While in Yangshuo making images of fishermen who practice their craft on bamboo rafts with the aid of cormorants, I was transfixed by the early morning fog. Shrouded with mystery, the fishermen’s lanterns glowed like beacons and undoubtedly attracted the fish below to rise near the surface. With quiet, gestural arm commands, the cormorants were signaled to dive, over and over, to retrieve the fish that would later feed whole families and communities.
The entire scene struck me as ritualistic, meditative, gorgeous, serene, and supremely simple. It was practical food retrieval, of course, but also an activity and fishing method in China that dates back more than 1300 years. Time expanded into infinity for that moment.
The cormorants are tethered with rings round the base of their necks. Through the skilled use of leashes, a talented fisherman can control nearly one dozen birds. For a moment, I remember allowing myself to imaging being a cormorant; plunging repeatedly and without hesitation into the cool water, returning with the catch, shaking off moisture…only to return once again to the depths. Next, I imagined being the human, balancing easily on the five or six round bamboo trunks tied together to form my vessel. I experienced the feel of the wood under my barefoot, the smell of the water and nearby foliage, the sounds of splashing, the picture in my mind of the beautiful meal that would come from the day’s bounty, and thoughts about the quite conversations to take place with family and friends who share the food. It was a wonderful exercise in peace and patience. Consumed with meditating on the elements, I no longer kept track of time and paid heed only to light, energy, birds, beings, and beauty.