horse’s hooves scrunch through the snow, and the familiar song of this man of the steppes whitens the silent darkenss of night.
The world at night is soundless, the winter chill has bound up melody, even the mucus in the horse’s nose is congealed, everything has taken on a silvery hue. But the snow-white horse carries the song of this man upon his precious back, among the stars.
the song that men sing is not enough…
the steppe the stallion moves across is neverending…
The stars are humming. The ridges of the steppe gleam as though bathed in oil, the horse’s thundering hooves were featherlight and beat the frozen tundra like a drum.
The song of winter is polished and clear. The thickest hairs in the man’s fur hat rise and fall in swells, it is as though the hoarfrost crystals were following the waves of his song.
He sings his song as he skirts the edge of the next hill. The spring has begun and its song continues without end. The rider of the resonant song travels once around the steppe on the back of his horse and once also the wheel of the four seasons revolves. The horseman skirts the edge of the following hill, everywhere he hears the voices of the watchdogs. And, right then, lit by the frozen lanterns outside in the yard, his horse grows silent, his song’s melody grows faint. He dismounts at the hitching-post, shakes the hoarfrost from his fur hat, opens the wooden door of his ger and goes inside. He is greeted by the combined aroma of hot food and tea.
In the ger, they are singing a lullaby.
The vast steppe grows quiet silent and a gloom descends, and the voice upon each flake of snow and upon each blade of grass is indistinct as though with longing.
The time goes flying, flying by,
The time is gone, is gone.
This brumous song of the seasons in my homeland of the steppe, this cursory sketch, is my life’s rhythm, my mind’s pulse, it’s a part of who I am.
Right around the clock, through daytime, nighttime, morning and evening, and around the year’s four seasons, through winter, spring, summer and autumn, and through the four points of the compass, through north, south, east and west, we light the fire in the fourfooted brazier upon the hearth, beneath the four straps holding in place the roofring, and the four thundering hooves of the horses carry the time across our serene steppes and the four lines in every verse of song express the meaning of life.
I’m standing outside, thinking about the world, looking at the the family chest, the boxes and tables and chairs inside the ger, and I’m wondering whether the rhythm of the earth’s four seasons gives shape to our lives, or whether in fact it creates them.
The fire’s blazing. All the fires are roaring.
...the path of thought is vague,
the ways of books are clear...
...the sky grew further away from the earth and wisdom and power increased....They travelled more and sowed more crops. Some lazy ones secretly stole from others' crops and so theft and other evils increased. As they walked idly about, their lights grew dim and it seemed to be dark, and they became people of shadows. The words of the people of light brought forth good deeds. Words brought forth appearance. In the end, pointed words pierced their bodies. And gentle words softened their harshness. Because goodness increased, people's language repaired their crooked behavior....
...the ways of books are vague,
the path of thought is clear...
excerpt from Altan Ovoo