Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 41


Chapter 41. Back to Changsha via Xikuangshan

Montane woods — cypress groves — granite mountains — liuduzhai — ruin of my tropical helmet — subtropical flora near Lengshuijiang — Mount Dongtai Shan near Xiangxiang.

I spent a day in Wugang, where I had my pony shod, though I soon found that the farrier had driven the nails into the quick. The general commanding the southern forces having furnished me — in total contravention of the decrees issued by Beijing — with a large and imposing passport, I took the road to the north, partly because it led through country I had not seen before, but chiefly because northern soldiers were now stationed along the route to Wugang which I had used in the spring. On reaching Gaosha Si the road turned north-eastwards, continuing via Xixiajiangpu and Huangbaiqiao through hilly country similar to that surrounding Shaoyang. Here too the hills consisted mainly of limestone, the strata undulating but in the main sloping upwards towards the west, though along the first part of the route some of the beds were tilted vertically, parallel to the mountain range which ran along the left side of the broad valley leading northwards from Wugang; this range probably outcrops beneath it like Yun Shan.

Further to the north were several chains of mountains running in roughly the same direction as this range, and emerging from them were the three rivers which flowed past the villages or towns just mentioned. The hills were clothed with splendid forests of oaks, pines, Cunninghamia, sweet chestnuts, Platycarya and Celtis, among which were the crowns of Koelreuteria integrifoliola covered with countless yellow blossoms. From Huangbaiqiao, which lay at an altitude 60 m below Wugang, the road climbed northwards over a little saddle (395 m) and then down along a lateral valley. Qipnessus fiinebris, often growing in pure stands, formed extensive woods along the crest bordering the eastern side of the valley. Grey-green as if powdered with dust, of pyramidal outline, its close-set twigs hanging down like veils from the spreading branches, even growing in woods as it did here, the ftmeral cypress creates an impression of gloom and mourning.

On our left the Shaoyang basin was bounded by Haidong Shan, a rounded, almost treeless mountain of igneous rock rising to an altitude of about 1100 m from beneath the limestone, which extended for some distance up its lower slopes. Below Zhangpuzi, at an altitude of some 300 m, we came to the river Longhui, which flows into the Zi Jiang at Taohua-ping. Some way upstream we found lodging for the night in a fair sized town called Liuduzhai (Laodao in the local dialect). The mountains to the northeast sloped right down to the river, formed here by the confluence of two streams. One stream came down a narrow gorge from the northwest of Lunghui, beyond which we could see a range of high mountains, and the other, which I followed, also flowed through a ravine from the north-northeast, rising in the Wangyun Shan, a mountain dome apparently over 1300 m high. The rock at this point was slate; further on it was granite, and the funeral cypresses — confined to limestone — were once more replaced by Cunninghamia. In the broad basin of Niaoshuxia the southern forces had set up another checkpoint, but thanks to my passport I was able to pass without hindrance. To the southeast of Wangyun Shan we crossed a saddle named Mawang'ao at 500 m and descended into territory drained by the river which runs through Qukoupu; the route continued east-southeastwards across its northern tributaries. At the first of the streams I sought lodgings for the night in Daqiao Si [note # 189: 'Si" is a Buddhist temple (SGH).]. The ridges were again formed of sandstone with seams of coal. After descending through a ravine filled with bamboo I reached the road at a point not far from Longqiaopu. This was the road which I had used for my outward journey, and I now followed it as far as Xikuangshan. A violent storm followed by steady rain brought ruin to my splendid new tropical helmet, a local product made for me in Wugang just before I left. It was covered with white silk, to which it owed its smart appearance, but its paper shell disintegrated into a semiliquid mass stinking vilely of paste, and the colours from the lettering — black, red and blue — seeped through to the exterior.

