posted on March 10, 2008 15:28
Mid-Winter Golf Daydreams
There are times, when the snow piles high for days and the sun plays a never-ending game of hide and seek behind the clouds and mountains of my insulated little world here in Northwest Colorado, that I think of Bumthang. I think of Bumthang because it evokes within me a memory that puts things in the proper perspective. Bumthang rips though the utopian bubble that can engulf my little “all is well in the world" attitude. All this sliding around on frozen water, all this reveling in arbitrariness while the majority of the world is scraping by, duking it out for the things that we, the wealthiest one percent of the world, don’t even think twice about. If you’ve ever had this thought, maybe this memory of mine can placate for you, as it does for me, this anxiety that seems to fester perennially during the depths of mid-winter.
In the summer of 2006, I had the opportunity to teach golf in the Himalayan country of Bhutan. During my four-month stay, I traveled to the spiritual heart of this tiny Bhuddist Kingdom to provide golf orientations and clinics for Bhutanese youth. It was on one of these trips, to Bumthang in the Choskhor Valley that a unique experience showed me the profound power of sport; the one thing in this world that can still unite cultures, countries, and religions. The one thing that can cut through illusionary barriers, and offer meaning whatever your vocation, nationality, or religion.
My memory goes as such: Over 50 Bhutanese kids flock to the football field converted into a golf range behind the school on the first day. Wide-eyed and curious, most have no idea what this awkward looking metal thing I am wielding about is. Getting them organized without someone going to the emergency room for 7-iron induced stitches is a task, but once we do, the fun commences. Time flies. In between adjusting grips and stances, I find myself lost in moments of observational absurdity, where my mind races to comprehend the collision of realities in my compartmentalized brain.
After the clinic, I can’t resist the urge to launch a few balls into the buckwheat field that lies beyond the football grounds. I try and curve a few into, and away from, the perennial afternoon wind that rips up the valley. The kids laugh and heckle at my failures, and cheer wildly at my successes. Smiles are abundant, and for a moment I am not an American, and they are not Bhutanese, we are just people at play, connected by a silly looking stick, and ball that a baffled buckwheat farmer is going to find in his field next week.
The evening descends, and we make our way to the “Swiss Guest House” in Bumthang; owned by a Swiss Ex-pat, who has become legend in Bhutan for his delicious cheeses, home made brew, and honey wine. We are a bit early for dinner, so we join in with two of the Bhutanese staffers who are playing basketball on a makeshift hoop out front. We teach them P-I-G, but instead call it Y-A-K. The hoop hangs at close to 11 feet, and though our collective language skills fail to scratch the surface of our individual thoughts, we communicate brilliantly.
After dinner, we find ourselves back in the small room of the caretaker for the hotel we are staying in. It’s the only one with a TV, and the first game of the World Cup is about to start and he has insisted we watch with him. His wife and small child sleep on the bed just feet from the TV. A soft mindful knock on the door gives way to two monks who have obviously slipped out of the Monastery just up the hill from us after curfew. Their huge smiles leave no doubt as to what they have been waiting weeks for. They sit next to us, and we all turn our attention to Germany’s defeat of Costa Rica 4-2. Not much is said. Our Dzongkha (the Bhutanese language) is nil, and their English is not much better. However, shouts and smiles fill the small room when crosses and shots are displayed on the small TV set. There is no doubt that we are all on the same page; the page of humanity, united through sport.
And so, as I silently hunker down for the lonely ascent up the cold Steamboat Bar-U-E-lift through snow-frozen aspen trees, my memories of Bumthang head off any guilt that the next 10 minutes of slaying this isolated landscape of frozen water with metal planks strapped feet might induce. Sport unifies, enlightens, and ennobles those that participate. So, I ski, without vacillation, and know that if the monks with whom we watched the World Cup could experience the euphoric joy that 100 inches of fresh snow in the month of January can induce, they’d be right next to us choking on endless aspen grove powder face shots. Long live Sport!