The Li River—Where Adjectives Fail
FROM its headwaters in the mountains, the Li River comes tumbling southward. By the time it reaches the bustling city of Guilin in southeastern China, it has widened out and moves sedately by this ancient city sprawled on its western bank.
Guilin is different from Western cities. During rush hour its streets are solid bicycles. A sprinkling of taxis and trucks work their way through the mass, horns honking. The cyclists pedal blithely along, quite oblivious as they are missed by inches. No one upset, no angry screaming, no tempers flaring. Different from rush hour in New York or Rome or Mexico City. It’s different, but there’s no loss for words to describe it.
Farther along the Li, small communities perch on the banks. Down at the river’s edge, children play and wave at the tourist boats that chug their way southward. Women wash clothes and vegetables in the water. Men herd water buffalo along the riverbanks. A short way inland, farmers work in rice paddies, some planting by hand, some plowing with water buffalo. Different, but describable.
But all along the Li River are mountains, rows upon rows of them, jutting straight up into the sky. Very different mountains, and indescribable. For all the other exotic sights on the Li River boat trip from Guilin to Yang-shuo, there were adjectives adequate to describe them, but for these strange mountains there were no adjectives.
For 5 hours and 50 miles the boat traveled down the Li river, and for 5 hours and 50 miles those mountains were never out of sight. Rows of them close up, more rows behind them, and still more rows beyond, until they were so faint in the distance that they looked unreal. To capture what adjectives couldn’t, cameras clicked and greedily ate up roll after roll of film. Surely, here a picture would be worth a thousand words!
But the cameras also failed to capture the eerie feel of these bizarre pinnacles jumbled together as far as the eye could see. The boat’s crew served a hot meal for lunch. All went down to eat except this observer, who was much too fascinated to leave the upper deck. He could fill his stomach anytime; this feast for his eyes would soon pass by. What his camera missed, his memory must retain.
“According to geological survey,” one travel folder says, “Guilin was originally a vast expanse of sea. As a result of repeated crustal movements, the limestone once on the sea bed rose and became land. With weathering erosion and rainy solution, the limestone took shapes of forest of peaks, solitary summits, underground rivers and caves. It is this unique Karsta formation that has made the landscape in Guilin the most marvellous in the world.”
If that last statement is a little exaggerated, it is forgivable exaggeration. Surely, this jungle of limestone pinnacles through which the Li River weaves and winds its way is unforgettable. We cannot be positive just how it came about, but we can be certain who brought it about. If adjectives fail to describe the Li River mountains, how much greater their failure to describe their Maker. “Jehovah is great and very much to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”—Psalm 145:3.
a “A limestone region marked by sinks, abrupt ridges, irregular protuberant rocks, caverns, and underground streams.”—Webster’s Unabridged.
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The Icing on the Cake
That’s what it seemed like to us. After the Li River trip we went to a nursery school in Guilin. In the classroom four-year-olds played games, did little dances, and then sat and listened fascinated as the visiting American lady sang a child’s song. It was about a girl and her ‘dear little dolly with eyes of bright blue.’ Of course, they didn’t understand the words, but they were captivated by the soft voice and the gentle lilt of the simple tune, and by the miming of the story as the dolly was being dressed, went out to play, and was finally ‘rocked to sleep at the close of the day.’ They sensed the mood. Faces glowed. There were smiles. Some sat very still, entranced. When we left they happily waved their good-byes.
They stole our heart.