“The Snow Leopard” by Peter MatthiessenPublished: 1978
Matthiessen’s Zen-flavored masterpiece is as much a classic of nature and spiritual literature as it is of travel writing. Documenting a 1973 journey into the remote Dolpo region of Nepal, Matthiessen officially sets out to help zoologist George Schaller study Himalayan blue sheep. As he takes the reader deep into the mountains, however, we realize that Matthiessen is using this scientific journey as a metaphor to reflect on much broader matters of life, death and existence itself. The famous irony of The Snow Leopard is that Matthiessen never spots the elusive creature during his adventure.
Thus, robbed of the climactic moment, the author leads us into the simple essence of his journey: “the common miracles—the murmur of my friends at evening, the clayfires of smudgy juniper, the coarse, dull food, the hardship and simplicity, the contentment of doing one thing at a time: when I take my blue tin cup into my hand, that is all I do.” In this way, the spiritual lessons of this book aren’t relegated to romantic abstractions or heady epiphanies, but to a gentle reminder that life consists of what each moment brings us; that it’s futile to obsess on the workings of the past and future if you’re missing out on experience of the present moment.