Mountain Ghosts and the Price of Courage

Photo by Dave Sherrill on Unsplash

If you traverse the peaks of the Himalayas and you are extremely fortunate, you might see the “ghosts of the mountains”. These are the elusive and beautiful snow leopards.

Their plush pale coats dappled with dark rosettes blend with the harsh environment they call home. It’s some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. You and I could not survive there without a variety of equipment. All the snow leopard has is its own powerful body and indomitable spirit.

Yet it thrives in unforgivably high altitudes and under frigid temperatures.

Its hind legs allow it to leap 6 times its body’s length. It’s long tail serves two functions. When the leopard is in motion, it aids in balance and agility. When the leopard is at rest, the tail is wrapped around its body to provide warmth and protection from the elements. Its feet are like snow shoes and its coat keeps it hidden.

For millennia, the snow leopard has reigned supreme. Its diet includes the other denizens of its demesnes — blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, ibex, marmots, pikas and hares. Its habitat extends across the mountains of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It’s an area of 772,204 square miles, with more than 70% unexplored.

The snow leopard is free.

It hunts when hungry, travels when necessary, sleeps when tired. One thing it doesn’t do — cower in fear. No matter how harsh the weather or how treacherous its path, it doesn’t hide in a cave, hoping to somehow make it through another day.

The snow leopard doesn’t just merely exist. It thrives. Without fear, risking its life every day, it thrives.

Once upon a time, were human beings more like snow leopards? Did we not sail the oceans on flimsy crafts and brave the Arctic circle? Did we not traverse the frigid expanse of space?

Sometimes people died.

When people take risks, it does not always work out. People drowned at sea. Escaping slaves did not always make it to freedom. Inventors were not guaranteed a breakthrough. Poetry and plays that commemorate courage are often a testimony to tragedy. Widows and orphans were left behind to mourn.

Being rich did not grant immunity. Kings were killed. Cesar was assassinated. Richard III died in battle. Alexander was just 32 when he was poisoned. And rich women as well as poor died giving birth, or lost their infants to disease.

Yet people took risks because they didn’t have the luxury of fear. They couldn’t afford not to thrive. Life was often too harsh.

Now, we are buffered from our fears by technology and safety nets. We live increasingly longer lives. Death is a stranger to us.

Are we happier because of it?



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Shefali O'Hara

Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.