It’s only after a few days finishing The Snow Leopard that I have started to think of its similarities to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. But whereas I found Eat, Pray Love largely insufferable, I enjoyed The Snow Leopard, even if Matthiessen’s journey is, in many ways, just as an earlier and more rugged version of Gilbert’s.
In the early 1970s, Peter Matthiessen lost his wife to cancer. About six months later, he joined his friend, the celebrated wildlife biologist and conservationist George Schaller (referred to in the book as simply GS), on a trek through the Nepali Himalaya to the border of Tibet. Schaller, a fit, driven, and taciturn man, was off to study the Himalayan bharal, a goatish mountain sheep or sheepish mountain goat. That was the point — the animals had not been studied enough to understand where they fit in the evolutionary tree. GS wanted to watch the rut, which takes place late in the fall or very early Himalayan winter, to help understand if the animals rutted more like goats or sheep. Matthiessen, a long-time student of Zen Buddhism, joined GS for the chance to visit a place of significance to Buddhists: the Crystal Mountain and its monastery, Shey Gompa. If GS and Matthiessen were lucky, they might also catch a glimpse of the elusive and rare snow leopard. Continue reading