Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 10

[p.: 53] PART II 1915

To the Tibetan Border Chapter 10. Winter in Kunming

The German community — Schneider's departure — enemies and neutrals — features of the locality

The German community in Kunming had been augmented by the arrival of several refugees from Tonking. There was Herr Hieber from Speidel & Co in Haiphong and Herr Stutzke who had been in charge of the machinery of a rice mill in that city. Herr Treptow of the British and American Tobacco Company was now permanently resident in Kunming. A German-Swiss family, Herr Otto Schoch with his wife and two children, had moved from Tonkin for similar reasons. Fraulein Fense, who looked after the consul's children, had arrived from Mengzi, and there was an Austrian, Herr Pawelka, an official in the Chinese Maritime Customs, who had formerly served as a cavalry officer and whose knowledge of horses was to save me from various mistakes. The consul Fritz Weiss and his family kept open house, and there was no excuse for boredom. The main subject of conversation was of course the war. Through the German Overseas Service we received the German news reports in full, and set against news from enemy sources they naturally painted a far more favourable picture than I had hitherto dreamt possible, "One moment exulting, the next quite cast down“ [note #49: From Clärchen's song in Goethe's "Egmont" III,2.], might have summed up our mood, though for my part I found the matter far too tragic for jubilation. As always I sought solace in the world of nature, though most of my time was spent in developing eleven hundred photographs, making excerpts from my diaries and preparing my scientific findings for publication.

As my buff piebald pony had such an awkward gait that it was no pleasure to ride I sold it together with the pack animals, retaining the bay which I had bought from the mafu, a strong and lively beast though very small. At Christmas Schneider returned via Fengqing and Yimen after a journey from Dali to Pupiao on the Nu Jiang (Salween) and gave me a handsome grey which Li and then he had ridden on the way back. Though it ultimately proved not sturdy enough to carry my weight it held out for the next expedition into the mountains. I spent Christmas Eve — the second of my exile — with Stiebritz and his family. A long-needled pine made a somewhat unsatisfactory Christmas tree; in later years I used a Keteleeria tree instead. Little did I dream how many Quistmases I was yet to spend in China! (Fig. 14). In the New Year Schneider took leave of us and travelled with Stutzke to Yibin and down the Yangzi to Shanghai, where he sailed to America to take up a post he had been offered at the Arnold Arboretum. Happily, we were able to keep in touch, and his letters were of great assistance in my subsequent scientific work.

Never before had any war caused such sad disruption of personal contacts between individuals, and even hi China our relations with nationals of the

Allies became more and more strained. On meeting one another in the street, men who had formerly been the best of friends would at first still exchange greetings; then they would merely raise their hats; later they would simply nod, and finally each would look the other way. With the French missionaries I remained somewhat longer on friendly terms and even Dr Vadon, though he slipped back into his opium smoking, immediately after returning from a course of treatment in Paris designed to cure him from the addiction, never forgot his humanitarian duties: at a time when smallpox was prevalent in Kunming he vaccinated everybody, and he never refused to sell me the medicines which I needed for my journeys. Neutrals were few in number — a few Americans, a Swede in the Post Office and the Norwegian missionary Eduard Amundsen, the only one who still associated with us as freely as with the rest However, he was working for the English Bible Society and it was his genuine and impartial neutrality which later, through the intervention of Mr Goffe [note #50: Herbert Goffe complained to the Bible Society that Amundsen, who was in their employ, flew the Norwegian flag from the mission building, made no attempt to conceal his pro-German sympathies and imported stores for the use of the German consul. See biographical note on Amundsen, page 178.], the British consul general, was to cost him his job.

Every second day, or in bad weather less frequently, I went out riding for a few hours into the hills which rim the Kunming basin. Except on the occasional days when snow was lying, there were a few flowers to be found there throughout the winter. I enjoyed many outings with Herr Schoch, an energetic walker. He displayed great interest in botany and in the summer of 1915 independently collected some four hundred species, a set of which he entrusted to me for identification. Although the immediate vicinity was almost entirely denuded of forest apart from the groves round the temples, there were certain aspects of the landscape, notably its colouring, which gave me great enjoyment Indeed it was the very absence of the tree cover that disclosed the structure of the mountain as viewed from afar, and made plain the succession of the strata and their contortions with a clarity gratifying to the scientist's eye. To the northwest — west of Buqi — there was a layer of grey limestone rolled up almost into a circle. Mount Changchong Shan to die north of the city was built up of numerous dark grey limestone strata interbedded with volcanic rock and swung round so as to lie vertically, with a strike from NNE to SSW. Weathering had converted them to a karst landscape with rows of spikes and towers sticking up like fish bones. Lower down it was covered by bright red terra tossa, the residue of the dissolution of the rock. This succession of strata [p.54:] sank down below the plain to re-emerge beyond the lake in the wild limestone pavements of the Xi Shan ridge, which terminated in a vertical scarp facing east(Fig.l6). The hills to the east of the basin displayed similar but less distorted stratification, with a gentle eastwards dip. In the rays of the setting sun these hills glowed with a splendid peach-red tone, set off in due season against the plum blossom in the orchards or, at the beginning of March, against the peach blossom beyond Heilongtan and the gap where the railway entered the mountains. Along the cypress alleys which bordered the irrigation channels between the vivid green of the beanfields the evening sun evoked a display of colours unexcelled in its delicate nuances.

The myriad twiglets of Cupressus duclouxiana, covered with dull grey-green scale-like leaves, took on golden tones, as did the thin grey bark as it peeled off in longitudinal strips from their vertical trunks, which cast long shadows on the ground. In February the air was heavy with scent from the dense panicles of violet flowers which hung from the gnarled low-growing trees of Buddleia officinalis, while the soft green of the young, almost translucent leaves of the weeping willow (Salix babylonia) provided a sharp contrast and a reminder of spring colours at home. Lazily balancing on the treetops were huge kites and cormorants, black crows and more rarely white herons, while large flocks of starlings and quails appeared from time to time. One of the most attractive plants found hi the neighbourhood was the cushion-forming Lithospermum hancockianum (Lithodora haneockiana), known only from Mengzi and from Kunming north-northeast as far as the Yangzi (Fig. 15). Solitary plants were to be found in the Changchong Shan, but it was more numerous on the Laojing Shan situated in the Xi Shan range to the south. Its stems, leafless in their lower parts, are covered with blackish scales and reach a length of 30cm, ending in rosettes of stiff silver-grey leaves 10cm long; projecting from the centre of the rosette is a short tuft of long-tubed pinkish-violet flowers, their corollas almost 2cm in diameter.. Aggregated in enormous numbers they formed flower-spangled hemispherical cushions half a metre in diameter, rooted in crevices and spreading out on the bare rock.

[chapter 11:]