I’m only half Tibetan, actually. I wear Tibetan robes, but not saffron-colored like my father’s. He came here long ago with a group of monks who settled in the western Rocky Mountains. Thirty years ago, when the fires and the storms and the EMP that befell the U.S. had cut them off from their monastery in the Himalayas, their settlement became permanent by default. They soon realized that to carry on their culture and their spiritual traditions, some of the younger monks would have to marry and have children to form an outer community and support the monastery. So my father volunteered to take an American Buddhist wife, and they went about building a family. My father says my mother may not be as Tibetan as he is, but she’s every bit as Buddhist. So it is a happy marriage.
My parents eventually had 11 children. A number of other monks of my father’s generation also had families. All the children were given a solid background in our spiritual teachings—plus reading, writing, English, Tibetan, Sanskrit, the basics of math and science and history and geography. When we turned 13, the monks assigned each of us to one of two groups—those designated for monastic life, and those who were to marry and raise children. My sisters were given the choice of being nuns or householders, and all but one chose the monastic life. Our community’s logic was that the men would have to seek wives elsewhere in order to avoid the dangers of inbreeding. There would be no marriage partners for the women inside the community. The few women who wished to be married would eventually be wed to an outsider. So having only a few marriageable young women was not a problem. Besides, it was good to have many nuns—the prayers and devotions of a nun carry as much spiritual weight as those of a monk, after all.
I was a good enough student, but my father judged rightly that my temperament was less contemplative than that of my brothers. He recommended to the monks that I become a householder. So my formal schooling ended when I turned 13. I and my fellow householders-in-training began working alongside our elders to develop skills in food production and preservation, fishing, building and repair of buildings, care of our animals—everything that took place outside the four walls of our little houses. I also had to learn everything possible about the terrain where we lived, and where the natural shelters were to hide in case of danger.
The Chinese invaded later that year. When the Chinese came, the plague came too. Some speculate that there was a cause-and-effect relationship—impossible to know. The Chinese loaded their troops on aircraft carriers and shipped them across the Pacific, with just enough food and water to get most of them to the west coast alive. Their instructions were to pillage and destroy the coastal areas and to demoralize the people, who were to become slaves of the Chinese state. A smaller group of soldiers were assigned the task of moving inland quickly, terrorizing the people and destroying their culture in preparation for it to be replaced by Chinese culture. Much of what was once considered American culture had been destroyed by the EMP long before the Chinese landed. The Chinese soldiers didn’t have to confiscate or destroy the electronic devices that used to connect Americans with certain aspects of their culture. All that was left was the books. So the Chinese soldiers moved swiftly inland and destroyed, the libraries and the schools, and eventually the books of individuals. They let the houses stand. We speculated that they intended the houses to be used by a wave of Chinese immigrants who would take over the country and become the dominant ethnic group, as they did in Tibet.
My community had heard of the approach of the Chinese and knew what to expect. We disguised our homes so they would not look Tibetan and hid our religious artifacts in the woods, in hollowed-out logs or uprooted trees or little caves. We had already staged food and other supplies in distant hiding places. Our religious texts we divided into bundles, and every man, woman, and child carried a bundle, whether large or small. Then we formed small groups and scattered, going high into the mountains. Fortunately the Chinese were on foot, like us, and they didn’t have tracking dogs or old-fashioned but effective technology like night-vision goggles, which would have enabled them to follow us. In our community, everyone escaped, and we saved all our books. It was some time, though, before we felt safe enough to return to our little village.
The Americans were not so fortunate—but they did not always realize the extent of their misfortune. They stayed in their homes in the small cities and towns, while the Chinese burned their libraries, their museums, their religious centers, their universities, their schools. Then the Chinese went door-to-door demanding books to feed bonfires in the streets. They said they would burn down the house of anyone who tried to hide books. Usually they burned one or two houses as soon as they got into a town, to intimidate the rest of the townspeople. So the Americans brought their books to the streets to be burned. We heard that some of them looked at each other and shrugged. What did it matter if the books were burned? It wasn’t like losing food or shelter, after all. But they didn’t understand the overall plan of the Chinese like we Tibetans did.
The karma of the U.S. has descended. The nation has been crippled by fire and flood, by economic collapse, by EMP attacks, by plague and invasion, by earthquake and volcanic ash. Everything that could happen has happened—except nuclear war. Something has held it back. But what? The paths of a Tibetan trader and a young family converge, linked by the death of a soldier and the mysterious series of numbers that is his legacy and the birthright of his children. Together, the trader and the little family embark on a search for answers. Tashi comes from the western Rocky Mountains, where his isolated Tibetan community has taken extraordinary measures to preserve their culture and their spiritual life. Tara has raised her teenagers alone, keeping the memory of their father alive through stories, and passing on their long-ago Guru’s teachings and practice from all that is left—her memory. John and Hope, 16 and 13, are working through feelings of loss and abandonment, as an astonishing new life is about to open before them. Follow Tashi, Tara, John, and Hope on their individual and collective journey high in the Rockies, into an abundant future.
About the Author
Catherine B. Fitzgerald lives in the small community of Emigrant in Paradise Valley, Montana. This is her third novel.