I stayed in Xikuangshan from 28th August to 8th October, in accommodation provided by Tolkmitt. There was still plenty to be collected, most notably on a two day trip to Lengshuijiang. The flora there was of subtropical type, whereas Xikuangshan was just within the warm temperate zone. Its bush steppe, which had just reached the highest point of its development, represented an intermediate stage between the bush meadows of this zone and the subtropical grass steppe. It was much less green than the bush meadows, but contained far larger numbers of woody plants than the grass steppe and also had a great variety of herbaceous perennials not found there. The silver panicles of the tall grasses (Miscanthus japonicus) were extremely conspicuous; this grass was presumably a survivor from the time, barely more than ten years earlier, when Xikuangshan was still surrounded by forests and the soil was hence moister than it was now. On the return journey I resumed the route survey — a task which I had not ventured to undertake in the spring. I measured a baseline and triangulated the terrain with the aid of two plumb lines, as I had left the theodolite behind for safety. Meanwhile the flowering season was drawing to a close, and the plans hatched by the British to send us to Australia, though they leaked out in the summer, had now been finally abandoned. The authorities in Changsha remained in ignorance of my travels and did not bother to enquire into the activities of German nationals. As everything remained quiet, on 9th October I set out on the return journey.

As far as Loudi I followed the same route as on the outward journey, but there I branched off towards Xiangxiang, intending to visit a well known temple forest and to compare it with the similarly situated Yuelu Shan. Soon after the route forked the main road left the limestone ranges and continued henceforth through sandstone terrain, cutting off the [p.171:] windings of the river Lian Shui though following its general direction. On the morning of 12th October, accompanied by the missionary R. Seeliger, I visited Dongtai Shan, a mountain 300 m in altitude. Its plant cover proved to be entirely as I had expected. From there I wanted to go straight on to Changsha, bypassing Xiangtan so as to avoid any encounter with Allied nationals. That afternoon I travelled twenty li as far as the village of Yama'ao with the object of shortening the next two days' journeys. I told the porters my plans and soon after they had departed I rode off, taking the road which I had instructed them to follow. I expected to overtake them before I had gone very far, but soon after the route branched off from the main road to Xiangtan I learnt that they had not passed along it Had they perhaps taken a shortcut to the village? I therefore went on to Yama'ao, stopping from time to time to ask the way. I reached the village as dusk was coming on, but there was no sign of the porters. However, I heard from a man who had come from Xiangtan that he had met them on the road leading there. As I did not want to spend the night without my camp bed in some louse-ridden shack, I turned round and rode back to Xiangxiang, arriving at Herr Seeliger's house very late that night. Among the day's booty was a small poisonous snake with black and white rings (Bungarus multicinctus) which had been wandering about the ground beside my horse's hoofs. My plan was to send a man that night to catch up the porters, to tell them to wait for me and to report to me where he found them. However, as the missionary thought they had enough common-sense not to give the game away and in any case he could not find a messenger I had to give up that plan.

Next morning I set out at first light and after riding for nine hours with hardly a halt I at last caught up with them at 2 pm outside the walls of Xiangtan, just in time to prevent them from entering the town, which I was anxious to avoid for fear of trouble with the authorities. As was natural in the circumstances I had no kind words to spare for them, yet those disdainful Hunan coolies pretended to be deeply hurt by an ijjsult which I hurled at them; the word was "goupi" [note # 190: Literally "dog-fart" — generally used in the way Americans use "bull-shit", to imply that words spoken are lies or waffle (SGH).], which means the rear end of a dog and also that which comes forth from it. It was 3 pm before I finally stopped for lunch, and by then the ponies were feeling the effects of the long ride, mainly on paved roads, though the surfaces were in good condition. Ten li further on I stopped for the night, and rode on to Changsha the following day. There I enjoyed pleasant accommodation with a view over the river and Yuelu Shan. It cost me nothing, and I am deeply grateful to Herr L. Alff for making it available and for allowing me to take my meals in his household. News of the capitulation of Bulgaria [note # 191: The Bulgarians signed an armistice on 29th September 1918, the Austrians on 4th November and the Germans on 11 th November.] had already reached me while I was at Xikuangshan. Soon after my arrival in Changsha came the collapse of Austria, swiftly followed by the surrender of Germany. What these events forebode for us in China was something which no one could foretell.

[chapter 42:]