Following the Silk Road | NevadaAppeal.com

Following the Silk Road

Rick Gunn
Special to the Appeal

I had a woman on my mind that afternoon.

Not a youthful beauty who’d left a smoking pile of rubble where my heart had once been.

This was the thought of an older woman. Much older – 5,000 years old to be exact.

She was Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China in 3000 B.C. Credited with the introduction of silkworm rearing and the invention of the loom, her imagination fueled an empire, a legacy, a revolution.

At the end of her long list of credits was the unfurling of a trade route connecting Asia to Europe: The Silk Road. A road that intersected with my dreams.

I was thinking of Hsi-Ling, and killing time in a Cappadocian carpet shop, when the proprietor caught me off guard. He reached inside a container, and unraveled a furry white cocoon to reveal the larvae of the blind, flightless moth, Bombyx mori.

“Would you like to try one?” he asked. “They’re a delicacy in China.”

The others recoiled.

I reached for the worm and ran my eyes over its brownish folds. I gave it a whiff, then cupped it into my mouth. When I bit down, it popped like a grape.

A goldish liquid burst from its center and coated my tongue.

It released a slightly nutty flavor that was neither repulsive nor welcoming.

With that gastronomic experience under my belt, I returned to Ankara, where I sought the outcome of a handful of visa applications. Bogged down by endless formalities, I spent my time in a brain-stewing holding pattern, waiting for the doors of bureaucracy to open.

Desperate to experience something more than paperwork, crowds, diesel and dust, I dug through the local paper. I looked for something – anything – going on.

There, hidden in the pages of the entertainment section, I found it.

It turned out one of my rock ‘n’ roll heroes was in town, and rehearsing with Ankara’s Bilkent Youth Orchestra. After a few e-mails, I was given the green light. Before I knew it, I was standing face to face with the legendary flutist Ian Anderson, front man for the rock group Jethro Tull.

He was just as I imagined: friendly, witty and entirely down to earth.

His dark eyes like windows to some distant time and place.

“Oh, you must be the fellow on the bicycle or something,” he said.

I nodded.

“I have but a few minutes between rehearsals,” he said, “What would you like?”

“May I shoot a few pictures of you?” I asked, and he agreed without hesitation.

Within moments, it became clear that Ian was the kind of character I could sit down with, ale in hand, and initiate a conversation that could well last a lifetime.

But my time with Ian flashed by in moments. When it was done, I bowed my head and I thanked him. As I turned my back and got ready to leave, Ian climbed onto a small stage, picked up his flute, and belted out a version of “My God,” backed by a full orchestra:

“People what have you done?

Locked him in his golden cage.

Made Him bend to your religion,

Him resurrected from the grave.

He is the God of nothing,

if that’s all that you can see.

You are the God of everything!

He’s inside you and me!”

As I stood and listened in awe, Ian’s music sent waves of emotional currency to the very center of my being.

After 30 years, and more than 2,500 performances, Ian’s passion was vibrant and alive, and only outdone by his mastery. To witness that within such close range was nothing less than soul shaking.

Within that experience, it came to me that this bicycle journey had taken on a life of its own – ever leading me into something larger than myself.

When I walked away, I pondered the aging rocker, and his lesson in mastery.

Somewhere I hoped, it would rub off on me.

• Editors note: This is the latest in a series of journal entries written by former Nevada Appeal photographer Rick Gunn about his two-year bicycle journey around the world. Along the way, he is raising awareness for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. To donate, go to wish.org.

To read more of his entries and see more photos go to rickgunnphotography.com, or nevadaappeal.com and click on the Wish Tour icon.