One-Offs: All-Animal Edition

I just returned to Lijiang, in the northwest of China’s Yunnan province, after a 50-kilometer, three-day solo hike through—actually, mostly above—the deepest canyon in the world: Tiger Leaping Gorge.

This is one of the many mountainsides from which you can plummet to your demise at any moment. Who knew, but defying the icy scythe of death makes you grin.

Jen 2 TLG

The hike was, in a word, amazing. I ruminated over lots of Big Thoughts, was wowed by lots of Big Views, and was quieted by lots of Big Stars.

I’m still processing it. So in the meantime, here’s some fabulous filler: the all-animal edition of one-offs. In honor of the legendary tiger whose nimble jump gave the gorge its name, revel in the nonhuman cuteness. Feel free to anthropomorphize. I did.

Plus, at the end there’s a new feature—an audio file!


Near the Flower and Bird Market in Kunming, a major draw in Yunnan’s capital city, I came across a much less official animal shop, which I’m calling Puppy and Kitten Alley.

A collie mix, I think.


It took me an hour to walk 30 feet. I had to pet every creature, sticking my fingers through the cages to let little wet mouths nibble on my fingertips.


Not all of the animals were in cages. They seemed to be casually but not callously treated. But the kittens were too young to be separated from mom, and cried piteously for her. Or me. Or anyone to take them out of their mean little prisons.

Blue-Eyed Kitty

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, some slept off the long wait for a new home.

Sleeping Doggy

Much freer was this duck in Kunming’s CuiHu, or Green Lake, about a mile north of the pet alley. It seemed pretty cheerful in the sunshine that emerged after a brief, mellow rain.

Duck in Green Lake

Six hours north, in Lijiang, I found this puppy already on the job, guarding some Naxi tchotchke shop. He has a serious countenance, but don’t let that fool you—his butt still got all happy-wriggly when I cooed at him and scratched him between the ears.

White Puppy

I did not pet this cow, which was one of the first sites I encountered when I began to hike the trail through Tiger Leaping Gorge.


Nor did I snuggle these high-altitude bees hungry for nectar some 3,000 meters above sea level.


Ditto on the goats, which were walking the trail sans herder.

Goats on TLG

Be glad this is a distant shot. Goats are cute from the front. They have nubbly little horns and horizontal pupils like minus signs made with a thick black marker. But from the back, goats are appalling. Whatever horrors your imagination can conjure up about the rear of this creature, double it and then gag a little.

Along the first part of the trail, touts wait with mules for tired trekkers to give up the hike and get hauled to the top.


Few hikers take the ride. Maybe that’s why this mule and his trio of chocolate-colored pals were, like the goats, walking the trail without any human tenders.

Mules 2

It was just them, the bells, and me. Here’s what it sounded like when I tried to pass them:

Mule Report

More from Tiger Leaping Gorge soon.

4 Replies to “One-Offs: All-Animal Edition”

  1. Jen-
    The “Awwhhh!” factor on the pics is very high. I showed them to Zoe and her friend Stav and it was a toss-up between the snoozing doggy in the sweater and the blue-eyed kitten. (Personally – I like the creamy mule, posed just so without a hint of shyness or cutesy — as if he’s some big, serious celeb and Annie Lebowitz was there to take his portrait)

    I really enjoyed the audio file – the sound of the wind and the bells was so evocative of place. I think bells are so ubiquitous around the world, particularly in places of worship, because the sound of each type and then each individual one is a unique signifier. Once you’ve heard a bell in a place, the sound of it again will forever bring you back to that place so completely in a way that nothing else would. I just got back from my Dad’s and the string of bells on his front door used to hang on my Grandparent’s front door and the sound will forever remind me of warm, damp, dirt-smelling childhood summers at their nursery, even if it’s heard during a freezing five-foot snow Buffalo winter. I’m glad you will have this file for you to forever have that day on the gorge ready for you to live again and that you could have us all along with you.

    Hope you are well!

  2. I too love the ecru mule – one of the better portraits I’ve taken, even if the subject is equine.

    Bells must be powerful if they can make you recall warm summer even in the worst of Buffalo winter. One of my favorite sounds is wind rustling through trees. The effect on me isn’t quite rational – it hints at emotions and memories that aren’t entirely conscious, but no less potent for that. Shiver inducing.

    Not only did I survive the hike – I wish I were still on the trail!

  3. You sounded almost disappointed when the mules didn’t try to kick you into the gorge.

    I like addition of audio reports!

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