Old Chinese legend

One of the starting points for A Walk in the Mountains was an old Chinese legend. This is my version of it:

One day the illustrious Emperor decided he would hold a competition to choose who would paint a scene on a new screen he’d just bought. All the artists in the land acknowledged that there were only two contenders. One, the favourite of the academics, the scholars and the politicians; the other, the favourite of the peasants and the wise old monks. The former was young, well-educated and well-dressed. The latter was an old grey hobo.

During the months prior to the viewing day both men set about their tasks, but in very different ways. The bright young man studied all the old masters, copied many of the most famous paintings and prepared hundreds of sketches of mountains and rivers and trees. Gradually he accumulated a vast store of drawings and compositions. Following his carefully planned schedule he was able to finish his masterpiece and relax for a few days before the great day of the unveiling ceremony.

The old man, however, busied himself with other matters. He ordered a crate of wine and had it transported to his shack way up in the hills. Each day he would walk miles and miles, fording mountain streams, passing under waterfalls, climbing rocky cliffs and scrambling down deep gullies. As the sun rose he would skip and run like a boy and as the sun sank he would slither and crawl back to his shack deep in the heart of his drunkenness.

As the weeks and months went by he showed no signs of work and less and less sign of ever becoming sober. His friends grew anxious and despaired of his chances of ever making it to the Imperial Palace, let alone painting a great picture.

On the day of the Imperial decision a great crowd of courtiers, scholars and noblemen gathered in the Palace.

Two large screens stood waiting to be unveiled.

As the curtain was pulled away from the first work, the audience clapped with appreciation. The young painter had done a magnificent job. The Emperor himself was seen to smile with pleasure and the decision seemed already to have been made.

The second screen was now unveiled and the audience gasped. It was blank. Had the old man gone mad? What an insult to the Emperor. Out of the confusion that followed the elderly painter was seen to walk quietly up to his screen. Armed with one large brush and a bowl of ink he set to work. Within seconds the Palace was silent. All that could be heard was the swish of his brush as it danced swiftly across the open space of the paper. Within minutes great mountains began to appear, water cascaded down into turbulent pools, trees swayed in the breeze, clouds banked up in the tempestuous sky. The Emperor sat open-mouthed. Never had he seen such a landscape. Finally, with one long meandering stroke the old man traced a path down from the distant peaks through gorges and foothills right to his feet. He put down his brush and bowed to the Emperor. Picking the jug of wine beside him, he turned and walked away along the pathway he had just created. As he disappeared into the mountain haze laughter echoed from peak to peak.

The Emperor and the audience were left alone – silent and filled with wonder.

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