Friday 17 July 20:09

Scotty came round to the Hotel 10ish to sort out the logistics of my expedition to Shennongjia National Nature Reserve and for us to agree a schedule and day-rate. He phoned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Shennongjia and it appears that as I’m not a scientist, and not collecting plant material or undertaking research, I don’t need a permit, and if we contact him on arrival, we may even be able to arrange a guide who has some knowledge of the plant material.

The area is vast by English National Park standards, and includes a number of Nature Reserves and Shennongton Park Garden where I can find the 1000 year-old Emmenopterys. Being down a deep gorge, it’s unlikely I’ll get anything more than a reasonable top-down photo, but that’ll be a start. Trees of this sort of age are extremely rare, and will have survived only because it’s completely inaccessible.

Now I’m starting to feel more optimistic about painting independently in China, although painting specific plants will be very challenging without a botanist to guide me. So if I simply allow events to develop as they will, I will always have the pleasure of painting exotic flowers and plants in situ in such an interesting country.

We spent a few frustrating hours in an Internet Café (hold the coffee!) where I discovered I couldn’t access this Blog/Web address. I managed to send a few e-mails as I could use a Memory Stick where I’d stored all my e-mail addresses. And finally got onto my Incoming e-mail website to read a few of those, but couldn’t respond to them. It’s hugely frustrating and I need to go back there to download my e-mails onto my Memory Stick then cancel my Spam filter which is blocking all e-mails from coming through.

The heat is extremely tiring, and I shall be glad when we leave for Shennongjia Monday morning. It’s about a 7-hour bus ride to Muyuping where we’ll be based for about a week. Scotty’s available for up to 10 days, and we still need to get to see the 250-year old Emmenopterys at Badong. This is a closely protected tree also and comes under the Badong County Deputy. When Seamus visited in 2002 the entourage required a Police escort. Hopefully that won’t be necessary for me, Scotty, and my paint brushes!

All of this organising, negotiating and trying to sort out technology and communications has left me really frustrated that I hadn’t done any drawing or painting, or taken out my camera. So after a brief afternoon nap and cool-off back at the Hotel, I sorted out basic painting kit and headed back to the Botanical Gardens, sketching not a bad first stab at Gynura bicolor (wild) D.C. in the medicinal plant section. I packed it in at 7.30pm as I seem to have attracted the attention of a colony of massive black ants who were intent on crawling all over my feet and up the sides of the plastic flower-pot I was using as a stool. The “bicolor” will have to wait for its colour reference.

It’s interesting how this one pivotal quest comes with so many challenges. Augustine Henry “discovered” Emmenopterys in the hills behind Badong and I believe there were some rather brown flat flowers on the herbarium specimen I handled at Glasnevin Botanical Gardens back in May. Since it flowers around July, the timing of my journey set, the locality dictated. No matter that this is the hottest time of year around the Gorges, and that there is some suspicion here that I am actually on a mission to collect plant material. No matter that Emmenopterys actually has quite a wide distribution across China.

It is this one plant, on the bills outside Badong, which has brought me half-way across the world. Nothing less will do.

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