It has been exactly fourteen months since I joined the team of the 4th National Giant Panda Census. We left our footprints in the wild of ten counties and thirty-three towns including Leibo, Mabian, Ebian, Wenchuan, Mao county, Songpan, Beichuan, Jiuzhai Valley, Mian-zhu, and Shifang. Like an enormous book replete with diverse landscapes and ethnic groups, the land opened itself to my curious and amazed eyes while I overcame one difficulty after another on the long and exhausting trek.

Among nature’s splendor were the desolate and bleak Daliang Mountains, the precipitous and forbidding Qionglai Mountains, and the grand and lofty Min Mountains. Thejinsha, Min, and Fu Rivers impressed me with forceful and surging rapids contrasting with turning and rolling passages. I appreciated the hospitality of the Yi people, the gentleness of the Qiang people, and the generosity and straightforwardness of the Tibetans. My horizons were widened in both natural and human geography.

I endured the scorching sun, the misty snow falling, and the thick fog through which navigation and visibility were challenged. Pushing through raging gales and heavy storms was eventually rewarded with views of floating clouds against the serene and blue sky. The backdrop for our journey included stately mountains covered with snow, marshy grasslands, old-growth forests, and expansive gorges set among imposing cliffs. I found myself fascinated while watching the sun rise and set behind the clouds or while gazing into the starry night sky. All these things made me feel the power of nature in all its glory.

We also encountered the destruction left behind after the violent May 12, 2008 earthquake. Beichuan, once a vibrant city, stood abandoned. Relentless mudslides resulting from the earthquake destroyed Qingping in Mianzhu county. In the Tangjia Mountains “quake lakes” formed as a result of the many landslides. Considering all of this sobered me to the vanity and futility of man’s attempts at conquering nature.

Seasons changed and the ebb and flow of nature never ceased to amaze me. Though the environment was fierce and ferocious at times, something small like an unidentified and delicate flower along the trail might catch my eye. I would get down on my knees, watching and feeling its vitality. In brief, I learned more during these 14 months than in the whole of die past six years.