Online Exclusive

Perspective as in great mountains where we’re less than ants in the dunes

As passive viewers who frame the world in small-screen format and don’t read would become stranded in the stacks of a huge library

Without the whole 

Trek in the nearly vertical Himalayan world at fifteen thousand feet, an elevation higher than any European summit. Peer into valleys that lie at two thousand, and then turn to stare up at crests and peaks in the sky three whole miles above 

Wonder at the vast complexities of the regions of the world 

Flat Niger 

Easiest in winter, start in the capital, Niamey, where it’s always over 35°C, some days up over 45° in the shade, even worse as the heat builds into mid-summer 

Bilma to the east, oasis in a sand ocean, fifteenth-century trading center, Bilma is in the center of the Sahara, 13°E, 19°N, in the Grand Erg de Bilma that runs northeast-southwest

By road to Ngumigmi very near Lake Chad, then due north with camels, twenty days, and the toughest part, out to the southwest to Agadez by truck, and back to Niamey, in a small plane or by car 

Flexibility controls travel 

The most arduous trips are any long blue-water sailing voyage, and trekking on ice, in tropical bush, or in any desert for more than a couple of days 

Then the clean, simple ones almost without risk, like flying off in a small plane, long-distance swimming, daytrip mountain hiking on the margin late in the day above tree line 

Finishing in chill salmon shoal-clouded evening dropping downslope into a high Andermattesque cold starry alpine night 

Perspective drifts gently and relentlessly no matter where we’ve been and only rarely do we look up agape at mare’s-tail clouds 

Or down at the wet shiny black salamander in the leaves 

Or at the way paint flakes from a window sash with the wood’s grain coming up in shoals 

Notice the softness in the eyes of neighbors, the beautiful hair of the old woman ahead in line, the dexterity of the supermarket cashier, the polite exchange of deferences at the door 

Or feel awe that we are able to feel, sense, know, extend, share, sometimes assure, a tumbling, varied, typically unpredictable, continuous personal cascade across a world as absorbing and remarkable as observation and imagination allow

That confidence that thrives by nursing these awarenesses 

In the old, low mountains behind Basel, from Bergmattenhof above Hofstetter on the north slope of the Blauen on a warm morning, partly cloudy, dry, light west wind, rain clouds far out over the Vosges 

Climb to the Solothurn-Baselland line and only see one wren on the way up

Lie in the leaves on top, open forest floor for fifty meters all around, planning not to move until another bird, of any sort, appears 

Give it up after half an hour and hope for the wren again on the way down, only hear a jay’s alarm call 

Basel is almost insect free 

Assiduous about its industry’s agro-poisons 

Ride the tram with a Down syndrome teenager and his mother into town. He wears a fat gold chain and pendent gold-leaf earrings 

And watch a gaunt woman in black, hung with silver jewelry, a generation younger than the rheumy silver-fox driver in black turtleneck and black leather pants who is bossing her 

She lifts a black wall piece the size of a doghouse from a gleaming black Grand Cherokee, black interior, backed up to a Basel gallery painted matte black inside and out 

In the afternoon, on down the Rhine in the Vosges, the Hohwald on the ridgeline border of the Alsace and Lorraine, the Col du Donon, seven hundred and fifty meters 

On the peak a couple of hundred meters above the pass is a fake Gallo-Roman temple from 1869, erected in the square-cut brownstone of French First World War monuments and tombs 

Seven authentic Gallo-Roman steles are arranged in a half circle facing the faux temple 

The middle stele is a nude female relief carved without head and neck and thirty percent larger than life

Depicted full frontal from clavicle to toes, the vulva at the height of a viewer’s face 

The other steles have heads, some heroic, some in profile, all life size or smaller 

In the military cemetery below on the pass’s saddle, the grave, in the first rank, first file 

Dolorès Rodrigues, Ambulancière 27e C.S., 12.05.1945, Lieu de la 1ème inhumation, Dorlisheim. Tome 1A, Cimetière Militaire de Donon 

She was first buried where she died, on the Strasbourg road from Stutthof near the junction of N422 and N392 

Months after the US Army and French liberation troops had come up on the concentration camp at Stutthof and flushed the Germans eastward out through Dorlisheim 

Stutthof, the only German death camp in France, ten kilometers away from the Col du Donon, in view to the southeast across the high mountain plateau 

Their congelation experiments used upwards of seventeen thousand Jews, Roma, and resistance people

Those who were not killed by the scientists, the guards murdered afterward 

Sixty years after the last German firing squad, the camp’s partially rebuilt barracks were being painted and cleaned up for a Jacques Chirac visit 

Some of the wooden buildings and guard towers were burned out in the 1980s by rightists, nationality publicly undetermined

A sunny day sixty years after the Germans hurried away, leaving thousands locked in and starving behind Stutthof wire, a dozen of Chirac’s guns stood around the gate, leather jackets, sunglasses, buzz-cuts, a pre-visit survey in four blue Renault vans 

A brown lizard moved slowly down a cut-stone wall by the camp cemetery 

A big and clumsy immature buteo, a buse variable, barged through low oaks by the gravel quarry that prisoners had worked 

Out beyond the camp’s quarry, four bicyclists sprawled roadside, three women, a man, voluble and animated about how far across the Hohwald they might ride that evening

The sun setting toward the tops of a line of firs on the high tableland west of the Champ du Feu a few kilometers on 

Near there a shepherd with over four hundred in his flock, pointed to where three lambs had just been born on the ridge below a large white microwave dish 

His staff, a crook cum throwing shovel 

A small finely machined German-made stainless-steel tool, a burnished smooth finish on an eight-foot shaft

We tossed a few clods sheepward in the sunset with it, in the mode of fighting-brushfire-throws, in the way of shepherds down through time 

As those throws turn a flock 

Talked of mountain work, of timber, herding, fire, the animals, the setting sun through the dust in the mountain air 

He said he’d never even been to Colmar, and never to Switzerland or across the Rhine at all, had barely ever come down out of the High Vosges, let alone even thought of going to Niger 

He asked what it was like in Switzerland, in western and southern France, in Paris, about the sheep in America and what the breeds are, what American mountains were like 

He watched his flock pass as we talked, ewe after ewe, his eyes following them raising dust against the red sun

In perfect perspective 

“With many hundreds of credits I’m beyond what I hoped to do as an independent writer. The only thing I’ve ever taught is swimming, I’ve never studied writing, and I didn’t even major in English. I’ve never had a pedestrian job since college, and never published anything I’m not proud of.” —D. E. Steward